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International Women’s Day — How Do You Celebrate?

By Cinndy Erickson, WEN board member

They fought for my rights. They were beaten, ridiculed, jailed — and yet they kept fighting. For over a century, starting before the Civil War, women in this country fought for equality, better pay, safer working conditions and, critically, the right to vote and hold public office. They endured unthinkable hardships so that I have the rights I enjoy, and sometimes take for granted.

I was surprised to hear that International Women’s Day has been celebrated for 109 years. All the marching, rallies, writing, speaking, organizing, and jail time finally gained women the right to vote in 1920. Just a few years earlier, in 1909, National Women’s Day was observed in the US as part of these great efforts. And in 1911 the first International Women’s Day (IWD) was observed, when more than a million women and men marched in in cities across the globe to support equality. It took until 1975 for the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. IWD is traditionally celebrated on March 8th but in 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month, calling on Americans to reflect on the “extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history.*

When I was asked to participate on a team organizing my company’s International Women’s Day celebration I was first excited, then embarrassed that I had not heard of IWD, much less celebrated it. And the idea of a celebration seemed trite compared to the bold and dangerous actions I later learned were taken on my behalf. After meeting with our planning team, I realized that celebrating the advances we have made reinforces the need to know where the companies we work for stand on some critical numbers:

  • How many women are on our board of directors?
  • What percentage of our management positions are held by women?
  • What percentage of our work force is women?
  • Are women and men in our company treated and compensated equally?
  • Does my company support or sponsor organizations that advance women’s equality issues?
  • How have these numbers increased over the life span of my company?

This last question is a critical one, because equality is also a business issue. I learned my company published some of this data in our 2018 sustainability report. The percentage of women in our workforce is 35%, well above the industry average of 26.3%. Women comprise 25% of our management positions, slightly above the industry average of 24%. And we recently — for the first time — added a woman to the board of directors.

Equality is essential for economies to thrive; that is, using the full capacity of every participant. Equality means a healthier and wealthier world. Individual actions, behaviors, and mindsets have an impact beyond the workplace — they have an impact on our whole society.

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. These are the three IWD calls to action for accelerating gender balance: *

  • Speak-up if you hear something that reinforces stereotypes
  • Use the same standards for men and women
  • Be a visible champion

Equality is possible through the continuous action of each of us to think and be inclusive – all the time, at home, at work, everywhere. Equality needs to be enforced and reinforced. I’m celebrating the hard-won rights I have, but am also asking critical questions and answering the International Women’s Day calls to action. What are you doing to celebrate?

* From “About International Women’s Day” at www.InternationalWomensDay.com

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