What if every day was a day like International Women’s Day?

Roseann Kelly MBE, CEO of Women in Business NI

We’re fast approaching a key date in the calendar for Women in Business. Although our organisation champions and celebrates women and recognises their value in every path of life each and every day, this is a day of particular significance where it seems that - even for just a few hours - the world wakes up to the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

International Women’s Day 2021 takes place next Monday and I can tell you now, it will seem as if every business, organisation, celebrity and politician you follow on social media or see on TV, as well as your next-door neighbour’s cat have finally recognised the impact and importance of the role of women.

Yes of course, celebrate it and revel in how far we have come, because we have, but there is a long way to go. And this is no time for complacency.

Gender discrimination and gender bias are still prevalent in our workplaces, in our communities and our culture, and even in the media here in Northern Ireland. Despite decades of rhetoric promoting women's equality, and calling for gender parity and equal opportunities for women in the workplace, these problems and discrimination and inequality against women are still very much alive and well in 2021.

Research in 2019 by The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) for Northern Ireland (NI), which measured the propensity of individuals to behave entrepreneurially, given social, cultural and economic conditions, revealed a staggering finding to this effect. The research highlights the fact that, across NI, female ‘total early-stage entrepreneurship’, (TEA), has consistently remained a third of that of men. It would appear that policy designed ostensibly to nurture greater gender equality in regards to entrepreneurial activity remains unfulfilled.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland report that on average more than a fifth of complaints received about discrimination in the workplace are about sex discrimination; of these, 21.5% are to do with pregnancy or maternity.

In the Health and Social Care Sector, women make up 79% of all staff - for whom we have all stood on our doorsteps clapping in the last year and gave thanks for their incredible bravery and hard work - but only 20% of Trust Chairs and 20% of Trust CEOs are female.

Childcare, which due to the Pandemic has been clearly seen as a key economic infrastructure, is yet another sector with a predominantly underpaid female work force.

Sport is one of our most prominent cultural platforms, yet women’s sport receives just seven per cent of all sports media coverage in the UK. Coverage of women’s sport in print media in Ireland increased by 53% in 2019, but yet still only equates to 5%.

Many business and organisations are going to great lengths to eradicate these issues in their workplaces, putting programmes and policies in place and building the foundations of new internal cultures that better support gender equality and gender parity. Women in Business launched the Diversity Charter Mark in 2017 and have since seen 80 of Northern Ireland’s top companies, from across a broad range of sectors sign up to advancing gender equality within their organisations.

Certainly, International Women’s Day is a valuable opportunity for us all to celebrate the role and contribution of women in every walk of life, and show our support and solidarity for a more inclusive world.

It provides an opportunity to shine a light on the systemic gender inequality and issues of discrimination. It provides an opportunity to make a call for change, and to Choose To Challenge.

But women should be afforded this type of platform every single day. We deserve to have our voices heard, and be afforded the listening ears on days other than just International Women’s Day. It shouldn’t be seen as a luxury or a bandwagon we all must quickly jump on to, before it has sped past and is gone for yet another year.

Think of the things we could do, the doors that would open and the incredibly valuable contribution and uplift we’d see to our economies and our culture if every day was a day like International Women’s Day.

I firmly believe that we will only get that every day equality when men are our allies. So, for International Women’s Day I #choose to challenge all men to challenge themselves.

Research shows that men think that other men have a high level of acceptance of sexism but in reality, most men don’t explicitly endorse sexism. This misconception creates a group dynamic whereby men reinforce sexist behaviour and zero-sum thinking through conformity. The good news is that often it takes just one man speaking up to change the dynamic.

I challenge you to be that Dynamic Change.