Hey, International Women’s Day – I’m breaking up with you!

I’m calling it. We have lost our way and I’m disappointed in us.

We suck at moving women forward, so I’m done ‘celebrating’.

International Women’s Day theoretically commemorates the movement for women’s rights and gender equality. The idea is great. It’s supportive and suggests that we need to rectify some of the seriously startling statistics on gender equality in our time.

Statistics that aren’t limited to how underpaid women are in the workplace in comparison to their male counterparts. Or how 50% of women report being discriminated against when they return to work after having children. This is without even mentioning the instances of workplace sexual harassment, domestic and sexual violence that affects women on a far larger scale than men.

This year, International Women’s Day comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. This has taken the form of global marches and campaigns, including #MeToo and #TimesUp in the United States of America. These movements have raised awareness about issues ranging from sexual harassment and femicide, to equal pay and women’s political representation. And now International Women’s Day is here to ‘celebrate’ them all.

But I call BS.

I look around and see a very frustrating echo in business and politics –  both in Australia and abroad. We can talk the talk, but actions speak louder than words. And that’s why we’re not being heard.

We are woeful at moving the needle on issues like:

  • The gender pay gap
  • Female representation at senior levels
  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Violence against women

Yes, we’ve heard reports that Australian women have closed the gender pay gap by 3% since 2014. But it’s still at 15.3%. Even more startling, it was at 14.9% in 2004. So in 15 years, the gender pay gap has actually increased!

Equally depressing, in Australia, women represented 25% of board directors in Australia, but the numbers show that only 12.7% of ASX 200 boards had targets in place to increase their female representation.

We’re patting ourselves on the back with swathes of pink and purple at morning teas and crafting beautifully curated posts on social media in support of International Women’s Day, but it’s nothing more than an empty ‘attaboy’ rather than actual action. It’s harsh, and even writing it makes me feel like I’m letting the sisterhood down but hear me out.

What if we actually did something?

Women, girls, mums, grandmothers – we get shit done. What if we banded together along with every workplace acting to recognise International Women’s Day, and asked them to build something crazy, new and innovative?

I know they’d get it done, and they’d do it fast.

Yet in spite of this, research shows that top-tier female managers earn $93 000 less than their peers. And to add to the insult they are twice as likely to be told they need more “confidence” but then criticised for being “too assertive”. It’s 2018, and I can still hear the comments about PMS around the water cooler. Honestly, how many men have been criticised for being “too assertive”?

To compare our progress, let’s head to Hollywood. A place that I’m telling you, is doing more to advocate for gender equality than any other industry I know of. In 2013, the average actress in a Hollywood film made only 35-40% of her male counterpart’s salary in a comparable role. In 2017, experts estimate that that number now sits between 52-58%.

Yep, that’s still a cringe-worthy number, but in terms of growth, it means that Hollywood has managed to close their wage gap by at minimum 12% in the same time it has taken Australian business women to almost get the wage gap back to what it was in 2004.

What action should we really be taking to support one another?

So, how did Hollywood do it?

Simply put, women stopped acting grateful and started being powerful.

Actresses publicly called out their bosses for offering less than they were worth, and demanded they be paid fairly in comparison to their male counterparts. Some even accused the studios of systematically lying to actresses about how much their co-stars were being paid. Many spoke about times that they had threatened to quit the project if their remuneration wasn’t fair. And just a few months ago, Jessica Chastain (like the boss she is), found out one of her female co-stars had only been offered half of her own salary and promptly threated to quit the project unless they were paid equally. That meant a salary increase of 500%.

In a culture of silence, these women have used their voices on an unprecedented scale. And to great effect.

It’s not just about #hashtags, it’s about progress.

To all my women in business and women in politics, I’m telling you now, you don’t represent me with morning teas and well-cut suits one or 2 days a year. And you can stuff your $350 breakfasts and your beautiful shoes.

What I want, and what my daughter needs is your action.

We can’t just talk powerful or act powerful or seem powerful.

We need to BE powerful.

Imagine if we rallied behind one another in the same way Jessica Chastain did? Could we close the pay gap by 12% by 2021?

In 2017 there were 32 women in the CEO position at Fortune 500 companies. Now, imagine if it doubled in one year?

Imagine if every woman in a senior position took just one other woman under her wing, and helped negotiate her salary come review time?

And now, I’m talking to the HR department.

Imagine if we, the female HR practitioners and recruiters, started a more open conversation about pay? What if we advocated for our fellow power-house women and made damned sure they were compensated fairly?

That sounds a hell of a lot more useful for our future than a token International Women’s Day breakfast.

Yes, we’re all busy, we’re all working hard, but we’re also all talking about needing change. So, it’s time we face the harsh reality that change is harder than simply creating a hashtag. Change is about creating habits.

So here is one you can start today:

To keep gender equality at the forefront of your workplace, I’ve drawn inspiration from companies, Jacobs and BeyondZero, who have ingrained the practices they want into every aspect of their work culture.

At Jacobs, in EVERY meeting someone will give a Safety Moment. They tell a story quick story with safety as a theme – it could be about a paper cut, near miss, or something more sinister. It could have occurred to them personally or someone in their family or social circle, it could be story they heard, it could have happened in a home, on a footpath, at a school, on the way to work, or at the shops. They have Safety Moments because they want safety to be at the forefront everyone’s mind all the time, and in so doing their people become more observant to risk and hazard, and incidents decrease. And it works.

I challenge your business

Jacobs have become serious about safety, so let’s become serious about gender equality. Let’s work to bridge that gap in the workplace or in the world by making a habit of talking about the gender equality issues that are still a very present part of Australian business culture.

Going forward, take 1 minute to TALK about:

  • How you or someone you know have helped a woman or girl succeed
  • Female representation in the senior levels
  • Covert discrimination
  • Sexual harassment (or someone that shut it down)
  • A win for a woman or women in your business

That’s talking about 1 woman, for 1 minute per meeting.

If the Guardian (in the UK) can report weekly on the gender pay gap and children in America can shift the gun debate with more deft an aplomb than seasoned journos, let’s rise to the challenge. It’s time to take control and ownership of our issues and start affecting change.

And not just today. Let’s do it every day.

Do you think your company, or even just your team could commit to our #1w1m1m initiative? Or do you have other ideas? Instead of pledging your support for International Women’s Day, what actions will you vow to take?

Nathalie Lynton is a superhero business woman and HR expert with over 15 year’s experience. She gives small and medium businesses access to affordable and full integrated support in functional business areas such as HR, planning, IT, accounting and marketing. Her career is driven by one goal: to make passion and meaning a more important part of Australian workplaces. You can find her LinkedIn profile here.

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