International Women’s Day 2023
This International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2023, the campaign theme is #EmbraceEquity. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESDOC); “Gender equity means fairness of treatment for men and women according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities.”
In essence, this can be distilled into the difference between fairness versus equality, where fairness means treating people according to their needs. Equity involves recognising the difference in our starting points versus our opportunities. Unlike equality, it doesn’t just mean levelling the playing field, it means accounting for the fact that some people come to play with the help of a coach and top of the line equipment, while other people have only just been allowed on the field. Equality may be our end goal, but it is through equity that we make our way there.
Since as far back as c. 500 BC, and likely earlier still, we as humans have been discussing the big “C” word; Change. Heraclitus, the Ancient Greek philosopher is well known for the phrase, “There is nothing permanent except change.” The question we need to ask ourselves is, how do we make sure we are working together to change things for the better?
MII have an active, diverse, global membership network. We spoke to MII Members, inside and outside of our walls, and asked their thoughts on what we can do as a collective to drive gender equity.
Discovering Your Blind Spot
“What needs to be done to move towards equity? Understand it and identify your blind spot,” says Kay McCarthy, Founder and CEO MCCP, The Independent Strategy Agency.
McCarthy and her team work with clients in different sectors to help them understand and recognise their blind spots and thus their opportunities. She believes that the path to equity can follow a similar process across industries. It starts with individuals and looks to help based on needs and goals rather that assuming that one size fits all.
By embracing flexibility and challenging bias it allows for needs to be understood and individuals’ skills to be facilitated in a more tailored way. In terms of concrete steps, this can include ensuring job applications are accessible to all and the interview panel is diverse. “Change your mind set to start with the person and their potential, aim to break the stereotype and aim for better.” she says.
Fiona Sweeney, Senior Marketing Director Europe and MII Board Member insists the devil is in the detail. “What gets measured gets done” is how she succinctly puts it.
Sweeney posits that true transformation happens when companies commit to realistic targets with clearly defined owners. Creating measurable governance plans based on facts, research and a clear view of the future provides a roadmap for success. Some of the examples she gave included tailored plans to support those returning to the workplace after an absence, and specific plans to support mothers who are currently in the workplace.
Setting down this measurable focus on equity not only works to bridge some of the existing gaps in equality through policies and programs, but it also works to bring about changes in the culture of the organisation to be more supportive of women.
Feminism for All
Theresa Roseingrave, Chief Marketing Officer, believes that in order to effect change “both men and women need to adopt a feminist attitude.” Gender parity is not the sole responsibility of women. As humans, together we create the world we live in and the shift in attitude needs to permeate across society. As the saying goes, alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.
“Our educators, employers and politicians must foster a society that ensures our young women and girls know they are not limited by their gender in career, sport, education, or any other facet of their lives.” Roseingrave passionately emphasises. Through this feminist lens, a change in decision making can take place whereby unconscious biases start to be addressed and accounted for.
Feminism is, in a way, a shorthand for equality through equity. Reinforcing this as a collective journey rather than a gender battle is the key to succeeding together.
Gary Joyce, Managing Partner, Genesis and MII Board Member echoed Roseingrave’s sentiments saying that “Gender equity is a societal issue, not a women’s issue.” She believes that as a collective, we need to reflect on the benefits of gender equity and parity and if we genuinely have the appetite to change the system in the radical ways that are required to achieve them.
“For gender parity to be possible, we need societal and corporate transformation and a significant values shift, a process that has begun because of the changes wrought by Covid and climate change as well as the latest research into human health and wellbeing amongst other factors.” Joyce observes.
She acknowledges that organisations have begun to consider their societal impact through ESG strategies and metrics but believes there is still a way to go. Similar to Sweeney, Joyce believes that, while a good start, policies around pay, parental leave, menopause and fertility are not enough – the culture of the organisation must encourage parity and participation by all genders. She sees this happening only when leaders truly consider how their organisations can change to achieve parity between individual and societal wellbeing and corporate performance.
Flexibility is Key
Nikki Gibney, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Deloitte suggests that the key to achieving gender equity is building flexibility into roles across the business. The way she sees it; “We need to see flexibility as something that will evolve over time, as an individuals’ needs and life circumstances change.”
Gibney shared some examples of flexibility that organisations can incorporate which don’t just include part time or reduced hours. She believes there are other options available which can suit the cyclical and changing needs of the individual such as flexibility of start and finish times which could change depending on school holidays.
Similar to Roseingrave and Joyce, Gibney asserts “That flexibility needs to be offered to all genders if we are to achieve real parity.” She has a very valid point here. Giving similar parental leave to mothers and fathers could be one way to reduce the stigma, pressure and assumptions based around women becoming parents as opposed to men. Keeping flexibility in mind throughout changing circumstances and conditions can build resilience in the strategy for equity achieving equality.
With Awareness Comes Change
According to Jessica Norris, Marketing Director Ireland, Pernod Ricard; “Diversity is an asset to high performing businesses – diversity is the difference, inclusion is the mix to make the differences work.”
Despite this Norris believes that awareness amongst companies and individuals on exactly how far away we are from achieving gender parity in the workplace is actually very low. Noting the rise in “noise” from businesses about their actions she felt it was equally important to recognise the true reality of where we are now.
Here Norris cited the recent statistic from the UN that at the current rate of progress, it will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, and at least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.
By taking the time to understand the reality of where we are now and raising awareness, businesses and industries can begin to develop the tools they need to make a difference in the significant equity gap. Norris ended with a call for action; “Setting more stretch goals and targets, introducing parity initiatives at each stage of the recruitment, progression, and retention journey of all employees, and equity campaigns such as this are a positive start. As a collective we need to drive this within our own business, industry and the wider community.”
Embrace Equity Today
Thank you to our MII Members for sharing their unique and valuable insights on how we can take collective action to drive gender parity and equity on the road to equality.
We all want an equal world where difference is valued and celebrated. This International Women’s Day we ask all MII Members to reflect on how you can #EmbraceEquity in your own lives and in your workplace. Because looking to the future means recognising the present while remembering the past.