International Women’s Day is my busiest time of the year and, in many ways, one of my favourites. I love it because I get the opportunity to talk to amazing women spearheading IWD events for their company – usually while juggling jobs, home responsibilities and pursuing a dizzying array of hobbies and passions. Invariably, I come away hoping I’ve inspired them half as much as they’ve inspired me!

It’s right that, on March 8th every year, we celebrate female activists, artists and politicians who’ve blazed the trail for equality. However, for me, the real superheroes are these women I speak with every year – organising IWD activities while balancing work and life commitments, and often dealing with a heavy dose of misogyny in their day-to-day work.

Alongside hearing and celebrating their amazing stories, I also hear awful tales of things that are a daily reality for them. Stories that, if you spun them and imagined happening to a man, would have been solved by now (or, most likely, would never have happened at all). So, as well as being a celebration, IWD should be about driving change.

In this article, I provide my six top tips for making International Women’s Day count (every day of the year).

1. Invest time and money

Year on year, my admiration for IWD organisers is tainted by frustration at the lack of investment from the top – both in terms of time and money – in International Womens’ Day.

The women putting events together are often phenomenal in their field – general counsel in their company, senior sales people – but they’re not experts in event organisation or driving cultural change, and are attempting to operate IWD events off the side of their desks. This is not their day job.

Without the budget and backing of the organisation, creating an International Women’s Day event can feel like a thankless task.

Many IWD organisers start out with great ideas and ambitions for real change, only to be met with eye-rolls and comments like “what about an International Men’s Day?”.

Faced with push-back, inertia and lack of support from the top, many great ideas are lost and IWD activities are scaled back to a quick social media selfie and a hashtag which, while having their place, are not going to trigger lasting change.

There are, thankfully, a few companies who get this and are leading the charge. Specsavers, who appointed Mix to design and deliver their Inclusive Leadership training over the past 6 months, are a notable example. They provide each of their Colleague Network Co-Chairs with two days a month of protected time to perform in role, along with a budget and even a personal development plan.

 Investing in our colleague networks with dedicated chair time, development opportunities and network budgets is paying dividends. They are clearer on their purpose and reach, the chairs feel more valued and have started to make a real difference to the lives of colleagues and customers.
Steven Evans, Head of Wellness and Inclusion – Specsavers

This is exactly how it should be: employees shouldn’t be expected to set up, market and deliver International Womens’ Day events as an unpaid extra. Unfortunately, this is the typical approach in most organisations and one myself, and my colleagues in DEI, are working hard to change.

2. Be Strategic (Taking IWD Beyond a ‘Moment In Time’)

My advice to the employee committees, women’s networks and affinity groups working hard to get the IWD message across is: be strategic in your approach. Ask what’s the outcome we’re looking for? Where do we want to be with women’s equity, in our organisation, in a year? Or five years?

Once you stop seeing International Women’s Day as a ‘moment in time’ and start using it to work towards a shared goal – be that representation targets or changes in policy – it takes on a whole new meaning.

You may use IWD to launch a piece of research on how employees feel about maternity and paternity leave, for example. Plan online surveys and focus groups with women from different identity backgrounds, releasing the results the following International Women’s Day with recommendations for policy changes.

So, when March 8th rolls around on the third year, with the policy changes driven through, you’re celebrating how far the organisation has come.

Policy changes can take a really long time. Being strategic and using International Women’s Day, every year, to launch and report on elements of a broader campaign can really move the dial in terms of equality.

As well as launching research and publishing findings, IWD is a fantastic day to start women’s networks, or launch mentoring or sponsorship programmes. By providing channels and opportunities to communicate with leaders, these initiatives allow women to ‘influence the influencers’.

My article on leveraging the power of women’s networks talks about this in more detail but, in a nutshell, my advice is to use International Women’s Day to get an audience with the top decision makers in your organisation. Most CEO’s will find it difficult to say no.

3. Use IWD as a training opportunity

A leading global nutrition company approached Mix, looking to celebrate Pride in a way that drove change and meant something to their staff. Previous attempts to mark the event had received poor take-up and weren’t, they felt, truly representative.

In the lead up to Pride, we supplied a collection of MixLEARN bitesize videos on related issues for them to use on internal comms channels.

As well as providing their teams with meaningful content – many employees, for example, had never heard the term ‘Covering’ and had no idea it was a lived experience of their gay colleagues – it also enabled the company to signpost staff to longer, more in-depth training that we provided for them on LGBTQ+ Allyship.

Approaching Awareness Days in this way – as communications campaigns rather than one-off events – is a surefire way to increase engagement and drive change. The Mix International Women’s Day training collection has been designed to support you in that, and includes training videos on Male Allyship, the Gender Pay Gap, Women’s Development Programmes and our Menopause Mini-Series.

Hayley Barnard

Hayley is the CEO of Mix, a global DEI expert and highly sought-after IWD Speaker who spoke live to audiences in three countries last 8th March. She is passionate about inspiring business leaders to adopt the principle that diversity isn’t about difference, it’s about excellence, always emphasising practical and applicable strategies for increasing inclusion in the workplace.

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