International Women’s Day is held on March 8th every year. It’s a day when we celebrate the amazing social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women - while also campaigning for greater progress towards gender equality.
"We cannot all succeed, when half of us are held back." - Malala Yousafzai
Why do we need International Women’s Day in 2017?
International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated since the early 1900s. Although we’ve made great progress since then, the problem of gender inequality still persists around the world.
The UN estimates that globally women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, for work of equal value. Despite comprising over half the population, women occupy less than 23% of parliamentary seats globally. And in many countries women still suffer disproportionately from poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to health-care.
Women are also severely underrepresented at senior management and leadership levels. Only 4.2% of Fortune 500 companies had a female CEO in 2016; a number that’s declining instead of improving.
Why should businesses care about International Women’s Day?
Recent years have seen a huge increase in the number of businesses around the world celebrating IWD. There is growing recognition that women’s rights affect us all, and that we need to strive for more female representation at all levels of business.
Gender diversity in the workplace produces real benefits. Several studies have shown that a gender-diverse workplace is good for financial returns, employee engagement, innovation and reducing turnover. Gender diversity can also help your business resonate with a wider customer base.
So what can you do to celebrate International Women’s Day, both in your workplace and on a personal level? Here are 10 great ideas to get you started.
This year’s official theme of IWD, #BeBoldForChange, encourages men and women everywhere to take groundbreaking steps for gender equality.
The theme is likely to resonate with the millions of women who have taken to the streets in political marches this year. With such a groundswell of momentum this year’s IWD promises to be bigger than ever.
March 8th is a great opportunity to stand up, speak out, and be heard. Make your online pledge to #BeBoldForChange, and share your support visually on social media. The pledge lets you choose from a range of different women’s issues.
2. Join a march
The ‘International Women’s Strike’ is an international day of action planned for March 8th, 2017. Women in over 30 countries around the world are organising events in connection with the strike.
Specifically, the strike encourages women to march for:
- An end to gender violence, both domestic and institutional.
- Reproductive justice, body autonomy and freedom of choice for all women.
- Labour rights and equal pay for equal work.
- Environmental justice, and recognition of its links with social inequality.
- Ending racism, mass incarceration and police brutality.
Get in touch with your local organisers if you’d like to be involved, or plan your own event.
3. Promote gender diversity in the workplace
In 2017 the UN theme for IWD is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work’. At present only 50% of women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76% of men. And an overwhelming majority of women are concentrated in low-paid, lower-skill or domestic occupations.
To create sustainable and healthy economies we must empower women and break down these barriers. No matter what industry you’re in, you can implement policies to fight gender discrimination and encourage diversity in your business.
Here at Xero we’ve sought to build a diverse workforce since our inception, and we now have a 40% gender balance across Xero globally. This is significantly higher than the tech industry average of 29%. We also work closely with She# and Shadow Tech to promote gender diversity in the tech industry.
Studies have shown that gender diversity has significant benefits for business, including:
- Higher performance. A groundbreaking 2012 study of 2,360 companies globally found that those with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without any female board members by 26% over six years. A 2015 study by McKinsey also found revealed strong links between gender diversity and financial performance.
- Improved reputation. By building your company’s reputation as an equal opportunities employers, you will naturally attract a greater pool of talent, while also appealing to a larger customer and investor base.
- Creativity & innovation. A study by Scientific American found that greater diversity in the workplace fosters creativity, diligence and hardwork. It makes sense that being around people who are different to us helps spark innovative thinking.
4. Hold an IWD celebration at work
Long-term strategies to foster gender diversity are crucial, but you can also celebrate IWD with events on the day. This will help show your business commitment to inclusion and gender equality. Here are some ideas:
- Hold an IWD themed morning tea or shared lunch, with women speakers
- Profile some of your organisation’s amazing women on your website
- Send an email to staff to raise awareness of the day (or share this blog post)
- Have a film screening on women’s issues
- Hold a seminar with keynote speeches by women in your industry
- Share your business & industry’s current statistics on gender diversity.
5. Read these compelling books by women
Celebrating IWD doesn’t have to involve big political or public gestures… you can do it in your own small personal way just by reading a great book by a female author.
Or if you’d like to get others involved, host a book club at your work or community centre. Try one of these 2016 bestsellers for your March reading:
- Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Winner of the Debut Fiction Indie Award and the Literary Fiction Book of the Year in Australia.
- The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah. An albino woman languishes on death row in Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi prison.
- Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. A short story collection about the challenges facing women in modern America.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A novel set in 1930s Korea and Japan, detailing the struggles of a family in poverty.
- This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets. Set in the coastal Spanish town Cadaques, a woman comes to terms with her mother’s death.
- Everfair by Nisi Shawl. An alternate history / science fiction / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo. An especially enjoyable read in a genre traditionally dominated by men.
You should also check out this excellent list: 6 books by inspiring women to add to your booklist.
6. Celebrate women in film
A 2016 study from San Diego State University revealed that the film industry is still profoundly dominated by men. Only 7% of directors working on the 250 highest grossing films in 2016 were women. And while 2016’s films saw a rise in female protagonists, women still only comprised 32% of speaking roles.
Hollywood’s gender pay gap also hit the international spotlight in 2015, when leaked documents revealed major pay disparities between actors. Some female stars claim to have been paid ‘three times less’ than their male co-stars.
This March, why not celebrate women in film by hosting a relevant movie screening? Grab your best friends, your workmates or family and watch an amazing film by a female director (or one with a female-centric cast).
Here are some recent greats:
13th. Directed by Ava DuVernay, this powerful documentary takes a critical look at the prison system in America, linking it to slavery and deeply embedded racism.
Hooligan Sparrow. Directed by Nanfu Wang. Another gripping documentary, this film follows human rights activist Ye Haiyan as she seeks justice for six abused girls in China.
Suffragette. Directed by Sarah Gavron. A woman’s life is forever changed when she’s recruited to join the UK’s suffragette movement in 1912. An eye-opening look at one of the most important social movements in history.
Hidden Figures. With Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monae in leading roles, this film brings to life the untold story of a trio of female NASA scientists who helped launch the first American astronaut into space.
Trapped. Directed by Sian Melton, this documentary examines the TRAP laws in the US, which make it extremely difficult for abortion clinics to operate in certain states. A powerful look at reproductive rights and the impact these laws have on women.
7. Attend a women’s networking event
Whatever professional industry you’re in, March is an excellent month for women’s events and conferences. These events help female professionals to support and empower each other, share knowledge and arrange mentorships.
Many conference also have roundtables where industry-specific challenges for women are addressed, with a view to making workplaces more female inclusive.
If you’re a professional woman, consider volunteering as a mentor for a younger person in your field. Or put yourself forward as a speaker and share your knowledge on stage.
Here are just a few big events coming up:
- WorldWomen17 (March 17, Auckland, New Zealand).
- Women Into Leadership (16 March, Cardiff, UK).
- 20th Global Women Leaders Conference (7-8 March, Dubai, UAE).
- 17th Annual Women in Business Conference (10 March, London, UK).
- Promoting Women in STEM 2017 (30 March, London, UK).
- 9th Annual Women in Leadership & Business Conference (26 March, Ontario, Canada).
- The Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium (May - August, various cities).
8. Donate to your local women’s refuge
Here in New Zealand, 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. 76% of recorded assaults against women are committed by a family member. New Zealand also has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD countries.
These statistics are shocking, and the problem is not confined to NZ. All over the world women and children are disproportionate victims of family violence. The UN estimates that globally 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate male partner.
Escaping an abusive domestic situation can be extremely difficult, and women’s refuges are an essential lifeline for women and children who need to leave. Without these services more lives would be lost. But women's refuges are also in dire need of financial support.
Why not celebrate International Women’s Day by making a donation to your local refuge? Here are just a few of the services in NZ, the UK and Australia. Every financial contribution counts, no matter how small.
9. Watch these empowering TED Talks by women
Over the last few decades there have been hundreds of incredible TED Talks by women. These are just a few of the powerful, controversial and stimulating talks out there.
Thought-provoking viewing for anyone concerned with feminism and women’s issues.
- We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
- Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls by Leymah Gbowee.
- Color blind or color brave? By Mellody Hobson.
- The dangerous ways ads see women by Jean Kilbourne.
- The price of shame by Monica Lewinsky.
10. Do something kind for a woman you love
Whether it’s your mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, or a female friend… Why not celebrate IWD by making them feel special?
Send flowers, write a card, give a small gift, or take them out to a movie. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman; we can all show our gratitude and love for the women around us.
If you want to help a worthy cause at the same time, these unique gift cards from Oxfam help to provide safe refuge for women fleeing from violence.
Looking for more inspiration or content to share? Check out these 50 amazing leadership quotes from women. We'd love to hear what you (or your company) are doing to celebrate International Women's Day in 2017.