International Women’s Day (IWD) was first celebrated in 1911 by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, and since then it’s grown into a global movement. Every year we make strides in creating more gender inclusive nations, if not the entire world.
IWD celebrates the achievements of women in all spheres and sounds a “call to action for accelerating gender parity”. A world where women are given parity in choice, opportunity and reward is one where we all win. For too long, opening up opportunities to more people has been viewed with fear. But it is not a zero-sum game.
It’s because women fought to have access to flexible working that everyone can ask for it now. It’s because women have demanded that they not be stereotyped in the media as being focused on looks and relationships, that the hyper-masculine media stereotypes for men are also coming crashing down – giving everyone the freedom to express themselves as they wish. The Representation Project began to do exactly that – “inspiring individuals and communities to create a world free from gender stereotypes and social injustices”.
The IWD theme for 2018 is #PressForProgress and an entire social media campaign is in the works for March 8th. And yet progress is still too slow. Ernst & Young have a countdown clock on their website which suggests, at current rates of progress, we still have 216 years to go before achieving gender parity.
That is not quick enough.
And this only looks at parity for women. If we start to consider parity for all people we’ll be looking at a lot more than two centuries. The fact is pressure will always need to be applied to enact wide-ranging change. This has been the case right from the beginning. Organisations that do this through understanding why this change is important and beneficial will fare much better than those who don’t. And those who enact change whilst dragging their heels will find themselves at risk – when we make half-hearted changes we often get caught out making mistakes at best, or being disingenuous at worst. The latter will lead to legal and reputational problems.
How best to navigate the choppy waters of change? Candid conversations are essential, even though they might seem difficult. And an entire new skill-set is needed. Our leaders need to become more culturally intelligent.