International Women’s Day – a necessary evil?

So Friday was International Women’s Day. Hurrah for women. Amen to that. But there was much debate both in my workplace and amongst friends on Facebook about whether this was a) a necessary day and b) something to celebrate. The general argument made by those anti the day was this: we should be at a place by now that we don’t need to single women out for attention. We should no longer be considered a ‘minority’ who are in need of protection against ‘discrimination’, and basically EVERY day is both International Women’s Day and International Men’s Day. The counter argument is that there is still evidence that women aren’t nearly equally represented in the workplace and at high levels of authority – both corporate and political – and we need a day to raise awareness of the issues faced by women around the world. And where do I stand on all this? Well, I am conflicted.

My employer recieved an award from the United Nations on Thursday, recognising the efforts it had gone to in ensuring equal representation of women within the organisation, and especially at the most senior level, where there is a 50/50 split on our leadership team. A good thing, right? And surely I, someone who thinks the United Nations is the duck’s nuts, would be over the moon about this. But instead I was just a bit ‘meh’. Not because I think our organisation discriminates against women and doesn’t deserve the award – I give the bank big ups for their flexible working policies which allow more working mothers (or people like me who have other interests outside of work) to keep working and developing their career while also focusing on other things. So that’s great. But I think the ‘meh’ stemmed from the potential assertion that women were being given roles over men in order to ‘meet the quota’, and maybe, in this day and age, we should be judged on merit alone – and want to be judged on merit alone. We don’t want to get roles ‘just because’ we are women. We want to get them because we have earned them and deserve them and are the BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB.

In both the political and corporate environments I have worked in over the last 12 years or so, I have never felt like gender has been in issue in how I have been hired, promoted, dealt with or anything else. And I have never really heard of people I know complaining about that either. The one thing you do hear about is concerns about the overall statistics, especially when it comes to senior management. There is concern about the ‘old boy’s club’ and discrimination against women on the basis that they might run off and have a kid – so their commitment to the organisation isn’t as solid as a man’s. Sure, you hear about these things, but do you ever see any evidence of it? I know I haven’t, but maybe I have led a sheltered and ostrich like existence.

And, at the end of the day, the kid factor does have to be considered as part of the reason for the stats skewing like they do. Until men evolve enough to give birth and breast feed, women will generally be the main caregivers and have to take time off work – whether it be for six months or five years. And having done so, many may decide that their job as a mum is more important than their ‘career’, so choose to become a stay at home mum, or have a scaled down job or just choose not to race up the corporate ladder so fast. Regardless of what route they choose, it will mean there are fewer women who are racing up that corporate ladder, and therefore fewer at senior management level. And if we get into the habit of sifting through a smaller pile of women who maybe aren’t as qualified or have quite the skills required for the job JUST so we can promote them and skite about our ‘diversity programme’ then that isn’t a good result either (in fact it reminds me a little of the Mitt Romney ‘binders full of women’ controversy, which is a little disturbing!).

What I think is the really important thing, and I blogged about it previously here, is that there are really good female role models for young girls. And, at the end of the day, what better role model is there than a mum like my sister in law who manages to balance having three kids and a part time quite senior legal job? Her girls will grow up knowing their mum in both capacities – and benefiting from the knowledge and wisdom that both roles give her. And that is pretty damn awesome. So, do we need an International Women’s Day? Well, I think there are still areas – and entertainment (especially Hollywood) is definitely the main one – where female representation is woefully low, and has a direct impact on what young girls think they are capable of. I also know New Zealand is ahead of the game in many respects – having been the first country to give women the vote and followed that up with having females as heads of most of our executive arms of government all at the same time. That isn’t the case in other countries, especially developing ones. So, International Women’s Day – for the world – is still a worthwhile thing. And at the end of the day, if it means I get free cake, it can NEVER be a bad thing 😉

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