International Women’s Day has existed to promote the rights of women for well over 100 years. This year the theme was equality based on the belief that ‘an equal world is an enabled world’. But what does equality really mean in a gendered world?
If you bring a group of women together and ask them what equality means (and I have done this, so I know), the conversation, and ultimately the consensus collects around well-documented and much-discussed issues such as female visibility in the workplace, stereotyping, gender bias, and equal opportunities. All very real issues, which years of discussion and associated actions have done little to resolve.
But here’s my challenge — in a global culture where binary definitions of gender are rapidly losing traction, should we even have a day dedicated solely to women?
It’s a complicated question, because to answer it first you need to define what it is to be a woman. Is our definition based on the biological concept (sex) or the societal one (gender)? And what happens when the two concepts overlap?
The reality is that we are living in an increasingly fluid world. How we define sex and gender is changing. More than ever, people do not believe in gender as a binary construct.
In the UK, NHS figures show that the number of young people with gender dysphoria (the belief that your emotional and psychological gender identity does not match your biological sex) referred for ‘gender treatment’ has increased by over 4,000% in just ten years.
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in the US found that almost 60% of Gen Z (those aged between 13 and 20) believe that the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not enough to describe the full range of gender identities in society. Half of Millennials (22-37) and just over 30% of Baby Boomers (54 to 72) agree.
These findings are hugely significant for two reasons. Firstly, because of the speed in which opinions have changed, and secondly, because of the scale of these opinions in society. Generations are not equal in size which makes them not equal in the impact they have in shaping the society in which we live. Millennials and Gen Z together represent nearly 50% of the UK population with over 50% of spending power which will only increase as the younger generation comes of age. The way these generations think and behave has the power to change our social, cultural and commercial future forever.
There is no doubt the world is changing and change is seductive. Whether worrying or wonderful, the newness of change has a tendency to steal attention away from what went before. It’s true that we are living in an increasingly gender-fluid world but it’s also true that the female collective (however you define it) remains a social underclass.
Research from the American Psychology Association found that a person’s gender has little to no bearing on their personality, cognition and leadership abilities and yet women are still less visible in many of the most respected industries and in the best paid jobs. Women still don’t get equal pay for equal work, and don’t even have total ownership of their own bodies.
Whatever your biological or social identity, if you identify as a woman, it is likely that the world does not look equal from where you are standing right now.
So, going back to the question ‘in a global culture where binary definitions of gender are rapidly losing traction should we even have a day dedicated solely to women?’
The answer is undoubtedly yes. Women represent half of the world’s population.
Whether cisgender, transgender, heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, pansexual or any other identities, discrimination is in our wake, but the ambition must surely be to eliminate it from our future for the widest possible definition of womanhood.
As marketers we have a responsibility to help make that happen, but an even greater responsibility to ensure that our actions are based on fundamentally held beliefs and not a cynical attempt to joyride the wave of cultural enlightenment.
Here are three actions marketers can take next International Women’s Day to help create an inclusive and equal world for all women.
Challenge yourself: Ask yourself what you believe in. Does your purpose align with an open belief system that supports and promotes equality? If it doesn’t align how truly committed are you to change and how do you plan to do so?
Look into your past: Look at what you have. Products, services and messages may have been created in a different time. Explore how relevant these are in today’s world and how they might need to change.
Plan for the future: Look ahead. Align your purpose with new actions and put your best corporate and cultural foot forward to become an instrumental force for a more equal and enabling world.
Erminia Blackden is strategy director at Engine