Dr. Rosanna Duncan, Chief Diversity Officer
Each year, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on our role and responsibility as individuals in promoting gender equality. This self-reflection is key, because to actively engage in the process of fighting bias and broadening perceptions, we need to recognise that not all women are mirror images of ourselves.
When we talk about ‘women’ as if they are a homogenous group, it’s easy for us to celebrate the successes we can relate to and ignore the failures we don’t see, don’t understand, or are simply too uncomfortable to talk about.
Overlooking the characteristics that intersect gender can make the discussion easier, but ultimately less effective and less likely to elicit real change.
Conversations that are gender focused but ethnically and socio-economically neutral enable us to unwittingly batch the successes of all women together and convince ourselves that progress is happening, when in reality, it’s only happening for some.
Whilst I’m frequently asked to talk about the glass ceiling and gender parity on boards, women without the golden thread of privilege (however privilege might be defined in whatever society you choose to reference) continue to be left behind in employment, health, housing, and education.
As we answer the International Women’s Day call to arms to embark on a journey of ‘collective individualism’, we need to accept (to paraphrase George Orwell) that all women are equal, but some women are more equal than others.
In the spirit of self-reflection, I believe there are two simple actions we can commit to today that will move us towards greater equality for all women:
1. Accept that success is not all about hard work.
Whilst nobody can deny that hard work can pay off for many people, the reality is that due to inequality and bias faced by some, and the privilege enjoyed by others, effort does not necessarily equate to success in the workplace. Accepting this is one of the first steps in understanding why we continue to see women of similar backgrounds in similar positions of power and leadership, and why those from minority groups and other backgrounds are not having the same level of success. Once we understand and accept the challenges, we are more likely to find the solutions.
2. Challenge the decisions made around you.
Are the women who are successful around you more like you than they are not? Consider their education, socio-economic background, or ethnicity. If this is the case, then challenge your leaders, Human Resources, and Talent Acquisition colleagues to explain why this is. If organisations want to reap the full benefits of having a diverse workforce, diversity must be achieved in the broadest sense, well beyond having equal numbers of men and women.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 is “Each for Equal”, pressing all of us to recognise the role we can play as individuals in achieving gender equality. Accepting that women are not a homogenous group with access to the same levels of opportunity, and calling out decisions that reproduce existing inequalities in the workplace, will help us shift the needle on gender parity for all women; not just those with the golden thread of privilege.