Last updated: International Women’s Day: Put up or shut up

International Women’s Day: Put up or shut up


“International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8. The day has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911.”

Let that opening line and this fact sink in: International Women’s Day has been happening for over 100 years, and yet the US is not even in the top SIXTY nations when it comes to equality for working women.

The theme for IWD this year is #BalanceforBetter, with a push toward forging a “more gender-balanced world.” While hashtags and social media campaigns and world-wide days of unification can raise awareness, it’s temporary.

The real work of battling inequality is done in the trenches, day in and day out by individuals who recognize the challenges and inconsistencies, and who aren’t afraid to speak out against them.

Of course, angrily demanding equality isn’t going to be the catalyst that drives change – you must be committed to difficult conversations, and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You must be willing to work with others, be open to different viewpoints, and accept the fact that change is slow.

None of this is easy.

If you’d have told me twenty years ago that equality would not be mainstream today, I never would have believed you. A reality that consistently causes me to experience a gamut of emotions – from rage to exhaustion to hope – is that the fruition of the work of so many women before me, and so many people today will likely not be seen by me, or my generation. Rather, we must work toward a future that we will not see, trusting that the right thing will eventually become the standard for the world we live in.

So, how can we drive actionable change for equality beyond a hashtag?

Stop talking. Start acting: HIRE. WOMEN.

“Try this a fun, eye-opening exercise: take any photo of a corporate team, panel discussion, or org chart and recreate it by switching the ratio of men to women in it. It really puts things into perspective.” – Angela Dunn, VP, Communications

I wanted to cheer when I read the above words in a recent post on International Women’s Day. The simple, maddening truth is that it is largely men who control the fate of women in the workplace, because they are so disproportionately in charge.

There must be a commitment beyond platitudes to advance change. Execs should establish a relationship with individuals beyond their traditional ecosystem of managers and leaders who can speak honestly and openly with them about the state of equality within their organization.

Soliciting the genuine feedback of individuals throughout the organization fosters trust, and following up by taking active steps to drive change fosters solutions.

Lead by example

While discussing diversity and equality with someone recently, he told me about a CEO who opened his keynote by stressing the importance of the topics. To drive home his belief, he actually turned over his keynote time to a speaker who talked exclusively on the subject. There is something very powerful to be said about the act of doing, not just speaking.

When women speak honestly to one another, we discuss the fact that we’re still seeing far too many discussions about the advancement of women, and far too little progress.

If the signs you pose in front of to take photos for social media are about about gender equality and diversity, but the faces on your exec panel and leadership team are white men, it’s time to make a choice about who you are, and what values you’re espousing.

Authenticity and trust can only be achieved by being authentic and making good on your promises. There is simply no other way forward.

Hold the door open

I’ll never forget the moment when a woman who is the head of digital for an international medical company said to me, “The thing is, when we make it ‘to the table’, there isn’t enough representation to drive change. Women who get there should hold the door open for other women, but in reality I’ve found that they close the door behind them instead.”

Because women are conditioned from a young age to see other women as competitors, and because women are often pigeon-holed into particular job titles, there has been little reward for women to advance other women, for historically it has been to the detriment of themselves.

But the real test of power is how much you give to other people, and as women are beginning to attain positions of leadership, they are recognizing what a tremendous opportunity they have to advance others.

Kasey Holman, VP and Head of Global Brand Marketing for SAP Customer Experience notes, “Women who have achieved leadership positions must serve as role models and sponsors for other women. Women must advocate, support, and encourage each other, not compete against one another…It’s time for men and women alike to come together and commit to holding the door open for women.”

The “feminist agenda” is equality

There’s no question that despite so many advances in communicative technology, today true communication feels more difficult than previously. In a world where responses are whittled down to fit into 280 characters, it is incredibly easy to believe that there are two sides an issue, and you’re either on the correct or incorrect side.

Even in college, many of the people I associated with were hesitant to call themselves feminists, because we’d been raised to believe that feminism was some radical ideal espoused by bitter women.

In reality, the feminist agenda is equality: If men in leadership really want to drive change outside of International Women’s Day, show up at speaking engagements or in the office wearing a shirt that reads, “I’m a Feminist”, or “The Future is Female”. Then hire women to lead so that they are on stage, providing a living example to all the kids watching that women are equal, and equally capable.

I’ve no greater wish than to see International Women’s Day come to an end because there isn’t a need for it any longer. Until then, it is up to each of us to hold one another accountable, and to use our positions and privilege to empower others so that they, too, can lead.

This is about far more than talking about leadership. It’s about living your life so that when others think of you, the first thing they’ll remember is your humanity, and how you used it to make the world better for others.

If you’ve no proof of how you’re advocating for workplace equality beyond an annual post on International Women’s Day, please stop talking. It’s time for action.

Equality for all:
Go from messaging about inclusion to making it a reality.

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