International Women's Day is celebrated globally year each on March 8th, a tradition with roots dating back to the early 1900s. Over a century later, it is now a day both of celebration and community, and of protest and progress, with the United Nations choosing a new theme to focus efforts on annually.
This year, “Balance for Better" is the official IWD campaign tagline, encouraging a gender-balanced world. So where do we see this type of gender discrimination? Boardrooms, government positions, courtrooms, media coverage, paychecks, sports teams, and even day-to-day interactions can be subjected to a gender imbalance where women don't always get equal opportunities.
It's something I encountered in the corporate workplace after becoming a mother, in the early days of fundraising for the company I founded, Kango, and sometimes just walking on the street or waiting for my turn in line. And while I do think that today's youth are more tolerant and accepting of diversity than ever before, it's still so important to make sure we teach our children about the discrimination and social issues that women face - and International Women's Day represents an opportunity to have this discussion with our young ones.
Educate, encourage and inspire them to take the lesson from this holiday and apply it to their everyday life.
Start by having the conversation around the historical milestones that shape why this day is important. Do your sons know that women used to be banned from voting? Imagine not being able to have a say in choosing the lawmakers that directly affect your life. Do your daughters know that even 40 years ago, no woman in the world had ever been a president? Vigdís Finnbogadótti changed that when she was elected President of Iceland in 1980.
Kids might not realize how far equality has come, even in mom and dad's lifetime. Remind them that strong, brave women paved the path thus far, and it will take strong, brave boys and girls to continue the journey for a better balance.
Secondly, think about the implicit biases that you see on a daily basis, and include those in the discussion. Do your sons understand that saying someone “throws like a girl" should not be an insult? Do your daughters know Barbie can be a veterinarian, an accountant, or a doctor? And she can be a mom, too! It might seem silly to be discussing such nuanced gender roles and biases with young kids, but imagine all of the TV shows, movies, and real-life situations they have seen where gender is portrayed in a rigid or outdated way.
Explaining everyday discrimination will show how, outside of IWD, there are opportunities for improvement. Ask your kids what they can do and how they can act to promote respect and equality with their friends. Foster their curiosity and encourage them to be a leader when they see something that isn't right.
Lastly, to make an impact, we as moms have to be conscious of our choices, too. Do we talk about other women negatively? Do we stand up for ourselves and set a good example? Gender equality starts at home, with our own words and actions. When we think of this year's IWD theme, we can not only apply that in a general sense, that gender-balance is important in the workplace and government, but can also apply that to our individual selves by making sure we set a personal standard.
If we want to raise children who celebrate equality, we must celebrate equality, too. Recharge your motivation by attending speeches, meetings, events or even protests throughout the year. Call your local legislator to share your opinion on bills impacting women's rights. Demand that corporations cultivate equality and diversity in their executive positions and throughout their staff.
When you recognize the change that you can create, you show your children how “women's day" can be celebrated every day. Especially with young men, it shows that International Women's Day is not about punishing men or saying women are better - it's about equality for all people.
So when you share the message behind International Women's Day with your children, remind them that it isn't about being “nice" to girls for this one day in March. It's about remembering the past, and working toward a better future. They have the power to be agents of change. Cliché as it sounds, today's youth will be the CEOs, policymakers, and employees of tomorrow. Raise children who know that the power is in their hands to make a difference.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.