This year has seen the first ever FTSE100 company assemble an all-female top team and the proportion of women occupying board roles at Britain’s largest listed companies has surpassed 40% for the first time. At the same time, 85% of women are still leaving full-time employment within three years of having children and a new study by PwC estimates it will still take more than 50 years to close the gender pay gap at our current rate of progress.
This all makes it an interesting time to be hosting International Women’s Day events. And this was made even more the case by this year’s choice of theme. Organisers opted for the tagline ‘Embrace Equity’ and supported this with a roster of images of women hugging themselves. At Raconteur, we invited five female founders and business leaders to speak on a panel to discuss running a business, hiring more inclusively and just what they thought about this year’s campaign.
I have a mixed relationship with International Women’s Day. I’ve described it in the past as an orgy of performative feminism. I observe a lot of companies using it as a marketing opportunity and a way to look more diverse than they really are, rather than an authentic effort around dismantling inequalities for women, as it should be. And this year’s campaign didn’t help.
Embrace Equity could have been a good theme, but they destroyed any sort of positive impact of the theme through the imagery. When I talk to people, there tends not to be a mature understanding of equity versus equality and what that actually means. By choosing that theme and then going for such a flaky image, I think they’ve reinforced a lot of people’s points of view that it’s a marketing moment rather than a genuine moment for feminism.
Equity is an absolutely brilliant thing because equity is all about giving me what I need to succeed and, as a woman, what you need to succeed and excel changes through your life. So you have babies, you go through the menopause, you have periods and they might be really hideous. Equity is an absolutely brilliant subject.
I think the embracing yourself element is absolutely dire. It misses the point. The point isn’t about loving yourself and embracing yourself; it’s not about the embracing bit, it’s about the equity bit. The communications around it don’t make any effort at all to explain what’s meant by equity.
Equity is about the structural issues that exist for women. We are all different and we need to understand that when we walk into the room, my stock might be lower than the next woman’s. Recognising that is really important. When you lay it out with the different life stages that women go through, it becomes even more complex.
Visuals aside, I really do think the theme is important. We need to talk about equity and we need to consider the intersectional identities of women. While there is still education required around the difference between equity and equality, I think this is a great path forward towards recognising that women are different. We come from different backgrounds. We are at very different start lines. And we need the systems and the structures around us to change, to allow each and every one of us the opportunity to drive and to realise our potential.
This International Women’s Day is particularly important for me because it’s leaning into equity and creating awareness of our differences. Brilliant, brilliant theme. Terrible, terrible visual.
My issue around the visuals of embracing yourself is that it suggests progress is driven by you, as if it’s all about you loving yourself. The organisers had such an opportunity to educate people on the difference between equity and equality, and that’s been totally missed.
I don’t think it should be on each woman to improve things for herself, we’ve all got to work together. I’m very aware of the privilege that I have and I’m always conscious of how I raise other people up around me. We’re looking at doing apprenticeships rather than recruiting through graduate schemes, for example, because we’re going to get a more diverse group of people in our business that way. I think it’s about everyone as individuals being really aware and making sure you’re lifting other people up around you.
I think International Women’s Day is great. It’s a good excuse to highlight female talent when we’re not highlighted every day, but there is still a long way to go. For example, when it comes to raising funding for your business, only 2% of VC funding goes to female founders, only 0.3% to female founders of colour. So you’re really up against it and you really feel it when you’re going to raise. When a business is founded by a man versus a woman, the results are so different and that’s really based on the capital that they’re able to raise.
People need to take accountability. It shouldn’t always be up to the women or the people of colour. And yes, it is hard, it’s time consuming, but what can you actually do to make sure you’re contributing to a better future? That’s what we should all be thinking about.