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International Women’s Day: March 8th

Our focus on women and their finances continues under the spotlight of Holborn finance writer Vicky Bizzell, who reviews the triumphs and tragedies of today’s International Women’s Day (IWD) from her perspective as a professional counsellor and academic as well as single mum. Vicky writes:

Today the focus of the world is on women, whilst here at Holborn the focus never strays far from women’s finances. And rightly so. Do you worry for the financial future of your daughter(s)? I do … My 9-year-old daughter raised the subject of gender equality the other day, in the innocent but challenging way (!) that 9-year-olds do: She wanted to know why it was that sports teams on TV were dominated by men. A fair question, when you think about it. But how to respond? I explained that women had their own teams; that they played all the same sports but often competed separately; and that they didn’t get as much coverage on TV as men. My daughter then stumped me: “Why can’t men and women play on the same sports team?” She asked. Well … why not indeed? I found myself floundering. I waffled on about height-weight ratios and biological difference, which left her perplexed and unsatisfied. To my daughter’s eyes, men and women aren’t so very different, and it made no sense that “they didn’t play together, even though boys are sometimes really annoying!” So, for my daughter aged 9, the only significant difference between the genders was that boys are more annoying. (Not more powerful, or stronger, or more entitled.) I wondered then how long it would be before the reality of the gender gap became noticeable in my daughter’s life; I wondered how many days she will have to effectively work for free when she grows up … … And how many International Women’s Days will go by before gender gaps of all kinds have disappeared.  

What’s International Women’s Day (IWD) about?

The theme for IWD 2018 is Press for Progress, in acknowledgement of the growing conversation around gender equality sparked by the “me too” campaign and the “Time’s up!” movement. The IWD website hosts a list of events that are happening worldwide if you want to participate in person, or you can make a financial pledge on the website.  

History of IWD

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since the early 1900s and -though its precise origins are difficult to pinpoint – its ethos can be traced back to a women’s rally in 1908 in New York City in which 15,000 women gathered to protest their right to vote as well as call for fairer pay and equal rights. At an International Women’s Conference in Denmark in 1910 it was proposed that there should be an International Women’s Day – one day a year to celebrate women the world over, champion their rights and call for equality.  In 1914, International Women’s Day was held on March 8th amidst the increasing activity of suffragettes and women’s rights activists across the West.  It has been observed on this day ever since.  

Is IWD still relevant?

Over 100 years later, what does International Women’s Day mean for us now?  Are we any closer to achieving the goals of the women’s movement? On March 4th thousands of people joined a march in central London to celebrate 100 years of women gaining the right to vote. The “uplifting and inspiring” march was organised to draw attention to continuing gender inequality and to shine a light on the gender pay gap. Banners that read “Let’s finish what the suffragettes started” and “Close the pay gap” suggest that the vision set out over 100 years ago is far from being realised.  

Fancy working 51 days a year for free?

The Telegraph reports that in 2017 “women effectively worked “for free” for 51 days of the year because of the gender pay gap.” (Telegraph, 6th Jan) According to the World Economic Forum report 2017, the gender gap worsened for the first time in a decade – hardly evidence that things are moving in the right direction. The report, which measures equality across access to education, health, politics and the workplace, is sobering news indeed: at the current rate of progress it will take another 217 years to close the economic gender gap. New gender pay gap figures recently revealed that in the UK women are being paid less than half than men in some of Britain’s largest companies: Easyjet, Virgin Money and Unilever were among some of the biggest offenders. According to Eurostat, the gender pay gap averages 17 per cent across Europe, while in the UK the gap between male and female salaries is 20 per cent, higher than Slovakia and Portugal.  Adelle Kehoe, senior researcher at business comparison site Expert Market writes “This study brings the devastating effects of the gender pay gap into clear focus. It is absolutely astonishing that in the 21st century women are still suffering such financial penalties merely because of their gender.  I hope this report encourages women across Europe to continue to campaign for gender equality in the workplace and in society as a whole.” (Independent 16th Oct 2017) In Dubai, of course, it is recognized that the gender pay gap very slightly favours women – but this is certainly also recognised as bucking the global trend.   

Gender inequality – the white-hot topic for 2018

In case we were in any doubt that gender inequality was relegated to the history books, 2017 proved to be quite a year for bringing the subject of gender back in to the popular consciousness. Amidst the controversy of the Weinstein revelations and the “speaking out” of the “me too” campaign, women’s bodies became the site of much of the discourse surrounding gender inequality. As women the world over have found voice and solidarity in speaking about their exploitation, harassment in the workplace and the gender pay gap, the topic of gender parity has become as relevant now as it was 100 years ago. Just after the World Economic Forum reported that the gender gap is worsening, The Oscars (at the other end of the scale), for all of its liberal posturing and emotional outpouring, awarded only 6 Oscars to women, and 33 to men – meaning that men won everything they possibly could win. For all of the talk and congratulatory speeches, there was very little “action” on display. The World Economic Forum takes a pragmatic view of gender parity that may, going forward, help to steer the debate away from sensationalism and toward rationality – a move that the original suffragettes might wholly have approved of: “There is a clear values-based case for promoting gender parity: women are one-half of the world’s population and evidently deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential, and political decision-making power……Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide.” (World Economic Forum) Simply put, gender inequality hurts the economy, the nation, and worldwide growth.  

Women in the workplace – speak out!

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” — Alice Walker While more and more women have taken to social media to voice their experiences of inequality, it seems that speaking out in the workplace is as difficult as ever. Recent research, conducted by Rada in Business, revealed that women are 68 per cent more likely than men to say they “never feel comfortable when expressing themselves in a work environment.” (This is not because women are no good at communication!)  

So what does prevent women from speaking out in the workplace?

Well, there are a variety of factors at play here. Women tend to be more apologetic and self-effacing in meetings, less assertive about their ideas and proposals, which is partly attributable to the power dynamic at play within male dominated environments. Psychology and cultural conditioning have a role here too. Generally within Western culture and society, girls are raised to be caring, kind and inclusive, to search for acceptance. These qualities can often seem at odds with leadership roles and management positions that require assertion and the possibility of making unpopular decisions. Undermining a lifetime’s worth of conditioning is not a simple process. Then there is, of course, the issue of the gender pay gap; the persistent sense that a woman’s work is undervalued and under-compensated.

International Women’s Day 2018 – get active!

Today the BBC reports that, “women workers in Spain are marking International Women’s Day with an unprecedented strike targeting gender inequality and sexual discrimination.” Similar large-scale protests are expected globally. Protesting isn’t for everybody, and many will honour today by simply honouring women – their achievements, their struggles, the many roles they shift between in any given day: mother, lover, sister, breadwinner, wife, friend, colleague, homemaker, manager. You could mark your appreciation by treating yourself, or a woman you care for, to a spa day, or a bunch of flowers, or a meal cooked with love. Or perhaps you could take the opportunity to simply look around you today at the women in your life: talk to them, value them, support them and recognize that there is much still to be done. That perhaps we shouldn’t rest until “men and women play on the same team.” However we manage that. “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” — Marie Curie

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