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International Women’s Day on Wednesday will see lots of events and marketing, but action for women at work needs to be something that happens every day of the year and to be something that moves things forward.
This Wednesday is International Women’s Day so organisations like ours expect to be inundated with press releases on polls, special events and so forth. Which is great, if they are not the only thing employers are doing for women in the year. A good event can raise awareness, but often they are just marketing. Sophie Walker, founding leader of the Women’s Equality Party, posted a list of tips “to survive until you have to do another 24 hours of performative feminism next year” for employers participating in what she called “this branding bunfight”. They include pay your women speakers and those organising your events, don’t make anything pink and check your organisation’s pay gap, then cancel every event you had planned and do the work on the inside first.
While special days have been good for raising awareness about specific things, they are two a penny these days and more a marketing exercise than anything else. For social media purposes they can be handy for getting to a wider audience – perhaps. Some are more worthy than others. There is a day, it seems, for everything. For instance, did you know World Bread Day falls on 16th October? I only know this because I was sent a press release about it from some bread manufacturer a while ago. Everyone is desperate for their thing to be heard above the noise of shouting voices on social media.
This is not to say that employers shouldn’t do anything to mark International Women’s Day, but it should be tied to what they are doing every day to ensure women are not treated unequally in the workplace. By all means, use International Women’s Day to share best practice [or to talk about how to move to better practice] or to highlight what more needs to be done, but do it as part of an ongoing strategy. Some employers are doing this, to be fair. And many are harnessing the power of data to investigate in detail the structural issues that might be holding women back.
Many of them may seem to be external ones – problems with childcare, the NHS, social care and so forth – but, even in these cases, there may be things employers could do, such as loans to cover upfront childcare fees or keep lobbying hard and publicly on these issues. That is not to let the Government off the hook because the Government often seems all too keen to take a back seat and leave it to employers to take the strain. For instance, on the menopause – the Government sees almost no role for itself when it comes to employment issues. Instead, employers can share best practice and lead the way. And it will be the same employers as usual who do this. How do we get beyond these? In a way, the Government is lucky that there are labour shortages and employers need to get as many people into work and keep them there as possible. If that wasn’t the case, one can only imagine what the situation would be.
This International Women’s Day workingmums.co.uk will be doing what we do every single day. Because women’s rights in the workplace have to be fought for every day, every week and every year.