As International Women's Day approaches, should we be exclusive in inclusivity?

There’s a new addition to the Bloomsbury set: Albright – Britain’s first women-only private members club.

Named in honour of America’s first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright (who famously said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,”) the club is set to open its doors, quite fittingly, on International Women’s Day on Thursday.

There will always be those who question whether or not we need International Women’s Day. Should we really devote a day in the calendar to celebrating all things female? Shouldn’t we also celebrate men too? Is there really a need to be exclusive about being inclusive?

In short, and as a member of Women in Advertising and Communications, London (WACL) you might expect me to say that, yes, there is.

With the top roles in advertising and media (and business in general), still predominantly held by men, and with research from the likes of the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) all consistently highlighting the gender pay gap – about 25% for heads of department (CIM) – women still need exclusive platforms to have their collective voice heard.

As International Women’s Day rolls around, and the female-only initiatives flow thick and fast, let us pause for a second on two quite different recent events that completely missed the mark and rightly should feel anachronous in the 21st century.

In the tech world, there was rightly an outcry over the billing of a SXSW talk on Blockchain as: ‘Don’t sweat the tech: mom can use Blockchain too’.

Panel organiser Dylan Figlo understandably received a great deal of criticism over his planned title, which he was quick – if rather unadvisedly – to explain meant using the ‘mom test’ to create better products for busy, functional users.

The title of the event was changed to ‘Passing the mom test: the key to Blockchain experiences.’ But here again Figlo fell short. Was he implying mums have a hard time grasping technical concepts? Thankfully, the final title removed all references to mothers but perhaps if he had been more exposed to female voices, the first title would have never crossed his mind.

More sinister was the recent all-male charity gala held by The Presidents Club which the Financial Times exposed as a vipers nest where young women hostesses were “groped, sexually harassed and propositioned” after being ordered to wear skimpy outfits and matching underwear. This event alone underlines very much the ongoing need for initiatives like International Women’s Day to ensure that women’s voices are heard.

This was a brilliant piece of investigative journalism (by a woman!) which turned a mirror on a seedy, outmoded event which, thankfully, will be no more.

But how else can women be heard?

Women need exclusivity to give them a platform, but companies, organisations or individuals leaning towards women-only events need to be aware that while female-only audiences can encourage a platform for open and honest sharing, they can also act as an echo chamber. Women talking to women about the challenges of being a woman in the modern world is one thing, but in order to enact change we need to enlist and engage with everybody, no matter what their gender.

It’s those that hit the sweet spot of promoting women as part of an overall drive for inclusivity that will deservedly earn their place in a hall of fame.

One small, but lovely initiative comes from book publisher Penguin. Its International Women’s Day 2018 initiative is a pop-up bookshop in East London that only sells books written by women.

According to the publishers the shop will ‘celebrate the persistence of women who’ve fought for change: those who fight, rebel and shout #LikeAWoman’.

A series of literary events will run alongside it, with profits donated to Solace Women’s Aid. In this example we can see exclusivity is in fact promoting inclusion. All are welcome at the pop-up, but the overall purpose of the event is to highlight women’s contribution to literature, culture, history and society. Nobody’s saying men haven’t made an equally valid contribution, but what they are saying is, let’s take a moment to look at what women have done.

And just in case anyone is still wondering why we can’t celebrate men in the same way, we do: there is an International Men’s Day and it’s on November 19.

Jane Asscher is chief executive and founding partner at 23red

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