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Young People at a Workshop

Boldly Speaking.


Updated: Apr 24

Today is International Women’s Day!  As we commemorate women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements, I can’t help but reflect on a recent conversation earlier this week with a new Inclusion First® client.  

During this call, we discussed the risks of performative action.  This is not to say that International Women’s Day (IWD) activities are not meaningful or authentic – instead, the discussion yielded a fundamental question: what does organizational “readiness” mean?

In this case, we were exploring whether or not to incorporate a well-known diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) symbol within their short-term work.  In a thoughtful and mature move, the team decided they were not there yet. It was not a decision rooted in resistance or a lack of allyship.  Instead, they were concerned about being able to follow through on their outward commitments.  If they were making a promise to the world about what their stakeholders could expect from them, they wanted to ensure that their actions, environment, and practices could back it up.  They weren’t ready because they hadn’t yet done the work.  They wanted to be intentional and for their efforts to be lasting.

Which brings me to IWD.  This year’s theme is #INSPIREINCLUSION. Part of this year’s efforts to raise awareness has, as in previous years (see 2023 and 2022, for examples), included a social media campaign that encourages supporters to strike a pose for the camera and post it online, using the relevant hashtags. This year’s pose involves posing with “heart hands.”  However, as my clients reflected earlier, within their own context, I can’t help but ask, “What are we doing to be ‘ready’ for the necessary changes to stick?  What are we doing to act with intention? To follow through on our commitments in lasting ways?  To ensure we are indeed modelling, ensuring and inspiring inclusion in others?

The International Women’s Day organization offers a solid starting point for organizations wanting to support women in the workplace.  For example, this includes addressing gender gaps in employment, advancement, pay and pensions.  Meanwhile, the organization is also sharing helpful resources to improve women’s experiences in the workplace.  For instance, the “50 Ways to Fight Bias” learning tool was developed by and distributed by International Women’s Day in collaboration to honour this year’s theme.  The tool offers many scenarios women may face daily at work and explains why addressing them matters.

Of course, these are great ways to move the dial forward. But when change seems too lofty – after all, the modern Women’s Rights Movement started in the 1960s – how do we earn the heart-shaped pose we place on our socials?  How do we ensure that we’re, indeed, doing the work?

In our workshops at Boldly Inclusive, we like to say, “We need to be more than aware. We need to be actionable and accountable.  So, what are some tangible ways to ensure we do this? 

Here are 5 things your organization could do this year to more meaningfully support the women in your workplace:

  1. Measure for diversity and inclusion.  Indeed, we can examine quantitative data to understand what representation looks like in our organizations and determine whether women have access to opportunities and equitable pay.  The next step is to measure for inclusion.  Research done in 2018 provided four clear indicators for inclusion – being treated fairly and with respect, feeling a sense of belonging, and feeling valued.  How does your organization measure up in the area of inclusion?

  2. Disaggregate the data.  It goes without saying that uncovering disparities in women’s experiences relative to all employees will help reveal issues and identify areas of work.  I suggest not stopping there. Disaggregate the data further to examine the experiences of women living with disabilities, women living on low incomes, women who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ communities, women who identify as Black, Indigenous or racialized, and other groups who are often unseen or rendered invisible. If we want to improve circumstances for all women, we need to take all women into account.

  3. Connect these measurements to performance.  Performativeness isn’t just a concern for organizations wanting to do change work; it also affects people with lived experience of marginalization. When organizations don’t follow through, employees from these groups lose trust. And once they lose trust, they lose their sense of belonging and loyalty. For organizations leading the charge in DEI, leadership performance evaluations – and, at times, compensation – are connected to successful DEI metrics.

  4. Support behaviour change with policies. The reality is that many of us reading this blog live in patriarchal societies.  As a result, many leaders making decisions about women at work do not share their experiences, and others may ascribe to these very ideas themselves. When awareness-building, learning and development, and accountability measures are insufficient, policies affirming gender equity are needed to meet a minimum standard.

  5. Do it every day!  Remember, International Women’s Day happens only once a year, but womanhood happens every single day.  Posting a heart-hand picture and checking “supporting women” off your to-do list is not enough.  It’s an everyday commitment, and change takes time.  It means walking alongside women, listening and believing them, and recognizing that we do better when we are all included.

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