International Women’s Day is an incredibly important day of the year. Primarily, the day encourages us to celebrate women, but it plays a much more crucial role in shedding a light on gender inequalities and bringing them into people’s conscious thoughts. This year’s International Women’s Day celebrated the theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’, selected because challenge ignites change. In choosing to challenge gender inequalities and biases towards women, the campaign helps to bring these issues to everyone’s attention, reminding us that gender equality is something that we must think about, talk about and continue to educate ourselves on constantly.
Although this is seemingly very positive, International Women’s Day should be a call to action to ensure that these conversations don’t just happen one day of the year, but occur every day. This is how choosing to challenge will become a springboard for meaningful and widespread change.
Changes we make on a personal level can sometimes have the largest impact and one of the biggest personal challenges to overcome in the wider battle for gender equality is our own individual unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are the underlying stereotypes that we attribute to people based on factors such as their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, weight and race. How can we stimulate societal change if we are unaware of the subconscious prejudices that we hold onto as individuals? The only way to tackle these biases is to educate ourselves on them so that we can begin to notice when we are forming an opinion of someone based on a false, subconscious inclination. This will allow us to challenge stereotypical social narratives on a larger scale.
What can we do?
Something seemingly as simple as listening can make a huge difference. Being able to empathise and to listen is something we can all do to enact change – opening up to information that you may otherwise not be attuned to.
Recently in the UK, the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard has sparked conversations about women feeling unsafe walking home and educated men on the normality and regularity of this issue for women around the world. These conversations are beginning to influence men’s behaviour, and so first and foremost, we must learn to listen.
However, awareness is just the first step. Being educated on the issues facing women is not enough. Men must be active allies to women: that means making a conscious effort to look out for unconscious biases and educate your team on the issue. If someone is behaving in a way that works against progression towards gender equality, speak up.
Change from the top
The disruption caused by the pandemic also disrupted many diversity and inclusion initiatives that were underway, leading to a nationwide regression on gender equality. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), women spent more time on unpaid childcare and housework during lockdown than men, and were also more likely to be furloughed than their male counterparts.
Businesses need to use this disruption as an opportunity to address entrenched biases and spearhead change. International Women’s Day has acted as a catalyst for many businesses to get back into gear with regards to diversity and inclusion programmes and many organisations are making headway. However, business leaders must work to maintain this momentum all year round to enact long-lasting change.
NTT DATA UK’s DoDiversity campaign acts as an umbrella for the series of initiatives that we are running to tackle diversity and inclusion, giving a platform to all these important topics. It serves as a beacon for the celebration of diversity and enables NTT DATA employees to know that they are a part of something bigger, and that their voice matters.
What other steps can businesses take to address diversity every day of the year?
1. Introduce flexible working
The pandemic has proven that working from home on flexible hours can be highly productive. Going forwards, business leaders can better support women by embracing the benefits of a more fluid approach to balancing home and work life. This will both better support the needs of working women with families and encourage more women to stay in work and continue their career progression into more senior roles.
2. Role models and mentoring
Having role models can be of huge value, not just in terms of career guidance for young women, but also in giving mentors the opportunity to broaden their perspective and understanding of others. NTT DATA is a proud partner of The Girls Network, a charity that aims to inspire young women from disadvantaged backgrounds by connecting them with mentors and female role models. NTT DATA also uses its own RISE programme to provide mentorship for employees throughout their career.
Reverse mentoring has also opened my eyes to the complexity of discrimination. I have learned about the correct language to use, the hurdles that women have to go through in their career, and other subtle biases that men are generally unaware of. I have been educated about the layers of discrimination, learning that discrimination is multifaceted, incorporating not only gender and race but education and socio-economic background among other factors.
3. Take steps to address Imposter Syndrome
There have been many conversations in recent months about the prominence of imposter syndrome for women at work. ONS research shows that women have felt more anxious, depressed and lonely than men during lockdown.
Although it is clear that we must all be a little kinder to ourselves throughout this challenging time, business leaders can assist in reducing imposter syndrome among staff by providing direct and specific feedback. Someone saying, “great work” is much less likely to be remembered than “your presentation was well prepared, you presented with great confidence and your engagement with the audience was fantastic throughout.” This will help employees to internalise feedback, rather than disregard it.
4. Highlight women and their accomplishments
Shining a spotlight on women’s career achievements serves to promote the image of successful working women, reducing gender stereotypes of women as the primary caregivers. A great example of this can be seen in Virgin Media UK’s recent focus on profiling two of their female apprentices as leading examples of their vibrant apprenticeship scheme.
NTT DATA are also working to highlight women and their experience of work – not to mention our new initiatives in Singapore, Japan and India.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year highlighted the need for all individuals to choose to challenge gender bias and inequality. The obstacles to diversity and inclusion posed by the pandemic serve to emphasise the importance of taking responsibility for our individual attitudes to gender equality and making sure that we integrate them into our daily lives. Only then will International Women’s Day act as a true catalyst for change.