Waking up this morning, and seeing all the positive messages about women on social media – it could only be one day: International Women’s Day.
Saranya Kogulathas is Policy Assistant at the National Housing Federation
8 March 2018
This International Women’s Day, the theme is “Press for Progress” – a strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. At the National Housing Federation, about two thirds of our staff are women, more than half of our board are women and we have women in a range of leadership positions, which we’re extremely proud of. However, it’s important to recognise true gender equality goes beyond the numbers.
Despite International Women’s Day being adopted by the UN in 1975, gender parity is still a long way away. A large part of this is women simply not being heard. Men interact with women every day, but how many actually stop to ask their friends or colleagues about the female experience, or acknowledge it?
Men and women are different, and will naturally have different experiences. Taking this into account and listening to the experiences of the women around us is the first step to gender equality. That’s why women look to the feminist movement, as opposed to a humanist movement. Intersectional feminism recognises women tend to have less privilege than men, and push for women’s equality to allow us all to be on an equal footing.
The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements highlight what can be achieved by simply listening, and we should expand this culture of listening in all sectors. Listening is the key to learning. As one of my favourite writers, Arundhati Roy, said: “There’s really no such thing as ‘the voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”
With that in mind, I asked some of the incredible women who work with me at the National Housing Federation what comes to mind when they think of press for progress. Here are just a few of the things they said:
“Recently I asked my mum if she felt we'd made progress for women's equality since she started in the workplace. She bluntly told me no, not really - that her 20 year old self wouldn't believe that women in 2018 still face the same challenges and the same unfair choices. I'm determined that, if I have children, I can proudly answer that question in a different way”
“My big one is culture – genuinely pushing a culture from the top that makes flexible working not just ok but actively encouraged. Having a ‘bums on seats’ approach to office working really excludes us working mums who like to actually see our children but work hard just at unusual hours and in a non-standard way.”
“Even though it feels like there is a real movement for change at the moment, it reveals that after 100 years of (some) women getting the vote, women are still underpaid and underrepresented in many industries as well as experiencing everyday sexism. A lot of this is down to unconscious bias and the merit paradox. We need to continually challenge our perceptions through conversation, being free of judgement so people feel able to be open about their opinions without being shouted down and not getting complacent.”
“Maybe you’ve heard of emotional labour, where women bear the brunt of looking after the wellbeing of their friends and families. In the workplace, we bear the time consuming brunt of ‘admin labour’, where we are implicitly expected to take notes, book meeting rooms, buy birthday cards, organise socials and fundraisers, arrange leaving-dos, and all the other day to day actions that keep a workplace happy. As we #PressforProgress, men must challenge themselves to take on these roles too, and play their part in thinking, acting, and being gender inclusive.”
"It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent." — Madeleine Albright
How will you press for progress this International Women’s Day?