In the first of our two-part series on International Women's Day 2023, we explored this year's theme of embracing equity, wondering whether 'talk is cheap' and whether IWD needs to do more to drive action. In the second part of this series, we think about the action that is needed to embrace and achieve equity and give firms ideas about how to get the most out of their International Women's Day events.
Including the men
We concluded part one by saying that one of the challenges with International Women's Day is that it can exclude men. The author has written before about the need to attract men to events that focus on gender parity. The phenomenon is seen again and again. Is it that men don't feel welcome? Is it that they feel like part of the problem, rather than part of the solution?
In professional services firms, the choices available to men can be equally detrimental to their well-being. We believe that the focus needs to shift away from "fixing women" and onto the leadership model itself, which may need to change if gender parity at the top is to be achieved. If it does, then it will be to the benefit of both men and women, at all levels of the organisation.
Achieving gender equity
In our report, The Class of 2002, we noted that a range of factors create gender disparity, making it easy for women to drop out when they are approaching the end of the race to partnership. The opposite can be the case for men; the prevailing model makes it harder for them to leave, due to both internal and external pressures.
By focusing only on women, and why the model presents barriers to them, we are constantly striving to treat the symptoms (lack of leadership diversity; burn-out; high staff turnover) rather than the cause of gender disparity.
But how can gender equity be achieved?
We said that this article would speak about the action that is needed to achieve equity. The actions needed will likely vary firm by firm, but the actions - the solution - needs to be systemic. We propose that what is needed is a reevaluation of the partnership model. To shape an alternative. This requires courage and it needs to include men and women who lead differently. For this, they must be rewarded differently, and for that, firms need to value different things.
Changing the system to create gender equity
This may sound simplistic. We know that it isn’t easy. However, the starting point here is fundamentally different from so many of the conversations that are currently being had.
It is not about changing women to fit a broken model, it is about having conversations to change the model. To enable the model to be more accommodating of difference.
That conversation needs to have both men and women in the room.
How can you make International Women's Day meaningful in your firm?
International Women's Day provides an opportunity to talk, get together, to celebrate. However, the danger is that it continues the narrative of fixing women or getting women to join a model that isn’t fit for purpose.
With the next IWD around the corner, what can you do if you have an event planned and you want it to do more than virtue signaling?
1. Don’t exclude the men.
If you have an IWD event, the chances are you have people involved in pulling it together. Is that team or committee of people diverse? If it isn't representative of your firm, then shake things up.
Include the men. Use IWD as a reason to embrace all the diversity that you have in your firm and to generate a conversation that involves everyone.
It is all too common for events that speak about gender equality to be women only, design them with the men in mind: the women will come anyway.
2. Make sure it’s not “one and done”.
So much effort goes into planning IWD events. What is that effort for? Is it to make sure that you have the right clients in the room on the day? Is it to get a headline? If it is for either of those things - or similar - then it is likely to fall into the “one and done” trap.
Your goal for IWD should be about longer-term change and any event that you hold is an opportunity to get you there.
3. Make a public commitment.
This could be to support gender initiatives in the wider community, internationally, or within your firm.
Use the event to look forward and commit to coming back in a year to speak about the results you have had. This will avoid the one-and-done trap we describe above.
4. Think about it!
This really captures all the above and anything that has been missed. IWD is not a PR exercise, it is not a way to fill a gap in your social media calendar, and it should not be a marketing-led activity for those very same reasons.
Explore the theme for this year’s IWD, what is it, what does it mean for your firm, and what are you going to do about it?