Amy Duff 8 Mar 2017 10:22am

Why International Women's Day matters

The theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017 is “be bold for change”, a rallying cry for women and men around the world to collaborate in a practical way to help create a more gender inclusive world. From a business perspective, while much progress has been made around the world thanks to coordinated campaigns, events and even regulatory change, there is also anger and dismay that in some places it has ground to a halt and even in so-called progressive societies, the pace of change is slow

Caption: Gender inclusivity has ground to a halt in some places but the battle for equality continues.

In London, some women are going on strike on 8 March to highlight “gender rights and abuses”. Coordinator of “one day without a woman” Nina Lopez told The Guardian, “International Women’s Day feels different this year. Women are spearheading a global movement for change. It’s not just about breaking through the glass ceiling or getting in the boardroom, it’s about recognising the value of caring and unpaid work,” she said.

Meanwhile in Australia, activist Anne Summers says women need to do more than just call themselves feminists. “It is no longer enough for us just to list our grievances and to call for redress. We need to be specific about what we want and we have to make it happen.” Her Women’s Manifesto demands legislated equal pay for all women in all jobs; decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales and Queensland; specialist domestic violence courts in every state of Australia and gender quotas.

A new report by Source Global Research, compiled in association with Unida and sponsored by EY has its own 10-point plan. Its research reveals a “pinched middle”: professional women at middle management who are unhappy with their work-life balance and feel unable to share their feelings about work and home pressures.

Just as they’re expected to be at full-throttle in their career, they are also becoming busier at home. Source Global Research’s Alison Huntington says, “Management consulting firms have struggled to retain women and promote them to the highest ranks for some time. But while they are acutely aware of their diversity issues, and have invested in initiatives and policies aimed at improving the balance, few are specifically designed with the ‘pinched middle’ in mind.”

The 10-point framework aims to tackle the most common issues: so more predictability around travel and workload; greater access to flexible working – and conversations with clients about it; continuity of teams to build trust in flexible arrangements; different career paths and roles that contribute to career progression; clearer and more tailored promotion expectations about more than just revenues; support and training around maternity and unconscious bias; role models people can relate to; feeding the talent pipeline – widen the net for experienced hires; incentivise partners to change their attitudes and empowerment – making sure people decide for themselves.

Empowerment is critical, agrees leadership coach at Working Transitions, Jayne Harrison, “Women can support themselves by holding onto their authentic selves. It’s still a very male dominated environment out there – regardless of your position. That said, there are a number of areas to help build confidence.”

Here’s her advice, “Does the organisation you work for treat all employees with inclusivity and dignity? If not, use your feet to vote. Be very clear about your own value and why anyone should employ you. How long has it been since you last reviewed your skills, achievements, and strengths? Write them down and be clear on what is it you bring to the party. Understand your ‘dark side’ or what might potentially be getting in the way of your success. Self-awareness is key in leadership – whatever your gender.

“Write a weekly list and include: 1) three things that have gone well 2) what have you learned and 3) what are you grateful for. This isn’t ‘happy clappy’ stuff – it is about forging neural pathways of positivity; recognising the positive rather than the negative. Be prepared to talk about what you are good at and what you have achieved. This isn’t about boasting; it’s about letting your organisation know you are engaged, committed, and enthusiastic. Don’t just assume that everyone knows you’re doing a good job.

“Get out there – mentor, be mentored, network, speak and collaborate widely. There’s a whole world out there ready to receive you and also provide support, if we’d only ask for it. Not only that, but it’s a great way of ensuring that you’ll remain current and non-institutionalised. Your manager will thank you for keeping a finger on the pulse regarding the industry you are in. And make friends with your imposter.

“In early research impostor syndrome was seen as predominantly affecting high achieving women (although it is now accepted that men also suffer from this to some extent). Despite external evidence of competence, you might think you are a fraud, you’ll be found out any minute and do not deserve the success you have achieved. Raising awareness of the imposter is the first step in coaching and then working to dispel it. The imposter may prevent women taking on more senior roles if they have to do so proactively; particularly if they have ‘happened upon seniority by luck’.”

Why does all this matter? As Mark Weinberger, EY global chairman and CEO, and a campaign partner for International Women’s Day says, “Empowering women is a smart thing for business. Profitability, ROI, innovation – all increase when women are part of an organisation’s senior leadership. Building a pipeline of female talent is an economic imperative. We can’t grow our businesses, jobs and the global economy if we leave 50% of the workforce behind. It's not possible to wait any longer. We need men and women to take action right now.”