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Danielle Dobson

This year’s International Women’s Day theme  is Count Her In: Invest in Women.

Accelerate Progress, and the theme of economic empowerment is particularly timely after last week’s WGEA pay gap data revealed just how many of Australia’s leading companies are still struggling to close the gender pay gap. 

With this in mind, how can we use International Women’s Day as a platform to invest in women – not just on the 8th of March, but every day? 

After ten years of attending and speaking at events, I’ve noticed many people feel overwhelmed by the concept of International Women’s Day. They’re trying to squeeze all of their company’s gender equality juice out of a single day or event, rather than looking at the big picture. 

The need to make one day mean everything when it comes to women in the workplace and gender equality, or the expectation that a single event is going to be the catalyst for change, is setting us up for failure instead of success.

I’ve noticed that when there’s an expectation gap around the International Women’s Day event you’re delivering and the daily experiences of gender equality of people on your team, people start to feel jaded. The cry of ‘it’s more than just cupcakes and inspiring speakers’ is heard around the halls. 

But you wouldn’t invest your money and expect a return within 24 hours, and the same can be said of how you invest in your women. With the right planning, support and coaching, the women in your team can bring huge returns to your business. 

A long term investment

As a former CPA, I understand the benefits of long-term investment and strategic planning. 

Just like financial investments, investing in women in the workplace can take different forms and fit with different risk profiles, and your organisation needs to decide what investing in women looks like – beyond a single day. 

While holding an event on the 8th March is still a great way to build camaraderie and shine a light on the important role of women in your business, true engagement comes from showing up year-round in efforts to build a more gender equal workplace. 

This might mean conducting your own pay gap analysis if you weren’t part of the WGEA data, so that you can have full visibility on any existing gaps that might need to be closed. A gender pay audit means you’ll be armed with knowledge to create change, and there’s a great tool available on the WGEA website to get you started. 

Providing mentoring and coaching is another great long-term way to support the women in your team, especially those who are keen to progress into leadership roles. It’s a vote of confidence in them and shows you value their input and see their potential. 

Ask, don’t assume. 

What do the women in your team really need? Have you asked them? 

For some, it might be a professional development requirement which could help them build business skills critical for progression. For others, it might be more opportunities to learn from a mentor or receive one-on-one coaching from an external specialist. And others might be looking for flexibility around their work hours, so that they can do their best work at their most productive times, while still being available for their loved ones. 

The point is, if you’re assuming what the women in your business need rather than asking them, you’re missing an opportunity to make informed decisions about how you can best support women in your workplace. 

Look at the big picture

Beyond events, coaching and career development, how could you look at the bigger picture around helping women (and men) to engage and excel in your business? 

For example, what are your parenting policies and how are they impacting the parents in your organisation and their decisions? What are your expectations around working from home and in the office? Do you offer flexible working hours? 

Taking these kinds of questions into consideration can help you build a workplace where people feel valued and are encouraged to engage and add value. Expecting to improve your organisation’s workplace gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the course of one day is never going to be a realistic goal, but using International Women’s Day as a springboard to start longer term conversations around gender equality is a big step in the right direction. 

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Danielle Dobson

Danielle Dobson

Danielle Dobson is a diversity and inclusion specialist, leadership development consultant and author of Breaking the Gender Code.

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