As International Women’s Day approaches, many companies have been considering how they can celebrate. It’s a fine line to tread and making sure IWD gets an appropriate level of investment and respect, while ensuring that it comes from a (forgive the overused adjective) ‘authentic’ place, isn’t always easy.
Many companies will be looking to their employees to showcase the brilliant women in their ranks. Profiling business superstars and giving platforms to women in the workforce is worth applauding of course, but there’s a few thoughts I have on this each year…
Why do we only hear from them now?
The women in your company haven’t just appeared, I fail to believe. They’ve been developing their expertise and driving projects year after year. While it’s great to hear their story, and learn about their work in interviews or blogs, their narrative doesn’t need to be contained within International Women’s Day.
Their contribution to a global anti-money-laundering strategy, or their role in building a new product that changes the way people manage taxes, is an evergreen topic.
Every year, journalists and media point this out. Pitches flood their inboxes with women they have previously never seen or heard of before. It’s great to see of course, but where have they been all this time?
We want to hear from them whenever they have something to say, either about their work, or the wider industry.
Being a woman is not the news-hook.
Being a woman is the least interesting thing about your employees…
This isn’t meant to be dismissive. The challenges that gender play in climbing the corporate ladder are long and well documented. And importantly, more complex than I’ll be able to do justice to in this piece. Plenty of people have constructive suggestions on how to improve the matter, and the conversation is still a relevant and important one to have.
But when you profile the women in your business, to spotlight the amazing contributions they make to their industry, asking them how they find ‘being a woman’ should be, at best, an afterthought.
We really want to know what they work on, how they are pioneering in their field, and how they built their career. We want to know what books they read, what advice they would give to their younger selves or what one thing has been most valuable to them in their work.
I don’t think the most interesting question we can ask is how they find being a woman in the workplace. And we shouldn’t reduce brilliant sector experts to simply their gender.
What can we do better?
The irony is that the improvements we make in celebrating this day come from everything we do on either side of it. Making a more conscious effort to highlight the work of the women in your team needs to be a year round endeavour, and very few people would disagree with that. So what are the practical things we can do to make that happen?
- Audit your regular content. Take some time to work through either your spokesperson lists, panels, or blogs, and see what the balance is. Make a conscious effort to improve this, and set some targets. Small improvements are better than no improvements.
- Go out of your way to put more women into your spokesperson roster. Find and train the top contributors and make sure they have all the skills and support they need to talk publicly about their work.
- Be deliberate about profiling the women in your ranks. When an opportunity rises, challenge yourself to think about who’s best placed to talk this through, not just the easiest person to suggest. It can be hard when deadlines are tight, but not relying on the same people over and over will help drive change.
International Women’s Day can sometimes skew us to think that the topics we cover should be related to being a woman.
There’s still a time and a place for this, but if in our endeavour to create better equality, we only hear from women in the month of March, on the topic of ‘being a woman’, we’re in danger of taking far bigger strides backwards than forwards.