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 have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."