International Women’s Day: it’s not all doom and gloom

The theme for International Women’s Day in 2023 felt more #TimesUp than #EmbraceEquity. Was it the disconcertingly opaque campaign to get women hugging themselves or the multitasking required to navigate two separate themes? Was it because some organisations #embrace performative hashtags more enthusiastically than closing the gender pay gap? Or that women spend 364 days of the year dealing with inequity, only to have work increase on the one day designated to commemorate our progress? 

We get it; no one is in the mood to celebrate.

International Women’s Day has come to feel like just another task on our plates – for those of us asked to bring a plate for a shared lunch, we mean that literally. But, one hundred and fifteen years ago, 15,000 women marched in the streets for labour rights and planted the seed for a global day of advocacy and celebration. On International Women’s Day, we have a choice; to opt-out or to regroup. We vote for the latter.

Look how far we’ve come!

Only three generations have passed since 1908. Today, women’s equality is focused on continuing the progress started in large part by our grandmothers. It may be slow and painful, but it has happened, so pick up your IWDTM vulva cupcake and enjoy a bit of positivity.

Workforce representation

In 1908 we certainly weren’t debating the gender pay gap because most women weren’t in the paid workforce. Working women were usually poor, unmarried and uneducated, with minimal career choices.

Today? The research is in, and it shows that organisations with more women in positions of leadership are more profitable and socially responsible. Yes, more of us need to be in those positions, but globally we now make up roughly half the workforce. Women’s increased participation is one of the most remarkable economic developments of the 20th century. We know that the pay gap has stagnated, but we’re no longer the only ones who know it; this very topic is on the radar in a way that it’s never been before.

Paid maternity leave helps women succeed in the workforce, and all but two countries (*cough* USA *cough*) now offer it. Globally, paternity leave has also increased threefold since the nineties and European countries are quickly paving the way for a fairer future. Many offer flexible and generous leave policies that include all parents, regardless of gender or biology. Unsurprisingly, they’ve found that sharing leave evenly leads to sharing housework evenly. It encourages gender equity in the workplace and enables fathers to play a bigger role in their children’s lives #EquityBenefitsEveryone.

Boardroom representation

In 1908 women were at kitchen tables, not board tables. It was 1934 before Lettie Pate Whitehead became the first to serve on the board of a publicly listed company.

Recent projections for boardroom equity have us there as soon as 2038 – time to get cracking on your governance CV. The movement has also gained support from some heavy hitters; stock market and credit bureau chiefs have openly recognised the performance improvements organisations gain through diversity and are rolling out criteria to increase it. 

These influential leaders aren’t do-gooders; their actions are ruthlessly focused on ensuring business sustainability. They say the key lies in more women at the top, and what they say goes; the 350 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange have just hit their combined 40% gender diversity target three years ahead of schedule.

Political representation

In early 1908, some women had the right to vote, but many were still fighting for it. Suffragettes were up against such solid arguments as the fear that voting would cause women to grow beards (spoiler: we already were). 

In 2022, gender issues dominated political campaigns worldwide and largely determined voters’ choices. Women’s participation in parliament is now at its highest level ever. For the first time, women are represented in every functioning parliament. In the last year, six countries saw women promoted to top parliamentary positions for the first time, and the number of parliaments with gender parity doubled (from three to six, but progress is progress!). 

We’ve come too far to wave the white flag now

Yes, we know the devil’s in the detail and recognise that the bad stats outweigh the good (we really do, we’ve trawled through them for this article 🫣). We also know the label ‘women’ applied as an umbrella term hides all sorts of inequality for women of colour and the struggle faced by trans women to justify their inclusion

The world has a long way to go, and feeling frustrated is ok. It’s more than ok to opt out of any day devoted to ‘celebrating’ something that should be the norm. But we’ve seen too much progress to give up now. We can’t sit back, check out and wait decades for the status quo to change. We can collectively take small, impactful actions daily. 💥

Powrsuit is up for the challenge. We quit our cushy corporate jobs to devote ourselves to changing the face of leadership, and we’re only just getting started. 🫶

Was this helpful?

Weekly leadership insights, straight to your inbox

One leadership skill, every week

Each week, we cover one leadership skill or challenge and share a 30-second action that turns theory into practice.