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International Women’s Day 2021

(by Melissa L. Schlimm)

Raise your hand!

International Women’s Day – choose to challenge

Are you a mother, daughter, sister, friend, or wife? Are you a father, son, brother, friend, or husband? Then choose to challenge and commemorate International Women’s Day, celebrating the range of women’s roles in the world. Grab the opportunity to focus on the challenges women still face and connect them to you personally – as a husband or sister. We need to create an understanding, not as an employee but as a person, that allows us to bring that topic closer to our hearts and, as a result, into organizations.

International Women’s Day has a long history, and it is important to keep the tradition alive because we are still moving towards where we should be. As it might surprise you, this movement is 110 years old but was first organized quite differently by the Socialist Party of America in New York City in 1909. Inspiration crossed borders and oceans, growing into an international celebration with one fine smart lady suggesting that this should become an annual celebration. While women’s challenges have changed, our predecessors fought for voting rights and better pay, and the fight goes on for more flexibility and equal pay (‘better pay’ is not enough!). We need to acknowledge that we have come a long way and keep choosing to challenge!

The value of choosing to challenge

Although many understand the value of celebrating International Women’s Day, it does not translate into organizations acting inclusive and ensuring that women can operate as equals. If you ask women across different organizations’ levels, the claim is that the performance expectations differ, and the Gender Pay Gap is still shocking. Take a grand German female role model, Dr. Sigrid Nikutta, member of the management board for freight transportation at Deutsche Bahn and mother of five kids (WOW!), who reflected in a recent television interview that she

“…always had to considerably perform better, manage more opposition and highlight my wish to take the next step in my career…”1.

Dr. Sigrid Nikutta

If it is still necessary that women work harder, then there is something wrong with two aspects: 

  • Self-worth, e.g., the value women put on themselves, and
  • Common recognition, e.g., the value organizations put on integrating work and personal life for women.

To be truly inclusive, consider working fathers and get the male fraction on board on the topic of inclusion. Ensure that the integration of starting a family and a career is on top of the mind of organizations and not just nice-to-have. Nevertheless, make one step at a time!

Reflecting on my own career during the eight years I spent in the Middle East,

“I was not allowed to sponsor my family (getting a residence visa for them) or get the same pay as my male counterparts on the identical managerial level.”

Melissa L. Schlimm

At the same time, the Middle East is not behind, and equal pay is an issue in Germany. The 17th of March is a symbolic day because women have worked ‘for free’ due to the Gender Pay Gap until that date.

Three and a half months represent the difference in pay although both genders deliver the same work.2 A problem of self-worth as well as common recognition.

In Germany, a lively discussion for a quota of female representation in company boards rekindled and feels slightly embarrassing. Shouldn’t the qualification or skill matter instead of the gender? Apparently, no!

20 years ago, companies in Germany committed to increasing their female representation without significantly changing anything. When a law was passed, again in Germany, six years ago to increase female representation in the board of directors, the result exceeded the goal set. Looking at success figures like these explains why people need to keep fighting and choose to challenge the status quo and putting laws in place that secure women a seat at the table in organizations – for now! Once the representation in decision-making positions is more diverse, actions have a higher chance of becoming inclusive. Until then, we need to remember to take inclusive actions in our ways of working and build a common understanding of how we operate best together by challenging old ways and defining new ones.

Take intentional action

International Women’s Day reminds us to

  • put successful systems in place,
  • check-in with our progress, and
  • trigger awareness.

Once International Women’s Day 2021 is over, it is important to focus on learning & development initiatives that target a diverse workforce’s different needs and challenges as part of a wider inclusion strategy in organizations. A survey conducted by BCG in 2017 found out that

“Companies with diverse management teams have 19% higher innovation revenue “3.

Since organizations live through times of learning new ways of working, employees could start thinking together – men and women – about how inclusive ways of working look like in the future. Everyone knows that something is not right, and therefore need to start acting upon that knowledge with intentional actions or how I like to say,

“Just Nike!

Choose to challenge.”

Melissa L. Schlimm

International Women’s Day – an opportunity

It doesn’t mean to isolate the needs of women and create bigger or different gender gaps but looking for ways of truly benefiting from the power of diversity within organizations. It is about understanding how we can help each other!

Men need us, and women need men, and this is not about human reproduction but the mere fact that you will find a superpowered woman behind every strong man – and vice versa!

Melissa L. Schlimm

Whilst there are many examples from successful men highlighting the support of their wives, I’m sure that we don’t know of the everyday heroes’ organizations employ because how would we know of them? That is why International Women’s Day is important and an opportunity to share the success stories of everyday heroes – not simply the stories of a few women at the top. That platform is important for organizations to provide to their women because how else would you hear a woman loudly claim, “Look at how great I supported this very successful team.” It is more likely that women are happy to let the men shine, which the bestselling author Sally Helgesen calls out the habits “Reluctance to claim your achievements” and “The Disease to Please”.

Respect what each one brings to the table and choose to challenge your organization’s thinking this International Women’s Day and beyond!

1 Tagesthemen Interview from 25th February 2021

Gehaltsunterschied zu Männern: Frauen verdienen im Leben halb so viel | tagesschau.de

How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation (bcg.com)

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