This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter.
International Women’s Day (IWD) highlights the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. IWD is demonstrative of how far we’ve come but also how far we have yet to go.
This is by no means a new celebration. We have been commemorating IWD for over a century!
I’ve also been celebrating International Women’s Day for as long as I can remember. Before I even understood the significance of such a day and how, because of my sex alone, I would face greater disadvantages in accessing many opportunities in the world.
The tradition where I grew up in Rome in Italy was for men to give every woman or girl a yellow ‘Mimosa’. The Mimosa flower is a symbol of female solidarity, love, immortality and resurrection.
Its significance has its roots in the feminist political movements in Italy of the 1940s. In fact, the Mimosa flower as a symbol for International Women’s Day began a year after World War 2 ended, in 1946 by the Italian Women’s Union. The vocal fight for gender parity began with this symbolic flower. The reason the flower was chosen was:
• It’s simple, beautiful and colourful
• It flowers at the beginning of March
• It is cheap and plentiful – you can find and pick Mimosa anywhere in Italy at the beginning of March.
• It grows in difficult terrain, and during arduous weather
• It symbolises strength and femininity in some cultures, e.g. Native American
As with many other celebrations the original political motivations have been lost for more commercial ways of celebrating but some still acknowledge the significance of those that fought before us for equality.
I remember my parents always making me believe that I could do anything- my race, my sex — nothing should be a barrier to my advancement. Even though I was a shy child, I didn’t see my difference as a wall to climb over. I saw it as a strength.
Despite progress, tokenism still exists
However, the scales of equality remain unbalanced. Women continue to face many barriers, including: pay gaps, lack of female representation in senior positions, time gaps in employment, unequal share of carer responsibilities – to name a few.
In 2010, the 30% club launched in the UK with the goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women in FTSE 100 boards. Currently, the figure is 26.1% up from 12.5%. This progress has been achieved through the inclusive leadership of Chairs and CEOs. As well as the critical recognition that gender balance leads to greater results. Likewise, according to the annual UK Hampton-Alexander review, FTSE 100 companies are on target to achieve 33% female directors by 2020. However, tokenism still exists. In the same review, the data shows that 75 companies in the FTSE 350 have only one woman as a board member.
Four in ten companies are reporting a wider gender pay gap
At EW Group, we recently re-launched our Inclusive Culture Pledge for 2019 featuring six roundtables throughout the year. Our first roundtable was, timely, on the gender pay gap, chaired by EW Group’s diversity consultant, Teresa Norman. The Gender Pay Gap shows that women are still underrepresented at senior management level. Teresa shared with the group an overview of the gender pay gap for 2019. Four in ten private companies that have already published their gender pay gap are reporting wider gaps than in 2018. Construction, finance firms and electricity and gas companies are the top three sectors where the median hourly pay favours men.
But we have also made so many strides. A study from the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 81% of large companies have taken steps towards addressing the gender pay gap.
It’s more a sticky floor than a glass ceiling
Whilst, there is evidence of progress, we still have a long way to go. More needs to be done to allow women to progress across the whole body of the organisation – from top to bottom. It’s addressing the sticky floor as well as the glass ceiling – so to speak.
So, what does this mean in practice?
A few things organisations should focus on to promote a #BalanceforBetter include:
• Being more transparent about pay practices
• Creating job opportunities for those with carer responsibilities
• Encouraging men to do their share at home
• Promoting shared parental leave
• Entrenching flexible working across the organisation (read more here on how businesses need to flex up)
• Mentoring programs to support women into leadership roles, if underrepresented
• Initiatives to encourage women to return to work after a career break
• Supporting men’s caring responsibilities
• Setting targets to achieve gender-equal graduate recruitment intakes
• Robust analysis and correction of gender pay gaps
Creating a #BalanceforBetter
It’s important to remember the struggles of the women that fought before for basic human rights and recognise all the progress that has been made.
So, if you’re thinking of a new way of celebrating, do something different this year and like many Italians, give a Mimosa and, say: Happy International Women’s Day!
At EW Group, we can offer expert guidance on the gender pay gap and action-planning, and tailored executive coaching services for individuals and management teams. Get in touch today to find out more.
Want to hear more? Check out reWorked, EW Group's company culture podcast
In this episode, Rachael talks to Caroline Arnold, an executive coach and of EW Group’s diversity consultants about how coaching can help individuals and how it fits into the broader organisational picture. Listen here.
In this episode of reWorked, Rachael talks to Gemma Lloyd, founder of recruitment app Work180. The app advertises jobs roles of companies that have already been vetted on their equality-supporting practices. Listen here for more.