International Women’s Day is a very important milestone in the year. And, this year, the executive director of the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has said that this is a massive year for gender equality.
On the days around the official date, I am reminded of the issues that women face worldwide. For many women, problems about equality in business are very low on the scale of their worries. Millions of girls worldwide do not have equal right to education. Many women do not have the right to work outside the home. And violence against women and girls is one of the slowest of the UN’s millennium goals in terms of progress. It affects one in three women worldwide.
Violence against women and girls, of course, is also a problem in the so-called first world, in the "WEIRD" nations (Western, educated, internet-enabled, rich and democratic), everywhere in the UK – possibly affecting someone you work with.
When we talk about gender inequality at work, we usually don’t mean violence. And that is good, but the unrelenting prevalence of violence outside the workplace highlights how much there still is to do for women and girls to feel safe.
According to government statistics in the UK, one in four women will experience domestic abuse and one in five sexual assault during her lifetime.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16 – equivalent to an estimated 3.4 million female victims and 631,000 male victims. An estimated 3.1% of women (510,000) and 0.8% of men (138,000) aged 16-59 experienced sexual assault in the past year.
So the first reason that I am not writing about equality for women in the workplace this IWD is because I think it is important to highlight that we should be thinking beyond the inequalities of the workplace.
The second reason is inclusiveness.
Much of the publicity that is generated at this time of year is focused on what men are still getting wrong at work. There’s new and undoubtedly valuable research into what men and women find acceptable at work from King’s College London. Headlines include the finding that one in 10 men think that it is OK to display material of a sexual nature at work. Hideous. These headlines will make many good men shudder with the association and indeed feel either guilty on behalf of men they haven’t met or condemned by their gender.
For my next book, my co-authors and I have been interviewing lots of them. They refer frequently to feeling as though there’s a "witch hunt" or that being a straight, white man is being part of an endangered species. (It’s worth pointing out, of course, that there isn’t and it isn’t. The victims of the actual witch hunts were those who didn’t fit contemporary gender norms and were often middle-aged women who wouldn’t conform).
While some of you might not have much sympathy for those who can be characterised as "male, pale and stale" or a "diversity disaster zone" (as the awesome Richard Huntington puts it), there are many men in the workplace who might look like they’re riding high but in fact are not.
There are many who feel displaced or who don’t fit or don’t approve of patriarchal masculine norms. The under-25s, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, black, Asian and minority-ethnic people, GBTQ+, people with disabilities, neurodiversity or mental-health issues. Feminists of every gender.
The final reason for not blogging about IWD is that there were a multitude of great points of view, including this this one from Shelly Zalis on the role men can play in driving equality in the workplace.
This is not a time for more divisions, for finger-pointing. It is a time for inclusiveness.
IWD’s theme this year is #EachforEqual. It should, and must, go both ways – or, indeed, every way.
Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images