top of page

Should we be investing in women or inspiring inclusion?

Updated: May 14

Today marks International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the various achievements of women and advocate for the advancement of women across the planet. While you might have #InspireInclusion floating around across social media, the UN’s theme this year is ‘Invest in Women: Accelerating Progress’ – targeting economic empowerment. The UN has identified investing in women as a human rights issue because the current global and financial systems are perpetuating gender inequality. 

A recent report by the World Bank revealed that no country in the world affords women the same opportunities as men in the workforce, showing that the global gender gap is even wider than previously thought. The severity of this issue and how it’s currently impacting the quality of life for women across the globe, gives more reason to why the Unmistakables is not complicit in the corporate takeover of IWD. 

What’s disheartening about this annual holiday is that what started as chants of liberation has turned into silent murmurs of disillusion. A driving factor behind this is the commercialization of IWD at the hands of the International Women's Day website – a self-appointed marketing agency. This website contains very little information about who is running it, how it’s being funded and who determines its yearly themes. 

While themes like #InspireInclusion or #EmbraceEquity have taken the corporate world by storm, these ‘digestible’ messages invalidate the real-life experiences of women who are fighting for their human rights until this very day. Cute downloadable posters, guides for hosting workplace events and templates for social media posts point towards the performative feminism that has engulfed celebrations of IWD – leaving many women across the globe feeling uninspired and unseen. 

As our Principal Consultant Cathia Randrianarivo commented, “what once was an impactful movement has now become a corporate machine”’ and many are left questioning whether this day is holding us back instead of propelling us forward.  

It’s only right to ask if International Women’s Day is serving its intended purpose. If we look at the following statistics in the UK alone, perhaps we can see the depressing reality: 

The analysis also shows that at the current rate of progress, the gender pay gap won’t close until 2044, and for women today, 20 years is too long. These statistics show that the economic inclusion of women is a pressing global issue; the focus needs to be less on the hashtag and more on the efforts that help to address the staggering gender pay gap. 

The current mood music amongst our clients is that they’ve done what they can with gender and that it may be time to stop the focus on singular identities and instead focus on intersectional identities that consider race, class and trans+ inclusion. A recent study showed that nearly half of Britons (47%) say that when it comes to giving women equal rights with men, things have gone far enough, and now men are facing discrimination.

This rhetoric is worrying. Women are missing out on promotions, experiencing discrimination while pregnant/on maternity leave, and shouldering the burden of home labour as well as paid labour. Have we given up fighting the battle against patriarchy? 

When looking at awareness days, we always advise our clients to consider how they could be signposted to the initiative and accelerate inclusion all year round. Our Managing Director, Simone Marquis, adds her perspective:

“I think we have gotten to a point now where we need to ask ourselves what purpose awareness days are serving. Continuing to ‘celebrate and applaud’ is becoming performative and exhausting for everyone involved. After the Gender Pay Gap bot (@paygapapp) was for many in the UK, the most celebrated feature of IWD 2023, we’ve really got to ask who and what is IWD in service of.
People don’t want to be celebrated for being brilliant on one day/ month of the year - that should be happening as part of the day job! They want to work for organisations that are transparent about where their gaps are, using days like IWD to actively make changes to policies and practices and/ or using their influence to make changes to gender inequality in society.
The failure to take meaningful action is switching people off, fewer are engaged in the conversation, and ironically, IWD is promoting a sense of aware-less.”

Without intentional planning throughout the year and compensating women fairly for IWD engagements, Nafisa Bakkar’s LinkedIn post is inevitably what becomes the result:

We asked the women of TU: what were the moments people invested in you that helped accelerate your career?

Amani Saeed, Senior Consultant, shared their experiences:

“There can sometimes be a mentality that there can only be ‘one’ - one woman, one Person of Colour, one LGBTQIA+ person, who succeeds. I’m fortunate that the women who invested in me believed firmly not in hitching up the ladder after climbing it, as some do, but in making it as easy for others to climb as possible. I will always credit Kelsey Williams, Ailsa Harris, and Florence Davies for helping accelerate my career when I worked at the Department for Education.
They took the time to explain how to navigate complex systems of power and stakeholders, teach me the finer points of influencing an ED&I agenda, and encourage me to apply for roles that I thought I had no business applying for. They always kept it real in terms of balancing the reality of what sometimes felt like a dire working environment with hope and optimism.
The learnings they offered me and the ways in which they empowered me were not only responsible for subsequent promotions, but continue to be present in my ethos and the ways in which I carry myself to this day.”

For Shilpa Saul, Director, three people stood out:

Jean Wyllie, EMEA President for Porter Novelli, who always gave me the space and time to work through any challenges I was facing in relation to clients and teams.
Aliana Kamelmacher, Founder of Story PR, who we sadly lost to cancer last year. I'll always remember her generosity of spirit when she called me in 2012 to ask me into the office for an interview. I said I could come in immediately as long as she didn't mind that I hadn't washed my hair, was wearing 2 day old clothes because everything else was in the wash and needed to bring my 8 month old baby with me. She said that would all be completely fine - that it was me she wanted to meet and didn't care how I looked. And then, during my interview Ailana didn't bat an eyelid when I needed to breastfeed said 8 month old baby. Right there, as the interview was taking place. The fact I got the job is a testament to how she treated people - as human beings first, seeing through what was deemed to be 'professional' or 'the right thing to do'.
Ben Bouldin, VP EMEA, Royal Caribbean. Definitely a ‘male ally’, he re-instilled my confidence when I started a brand new role after having my third child. Again, by giving me his valuable time and well as his trust and wholehearted support.” (Shilpa Saul, Director)

For Sarita Lewis, Operations and Contracts Manager, it was more about changing systems:

“When I moved to London, I got a fixed-term contract with an international corporation. As a freelancer, I wasn’t included in the mailing list for company-wide emails - including about vacancies in our department. Laura Wood, my informal line manager, discovered last-minute that I wasn’t aware of a permanent position that had opened up.
As it was already the last day for applications, she spoke with the department manager to request a day’s extension so that I could apply. I would have completely missed the opportunity if she hadn’t taken a few minutes to consider me as more than just an extra resource for the business (the company’s culture meant that fixed-term freelancers weren’t always included as a core part of the team).
Thanks to her attention to detail and encouragement, I got the job!”

Through my conversations with our team, I think it’s important to acknowledge that not every woman has had the privilege of having someone invest in her career. When we look at women of colour, women with disabilities and trans/non-binary people, it’s clear that not everyone has that luxury.

In 2024, there are many burning questions surrounding the purpose of IWD, who it benefits the most, and what life would be like if we didn’t have it. While this day has become clouded by the claws of capitalism, we need to look back at 1909 and where women were as a collective – female CEOs, politicians, and pilots were not a thing. Regardless of how far we have to go, women of today are walking into boardrooms, behind cameras and in front of TV screens, making a difference – making the unthinkable a reality.

Instead of forming hearts with our hands—the infamous IWD pose—we need to start finding innovative ways to change the statistics and tackle systemic issues. That means going beyond the day and cutting through the noise.


bottom of page