Do we still need International Women's Day?
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
I seem to have heard a lot of people lately debating whether International Women’s Day is still needed… I’ve done a lot of thinking about this in the fortnight since #IWD2018, and my conclusion is yes — conclusively, unequivocally — YES. Not because it’s any kind of a silver bullet to fix all our woes (if only), but because it’s another point in the year which provokes a conversation. And let’s face it, there’s still a lot to talk about. For me, a lot of the reasons are supremely frustrating: the gender pay gap, attitudes towards working mothers, and #MeToo being just three (and don’t even get me started on the distance we still need to cover in support of trans women who are still frequently, bafflingly excluded from female spaces, conversations, and movements, as reported in this article.)
But — for me, the most valuable gift of International Women’s Day is the encouragement of the celebration of role models. I attended an awesome event where the brilliant Cindy Hoots, CIO of Unilever, talked about her career and experiences, demonstrating level of authenticity rarely seen in the working world. You could see the infectious nature of the inspiration she dished out. I took with me to this event another role model — my wonderful mentee who I met four years ago when she was going through a programme with the Prince’s Trust, and of whom I am so proud that I’m probably in “embarrassing parent territory”. I am also lucky to know the incredible Dr Sue Black — an amazing role model, ambassador for women in tech, and force for good. Role models abound in my professional life, and that’s without even getting started on the women in my social circle who inspire me every day (as I talked about in my blog “Jobs for the Girls”).
So why are visible role models so important?
1. You can’t be what you can’t see — Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project which aims to show women as leaders through film, TV and culture, coined this phrase. We have to be able to show possibility to those under-represented in any fields… Essentially…
2. Everyone needs someone to look up to — two year old Parker Currynearly broke the internet when the picture of her gazing at Michelle Obama’s portrait in the Smithsonian went viral last week. It’s a beautiful visual representation of the inspiration provided by role models.
3. Visible role models within an organization mean that employees from that demographic feel more included. In Stonewall’s 2016 Employer Index report, stated that 92% of respondents who reported there are visible lesbian, gay, bi and trans role models in their workplace also felt their organisation was LGBT inclusive, compared to 52% for those who don’t see visible role models. We know that and when people feel more included, they are more productive, with Deloitte stating that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% — compelling data!
IWD encourages us to celebrate role models now, and rediscover female heroes from the past — Katherine Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou, Emmeline Pankhurst — women whose histories are now being shared through some fantastic books I love sharing with my two daughters. My six year old commented when she’d just started school “Mummy — girls can’t be superheroes” — International Women’s Day is one of the reasons she categorically no longer believes this to be true (well that and the presence of the Wonder Woman print on her bedroom wall!). So let’s make sure that we do everything we can to #PressForProgress and support the changes that need to happen in our culture, so that at some point we won’t need an International Women’s Day. Until then, I am going to continue to celebrate female superheroes every single day, and make sure that the role models my daughters need are as visible as they can be.