By Dr Scott Taylor, Reader in Leadership & Organization Studies at Birmingham Business School
Have you noticed any changes to the gender balance at work? Or the gender dynamics? If you haven’t, you’re probably not paying attention. Feminism is in the midst of a resurgence, that some academics are calling the ‘fourth wave’. This most recent period of activism builds on the first wave of suffragism, in the UK in particular, when women fought for the vote and property rights. The second wave, that we can still talk to many participants of, happened from the 1960s on – and resulted in more equal access to work and education. The third wave is less high profile, happening when individual choice and pluralism were promoted. And the current fourth wave? Think about everyday protests, for example against the requirement to wear high heeled shoes to work, and very broad political action, when women make common cause whatever their ethnicity, socio-economic status, education, or work.
If you look into it, you will also find some people protesting against contemporary feminism, arguing that women are already sufficiently privileged, that equality has been achieved, and that men are increasingly disadvantaged. This is untrue and incorrect – so if you come into contact with that attitude, here are some good reasons to continue celebrating International Women’s Day, especially at work.
- Because it started as an event specifically designed to highlight and improve conditions for women working. Women in workplaces have been at the vanguard of improving both working life and everyday life beyond work, and this international consciousness-raising event is a key moment in the year, every year. International Women’s Day deserves everyone’s support to honour all of the work that has been done in its name.
- Because it now has the support of the United Nations, which designates a theme each year. The themes are varied and speak to the concerns of different groups of women (and men, of which more in a moment) each year – 2017 is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for gender equality’, for example, while 2012 was ‘Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger’. International Women’s Day is a rare, inclusive event that is meaningful to all.
- Because some, or perhaps many, of your colleagues won’t be aware that women’s experiences of work are still demonstrably different to men’s, even in countries with the most directive legislation. Why does Google display fewer adverts for high-paying jobs to women users? Why are women made responsible for the majority of domestic labour? Why are so many occupational groups paid differentially, from cleaners to architects to film stars? International Women’s Day can help you find out.
- Because it’s fun. One of the key indicators of wellbeing is the ability to act, and International Women’s Day provides a wide range of routes to action of all kinds – from the relatively conventional, like marching through capital cities with like-minded friends, to the intellectual in engaging with research on gender discrimination and its effects, to the fun, by finding and wearing traditional national costume.
- Because everyone needs it. International Women’s Day is about women, but it provides a great way of challenging the normative masculinities that do so much damage to the majority of men as well as women. Everyone wins.
And finally…. because if we know anything about gender equality at work, we know that it’s happening slowly, and needs to be provoked. Every little helps.