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The impact of International Women’s Day (IWD) has steadily grown since it became an annual celebration over four decades ago. Much has been achieved in this time to raise awareness of the issues and challenges that women face, but more needs to be done. This is especially true for women in the workplace, which is why one day is not enough. IWD should be a launch pad for organisations to make a real and collective difference throughout the year.
Individual actions lead to collective impact
Leading organisations continue to set the bar higher but as the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index for 2020, for example, shows that at the current rate of change, achieving global gender equality is still almost 100 years away.
It is no surprise that, in recent years, IWD campaigns have focused on more practical and radical themes to accelerate the move to equality. This year’s theme, #EachforEqual, calls on each person or organisation individually to take a stand against gender bias and eliminate inequality. It is only through individual actions that we can collectively create a gender-equal world.
In the business world, gender equality has become a critically important issue, not just a matter of political correctness. Every organisation needs to make the most of the talents of every single employee. And evidence from Top Employers Institute’s 2020 global survey of more than 1 600 organisations shows that 92% undertake initiatives to ensure gender equality, up from 87% a year earlier.
Top Employers take a stand for IWD
There are some excellent examples among Certified Top Employers in the way they marked IWD last year, for example:
- HCL Technologies gave women a platform to share their personal stories throughout the month of March via email, its news platform, social media channels and a dedicated microsite that was available both internally and externally.
- A UK-based Top Employer engaged its employees worldwide last year with a toolkit to help offices around the world to organize their own IWD events. The toolkit suggested examples of activities to get staff thinking about how they would like to celebrate, plus ready-made marketing materials and advice on social media promotion.
- Santander’s Women in Business Network, which has more than 3,000 members from across the organisation, used IWD to win buy-in and commitment from senior leaders to make improvements to gender equality in all aspects of their work.
- Boston Scientific brought together its employees worldwide through a multi-site video conference to mark the day.
Change is required from the bottom up
Top Employers understand that IWD needs far more than a single notable day that is celebrated and then quickly forgotten. Rather, it is intended as the starting gun for a year-long set of activities. It is this sustained campaigning over many years that has produced encouraging signs that some progress is being made at leading organisations.
The McKinsey Global Institute, estimates that in 2019, 44% of companies had three or more women at senior executive level, up from 29% in 2015. This is an important sign of advancement in shaping the culture of gender equal opportunities, because while the glass ceiling is being broken down for some women near the top, the career path for women is often hampered by a “broken rung” further down the corporate ladder.
The biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership, according to McKinsey, comes at the first step up to managerial level. For every 100 men promoted and hired as manager, only 72 women achieve the same. Women get stuck at the entry level and, unsurprisingly, men end up holding 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent.
Top Employers Institute’s most recent data shows that career development has now become a priority for all employees, not the few at the top, in leading organisations. Across more than 1 600 Top Employers, 91% now design career management paths across all roles and levels. This is a significant increase in comparison to 78% of Top Employers doing so five years ago.
Make gender equality a reality
For all businesses, including Top Employers, IWD gives a sharp reminder that women in the workplace continue to face many challenges. Awareness is turning into real and effective action. #EachforEqual asks every individual and every organisation to make gender equality a reality.