International Women’s Day – Do We Really Need It?

I’m sorry.

Okay, I’m sorry for saying sorry – nasty habit. But as a woman, I figured I’d just get the apology part out of the way up front. After all, it’s well-established that women apologize far more often than they need to, often for things that are not their fault. So now that that’s taken care of, let’s get to the real story – International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day (IWD) was started in 1911 by Suffragettes – then called a “militant organization” – to raise awareness of, and support for, women’s right to vote, which was secured in 1919. The 2020 presidential election will mark the 100th anniversary of polls being open to all genders.

So do we really still need a day with a theme and special color dedicated to gender equity and women’s rights? Sorry, but we do.
According to the United Nations, whose theme for IWD this year is Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change, the purpose of IWD is to “focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

That’s great, especially since until somewhat recently IWD was lumped together with events like Valentine’s Day – frivolous, made up, an excuse. But far from losing relevance or importance, International Women’s Day has taken on new life over the past few years, becoming a significant opportunity for global organizations to intentionally recognize progress, and to introduce new campaigns and programs designed to inspire systemic change.

In large part, IWD’s rise in relevance has paralleled other crucial movements of late, such as #metoo and Time’s Up. But even with increased awareness among governments, businesses and society at large, I’m sorry to say that gender inequality still remains alive and well.

Gender inequality shows up in ways that are surprising, scary, and strikingly quantifiable:

  • Women are still paid, on average, 80 cents on the dollar to men for equivalent jobs. (It’s even less for minority women.)
  • Despite progress, women have cracked but not fully broken through the glass ceiling: among Fortune 500 CEOs, the number of women is the same as the number of men named James.
  • While we elected the most gender-balanced (and the most diverse) Congressional class ever last November, still fewer than a quarter of the seats are occupied by women.
  • 85% of domestic violence victims are women.

And I’m sorry to say it, but those are just some of the most common go-to data points. Want some less obvious ones? Melinda Gates says our data is sexist. Female inmates in some jails have to work to earn sanitary products needed on a monthly basis. The “pink tax” is real – women pay, on average, more for basics services like dry cleaning and vehicle maintenance. When women don’t smile or use exclamation marks, we’re considered angry. Men don’t read books written by women. And, in case you were wondering, women are not funny.

Today, on IWD, many companies will share news of their progress in Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – good, because we need commitment and measurable goals. Brands will use IWD to launch campaigns that inspire, provoke and challenge norms – good, because we need to engage consumers. Non-profits will share research, honor leaders and celebrate progress – good, because we need hope. But what about tomorrow? And the day after?

RF|Binder developed a video that offers our team’s perspective on International Women’s Day. You can see it here. We believe that change comes when people shift from bystander to participant, and when organizations recognize that awareness is only step one – it takes intentional, strategic systemic change to create lasting change.

So my request is that you do your part to Think Equal, Build Smart, and Innovate for Change today. But don’t stop there – think about tomorrow and then next day, too, by asking questions and seeking solutions. For example, at your work, are women and men promoted and paid equally? Is paternity leave offered and, if so, do men actually take it? Are men being mentored by women at the same rate women are being mentored by men? What’s the gender makeup of the senior team and board?

These are complex issues, to be sure, but whatever your gender, every day is an opportunity to model a more equitable world. We’re all in it together, and together, we can drive positive change – and for that, I am not sorry.