International Women’s Day: More than just a day
11 Mar 2021
It’s safe to say that it’s hard to truly capture how the pandemic has affected everybody. Yet, it’s no secret that women have borne the brunt of its negative effects, with new statistics coming out almost daily on the different ways we have been disadvantaged. Recently, for example, a pension gender pay gap was reported, caused by the fact that the drop in income many women have experienced over the last year has led to them being forced to dig into their pension savings. This has had a knock-on effect on their pension contributions, meaning they’re currently unable to save less for the long term.
The start of this week, 8th March, commemorated this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD). To celebrate, Harvard hosted an event, ‘IWD: The Pandemic Through a Female Lens’, which featured a female panel made up from:
- Jessie Bland – Senior digital and brand strategist within planning, Harvard’s very finest
- Claire Ferguson – Managing Partner and Head of Agency Comms at MediaCom UK
- Hannah Maule-ffinch – An award-winning freelance photographer
- And myself – A Junior Account Executive at the agency
The idea behind the event and the array of panellists involved was to provide a diverse range of perspectives on how the pandemic has affected different women. From Jessie who moved houses during the pandemic and was discovering the ups and downs of living alone for the first time to Hannah, who was abroad when the pandemic took a hold of the UK, and had to process quickly, the news being thrust upon her during a photography job. From Claire, who was dealing with the anxiety that comes with juggling multiple balls as a working mother to myself who was navigating the ropes of starting a new role remotely.
Despite being on various parts of a spectrum life stage-wise, the emotional toil of the pandemic did unite us – for example, the feeling of dread and helplessness caused by the constant consumption of news, especially at the start of last year. Yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom with Jessie and I later agreeing that over the last year we’ve come to appreciate and realise the true beauty of family and our female friendships.
Back to Square One?
We talked about worrying statistics shared by Jessie suggesting the pandemic is having a regressive effect worldwide on women’s rights. UN research predicts that based on current circumstances, it would take a further 130 years for gender equality to be achieved in the highest positions of power. Similarly, the perception of women was also regressing as remote working caused female employees to become more strongly associated with child rearing. Despite this, remote working also seems to provide a flexibility to working that many women have long been needing. But whether it will continue to be an option for them post-pandemic is still yet to be known.
The very real struggle of grappling with imposter syndrome was also explored, with an excellent comment being made by Jessie about how success for women does not come once imposter syndrome disappears, rather, we thrive despite it. This tends to affect women no matter how senior their role, often triggered by a lack of representation. Often misperceived as an excuse made by women, it’s something many struggle with but feel unable to tell management about. Perhaps if there were safe spaces provided where women can be honest about their feelings and share them with employers (since we often have to hide feelings of imposter syndrome), maybe it would incentivise more companies to prioritise gender diversity within their workforces.
The Road to Change
To ensure IWD doesn’t stay just a day, how do we keep the momentum going and push for permanent change?
Claire mentioned a really great point on allyship – this is something often overlooked in the pursuit of workplace diversity; but for schemes, and the people they help attract, to really thrive they need to have the full support of existing employees. This may be a learning opportunity for many workplaces, especially for male staff, as they seek to discover what allyship looks like in action. The guidebook to allyship is probably another post within itself but one thing that does go a long way is listening to female employees.
Since the pandemic’s effects cannot be generalised, it is important that senior management seek to develop relationships with their female staff, especially those who are ethnic minorities. Company surveys are a great way to get perspective on the issues and concerns currently plaguing female employees. But everyone has their own experience to share, so forming relationships is essential since somethings just can’t be conveyed through numbers!
The IWD theme for this year, #choosetochallenge, is about using your voice and embracing any opportunities to take a stance against acts of gender inequality. Education is an important part in this so why not follow more accounts on social media championing the voices of women and the female experience – such @UNWomen, @TheFemaleLead and @Pregnantthenscrewed.
To wrap up, panel members talked through what they would #choose to challenge or seek to change moving forwards. Hannah’s choice stood out to me because it was about self-care; something it’s been very easy to neglect over the past year as the world has seemingly spiralled out of control. She talked about not being too hard on herself and bowing to the self-pressure to always be working. And although it may not explicitly look linked to #choosetochallenge, it very much is since wider change starts from within. As we strive towards making the world – and workplace- better for everyone, we shouldn’t neglect ourselves in the process.
What are you #choosingtochallenge this year?
Some further reading recommendations:
Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene
Mckinsey global research – COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects
Some great solutions suggested in Deloitte’s research – Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women