The year-long battle for gender equality (and the power of Women's History Month)

Index Exchange's Amanda Keleher shares why women need to push for gender equality beyond the month of March.

Hear that? The sound of a dozen glass ceilings shattering? We’d like to say it’s been the soundtrack to 2018 and 2019 – an indicator that the gender wage gap is, at long last, beginning to shrink and women (in the tech community and beyond) are stepping into more influential roles. Unfortunately, the fight for equality is far from over, and the sound of ceilings shattering is still alarmingly faint. There are still so many boundaries to break through, conversations to lean into, reasons to stand up for women. 

That’s why International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month (both set in March) are as important as ever. Not because we need an influx of hashtags, purple pins, and discount promo codes (use WOMENSDAY2019 at checkout, ladies!), but because it’s the perfect time for organizations to pause and reflect on what they’re doing to move the needle and redress the corporate gender imbalance. 

Regardless of your industry or sector, executive teams should constantly be asking themselves how to better elevate and celebrate their female-identifying employees. Falling at the tail-end of the year’s first quarter, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are brilliant reminders to pose these questions, while also encouraging us to stop and ask, ‘What can we do better? Where have we fallen short?’

This year’s IWD (March 8th) included its fair share of panels, workshops, and brunches on all things ‘women’ – all initiatives that should be praised for recognizing our achievements and the obstacles we’ve encountered along the way. But what happens throughout the rest of the year still remains a challenge. How can we continue to keep this issue top-of-mind; how can we continue to champion efforts that ensure our employees feel genuinely supported at work?

The answer is to make gender diversity a true priority; not a line tacked onto the end of a corporate social responsibility statement.

There are dozens of reports and dismal statistics examining this issue, but one figure jumped out at me. A recent study conducted by McKinsey reported that for every 100 men who are promoted to a managerial role, only 79 women also receive a promotion. (And that’s in the United States, a relatively advanced nation.) It’s progress, but true balance and equality won’t be achieved until both numbers are 100 across the globe. Plain and simple. 

Further, let’s not forget to look at this issue as far more than facts and figures. Your company’s statistics may excel the average on paper, but are the women in your workplace truly being treated as equals? McKinsey also reported that two-thirds of women said ‘microaggressions’ (any act, be it verbal or behavioural, that implies hostility or prejudice) are a reality at work. These microaggressions come in a number of forms, from being addressed less professionally than one’s male counterparts to having your expertise explicitly questioned in a meeting.

It’s an unfortunate reality, but a reality no less — one we must remind ourselves exists and resolve to fix. Women’s History Month gives us the gentle nudge we need to do exactly that. It may start with purple pins and internal celebrations (something we’ve fondly championed at Index Exchange), but we must remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and gender equality can’t be achieved in 24 short hours, or even over 31 days, in March. True progress takes time, energy, and year-round persistence; nevertheless, I have no doubt we can get there.

Amanda Keleher is executive VP of people at Index Exchange.

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