This was the question I was asking myself when preparing to write a piece for this year’s IWD and when I asked a few of my friends about its origins I wasn’t alone in not knowing the history. So, I decided to do a bit of digging and do a post ahead of the 8th March which I hope frames many of the initiatives our friends and colleagues will be doing on #BeatTheBias
International Women’s Day (IWD) has been very important to me for many years and having had a little more time for reflection this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore how IWD came about and what that means for us today…
You might wonder why I mention Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine here…You’ll see why, and how poignant it is especially this year – an act that has so unified the free world in support of the people of Ukraine and their right to self-determination – serves as an appalling yet timely backdrop. I was fascinated to read about the pivotal role in the origins of IWD played by Russian women standing up to imperial power.
Some history: the seeds of IWD were sown in 1908 in the USA when 15,000 women marched through New York calling for improved working rights and suffrage. The IWD concept spread rapidly and by 1911 was celebrated in 17 countries across the globe.
However, the official annual date of 8th March was only formalised in 1917 when tens of thousands of Russian women congregated in Petrograd waving banners demanding “Bread and Peace”. A few short days later, the Tsar was gone, and women were granted the right to vote. Source: BBC News}
Here at home, it took until 1970 for the Equal Pay Act to be introduced – within my lifetime, but only just, the year I was born. Furthermore, it was only as recently as 1980 that women could apply for credit or loans in their own name, without the signature of their husband! However, further, change is happening, I hasten to add.
The Alison Rose Review into Female Entrepreneurship, which I was delighted to support, reveals that 140,000 businesses were started by women last year compared with 58,000 in 2018. The Rose Review provides us with the hard facts that make the case for women’s equality inarguable and Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise and Climate Engagement at NatWest and her team who we have been working with for some years, continues to advocate for practical steps to be put in place to create policy and good practice.
For any woman oppressed or denied equal status, I believe there is a man, or men – mostly unwittingly – demeaned through association with an inequitable act. Taking the credit loan signature example outlined above; what is the impact on relationships where one party must sign for another – equally capable – adult, simply because of their sex? Thankfully, this was rectified, however, the impact on individuals and society of such situations is insidious, creating norms and stereotypes, with unintended consequences for many.
Of course, achieving a level playing field between men and women on legal fundamentals and human rights is an essential and minimum first step. However, as someone who has had to confront challenges associated with my sex from a very early age, I have always found that solutions lie in seeing the outcome regardless of gender.
Women have often been referred to in terms of their nurturing and “softer” skills – and not always in a complimentary manner. However, if we had ever doubted it, the past couple of years have shown us all the true strength of soft power – look no further than frontline and emergency services workers. These soft skills are often what’s needed to look below the surface, at human drivers, and achieve effective outcomes together as a team or group. Perhaps more so than the traditional “masculine” approach.
As an Army Reservist – in what is a historically male-dominated arena – I am consistently impressed and honoured to be working with incredibly progressive male role models championing women and diversity. I am proud to have been included in debates at Army Headquarters and Royal Military Sandhurst Academy, where I worked with Lt. Col Debs Taylor on the Women 100 Symposium, a massive undertaking and one of my proud moments. Debs is a phenomenal woman I can also now call a friend. I have many friends, both male and female, who have done incredible work around inclusion and who genuinely see the good in people and make a concerted effort to understand unconscious biases, which brings me right back to this year’s #IWD theme #BreakTheBias.
On 8th March 2022, I would love to be with the Enterprise M3 Diversity and Inclusion Board, their wonderful CEO Kathy Slack, and my fellow Non-Executive Directors. However, I will be on my fourth day of radiotherapy treatment and the final part of my journey, for which I am eternally grateful. It will be good to be out of active treatment, and the first thing I will be doing is visiting my clients and partners. In fact, my 2022 debut is with the Federation of Small Business on 21st March – another fabulous organisation doing so much to support society in many ways.