It is almost 50 years since the first International Women’s Day, it is a day that is almost the same age as me.
The world has changed socially, culturally, technically, economically and politically since it was first held in 1975 and indeed since I was born in 1972. But has it really? How close are we to “embracing equity”, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day?
Equity means fairness and impartiality. Is this something women have?
I don’t think so.
I happily spend a lot of my time mentoring and championing women and I think more business women, and those in positions of influence, should do the same. It is a great privilege to hear a woman’s story and provide some help and guidance. Today I am chairing a session at Cancer Research UK’s Women of Influence Day, it is an opportunity for some of the brightest and best minds in cancer research to come together, with their mentors.
But today, I will hear again the stories so many women share. The ones where we are still having to fight harder than men to gain equal opportunities and status.
We need to help each other more.
A friend of mine whose parents were part of the Windrush generation said to me: “My dad told me ‘You have to be twice as good and work twice as hard as anyone else to get on. Being as good is not enough.’”
It was true for her as a woman of colour, and it is felt by every woman to some extent, in every area of life and every area of working life. Especially in jobs where there is very little employee voice.
The Equal Pay Act has existed in various guises for two generations but despite this we still don’t have genuine gender pay equality.
International Women’s Day is important, it celebrates women, which is wonderful, but it is also important for us to regroup and realise that inequality towards us still persists.
I have spent more and more time recently thinking about allyship. When women are not in the room, are men talking about inequality, about equality and about equity?
Women make up between 49 and 51 per cent of the population. Yet there are just 225 women MPs out of 650 – fractionally more than a third. In my profession, despite being female dominated, 75% of the top jobs of in-house corporate affairs directors, and heads of agencies – are held by men. So despite more women in the profession, we are not running our profession.
There is still so far to go.
One of my senior male colleagues in corporate communications, put it like this: “The best thing I can do for my female colleagues, Sarah, is to give ground, to get out of the way and demand more women are in the room.”
Saying the right words to the right audience is not enough, especially when in private some men still behave like paid-up members of the Bullingdon Club.
To my astonishment, I have reflected on the professional events I have attended, where some men’s behaviour was really quite shocking. The Alpha Male is alive and well, and sometimes, yes, there is a man who sees and calls it out. Many times there are women who see it too. There are some great allies out there. But we need more male allies, many, many more. Alpha Male behaviour must be seen as abhorrent, not as something to be high-fived and back slapped.
So, on this International Women’s Day please do set aside five minutes and sit down to reflect, what does equity mean to you; and ask a male colleague or friend, relation or partner. This is where the change must come, in conversation, understanding, a realisation that things must change, and then in action.