Do we still need International Women's Day?
You may think that International Women’s Day is something of an anachronism. An event of its time but no longer holding any real relevance or significance in today’s society. But you’d be wrong.
The World Economic Forum predicts that gender parity will not be seen by our generation or the next, and that it could actually take at least another 100 years to achieve. With startling reports like this, it is clear that there’s no room for complacency.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to look very far to see that this pessimistic prediction carries weight. Just consider the recent behaviour of the head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organising committee, Yoshiro Mori. He resigned last month, a week after his derogatory comments about women triggered an international backlash. He was quoted as saying that women talk too much and that meetings with female board directors would “take a lot of time”.
Reacting to the criticism, he said: “My inappropriate remarks have caused chaos, and I would like to express my deepest apologies to the members of the council and executive board, as well as the entire community.” Interestingly, he falls short of apologising to women, who should be at the top of his list.
Just days later, Japan hit the headlines yet again when the 82-year old secretary general of its Liberal Democrat Party, Toshihiro Nikai, announced that he would invite women to attend his party’s board meetings, as long as they didn’t actually speak.
Closer to home, thankfully we appear to be making progress as more women secure a foothold into the once traditional male domain of the boardroom. News that the number of female directors at FTSE-100 firms has increased by 50% in the last five years is welcome and is certainly something to celebrate on International Women’s Day.
Now, women hold more than a third of roles in the boardrooms of Britain’s top 350 companies. And, although men still dominate the top ranks of business, the Hampton-Alexander review, which was launched to encourage more UK-listed companies to promote women to their boards, has achieved its target of 33% of board positions at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 firms being held by women by the end of 2020.
And giving women an equal platform in the workplace makes good business sense. According to the UN, companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women as it leads to increased organisational effectiveness and growth. The UN says: “It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organisational performance.” So why wouldn’t you allow women a seat at the leadership table?
As a female chief executive, I’m proud that more than two thirds of Freshwater’s directors and managers are female, while half of the senior executive group are women. Diversity is good for business and a key driver for success.
But, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. In spite of all of the progress we have made as a society, we still haven’t got it quite right with many women still finding themselves at a disadvantage in the workplace, such as being paid less for doing the same job as their male co-workers.
Just last year, our client, social justice law firm, Thompsons Solicitors, won a high-profile employment tribunal with the NUJ for TV presenter Samira Ahmed on this very subject. Ahmed claimed she was underpaid by £700,000 for hosting audience feedback show, Newswatch, compared with Jeremy Vine’s salary for Points of View. For as long as such tribunals are necessary, then we absolutely need International Women’s Day.
Thankfully, there are organisations who continue to shine a spotlight on these essential issues throughout the year. Just last week (3-5 March), the TUC Women’s Conference took place, with a packed agenda of debates on the unequal impact of Covid-19 on women, ending gender-based violence and harassment and strengthening women’s rights and representation at work.
International Women’s Day gives us all an opportunity not just to pause for thought but also to question complacency, dispute tradition and call out discrimination. And I’d encourage you to adopt the theme of this year’s event and choose to challenge your thinking, today.
This article was written by our Chief Executive, Angharad Neagle, and appeared on Business Live on 08 March 2021.