International Women’s Day – It’s time for men to listen, reflect and change
This year – and every year – as March rolls around, people and businesses around the world get ready to observe one of the most significant days of celebration in our calendar, International Women’s Day. But with it, comes the familiar objection: “But every day should be International Women’s Day”. Except, it’s not. And as a man in our society and in a leadership position, I have a significant role to play in correcting that.
When I was growing up in the south of Manchester, in the north of England, my family didn’t celebrate or acknowledge Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, ever. To this day, I have no idea when in the year these two days fall. Back when I young, I knew they always fell on a Sunday, because I remember friends saying they couldn’t come out to play , or, when I was slightly older, to hang out at the local shopping centre, or, as a young adult, to grab a pint for Sunday lunch. My siblings and I weren’t allowed to buy cards or presents for our mum or dad on any of these ‘significant Sundays’.
Our parents were firmly of the opinion that “every day should be Mother’s Day” and “every day should be Father’s Day”. Even as I write these words, I can hear my parent’s voices over the inevitable annual ads for Mother’s and Father’s day ‘stuff’ on ITV, the solitary commercial TV channel that was available in my youth. “Every day should be Mother’s and Father’s Day”. Of course, it should! But it’s not. And that’s the point.
Now that I’m a dad myself – to Pearl, aged 9 and Olive, aged 6 – we do ‘celebrate’ Mother’s Day and Father’s Day at home. We celebrate these because it’s an acknowledgement of – and an opportunity to reflect on – what I like to call ‘the inequity of the norm’. The vast majority of the other 363 days (or 364 this year) in our house are spent, quite rightly, with significant focus on the kids. Amidst all of the ferrying to dance classes, swimming, drama and school, packing lunches, washing, cleaning, tidying, cooking and more, Mummy Pich and Daddy Pich get a day each during the year! Those two days – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – help to shine a light on the inequity of the norm. They give the kids a chance to reflect on what the other days look and feel like.
I feel the same about March 8th each year. International Women’s Day provides an annual opportunity to illustrate the ingrained gender inequity that exists in society, and particularly in the workplace. Of course, we should be committed to achieving gender equality every other day of the year, and we shouldn’t need a dedicated day to continue to fight for women’s rights; indeed, every day should be International Women’s Day. But it’s not. The reality is that the inequity of the norm sees our society continue to treat women with prejudice, intolerance and discrimination in all aspects of life. The World Economic Forum found in their Global Gender Gap Report 2019 that it will take 257 years before men and women have pay equality. This is why International Women’s Day matters.
As a man in a leadership position, International Women’s Day allows me to reflect on how my own leadership style and organisation can help women achieve gender equal recognition, reward and respect. The global movement empowers me to ask myself – and my female leaders and colleagues – what more I can do, and what more the Institute of Managers and Leaders can do, to redress the balance and inequity that exists. In addition, it especially compels me to really listen to the experiences of women in the workplace and to learn from these, so that I can be a better manager and leader and can lead a more gender equitable and fairer organisation. As managers, leaders and business owners, there is no better avenue to change our behaviour than to listen to, hear and reflect on the lived experiences of women in society and in the workplace. International Women’s Day provides the perfect opportunity for men to listen and learn.
Every year, my organisation hosts in the Official Flagship event across the east coast for International Women’s Day. It’s a luncheon and thought-provoking debate between business leaders that brings people and organisations together to celebrate and empower women in leadership positions. I find it interesting – and really rather sad – that the vast majority of attendees at the three events are (yes, you guessed) women. International Women’s Day isn’t just an occasion for women; it’s a day for women to speak and for men to listen, learn, and change. If the men who hold positions of power and privilege in our workplaces and society aren’t willing to listen to the lived experiences of women, and if they don’t then reflect and act on these experiences, how is change supposed to happen? The answer is; very, very slowly. Which is exactly what’s happening – glacial change in wage parity, glacial change in the representation of women in leadership, glacial change in attitudes towards gender issues in the workplace.
This pace of change will only be accelerated when men in society, and male leaders in particular, embrace International Women’s Day on March 8th as a day of personal and professional development. It might sound like a novel concept, but we invest in our personal and professional development already every day in all areas of our lives. At work, we undergo training, continue to build our expertise, and update our skills so we perform better in our roles. Outside of work, we cultivate our hobbies, increase our fitness and foster wisdom about our world to live fuller lives. So, why not take a day to invest in learning about gender inequity, diversity and inclusion to become better people and leaders, to correct this inequity of the norm?
On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day each year, Pearl and Olive get to learn about what it means to be mum and dad for a day. Hopefully this leads to a change in their understanding and appreciation of their parents. If my young daughters can do it, so can men on or around March 8th! I urge all male managers and leaders to embrace the global day, to go along, to listen, to reflect and to make a commitment to change, to create a future where every day women are heard, respected and given equal opportunities to men. It’s time for every day to be International Women’s Day.
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