Monday was International Women’s Day, and it was inspiring and sobering at the same time to hear how, in some cases, far women have come but also how far women still have to go to achieve parity in the workplace, safety in their homes, economic security, and value in society. Many women live in poverty, are considered property, enslaved, or are still chattel.
It was an opportunity to celebrate the many gifts, talents, and skills women have to offer the world. Begun in America in 1909 as America’s National Women’s Day to highlight the poor working conditions women were subjected to, it became an international holiday observed by Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland in 1911. In 1975 the United Nations declared it an official international holiday. On Monday the official international holiday turned 40 years old.
As a woman of a certain age, it is inspiring for me to hear the word feminism being taken up as a new mantle by younger women, such as the actress Emma Watson and the superstar Beyonce, and defined in new contexts, as Sheryl Sandberg did in Lean In. What has not changed is what feminism really stands for and the attributes women bring to the table.
From Wikipedia: Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
I add health care rights in there as well. What woman is not a feminist using this definition? The acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in this TED talk speaks about African gender structures, but is really describing the woman’s universal experience.
In the No Ceilings, Full Participation Report, which is a global report, the statistics are still grim. The United States is one of 9 countries in the world without paid maternity leave, and women here work an average of 4.8 hours of unpaid time more than men caring for the home, children, parents. Worldwide, 200 million fewer women have Internet access than men in the developing world. With more access to technology, women can advance their economic participation, digital citizenship, access to jobs and health care, and more. When women in the developing world get online, 30 percent use the connection to earn additional income, 45 percent use it to search for jobs, and 80 percent use it to improve their education. The report states:
The gap between the number of women and men in the workforce has barely changed in two decades, even though increasing women’s participation can lead to nationwide economic growth.
Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wrote an article in Fortune on International Women’s Day, March 9, entitled: Why hiring women is good for business. She makes the case that women’s empowerment is good for economic growth. In the United States the GDP would climb 5% if women were employed at the same rate and pay as men. In Egypt it would increase by 34%. She writes:
According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, when women have more power to make decisions, conditions in their communities improve, and their families are healthier and more prosperous. Yet society routinely ignores their knowledge and their ability to solve problems.
In previous blogs Doris and I have written about how gender diversity increases the bottom line of companies who operate with diverse teams that include women. In reviewing feminist work principals, they embody the new leadership, systems leaders. Women on teams are often more able to connect with others, realize the human potential around them, work through conflicts, recognize other’s contributions, and think creatively. Feminist work principles are (adapted from Jenny Gilmore):
- The personal is political: our personal experiences are actually linked to the political, social system. One of the ways that change to the social system has been avoided is through the separation of this connection between the individual and the social.
- Valuing process and product: the way you go about the work is just as important as the product. This includes the importance of relationships and interactions with people.
- Reconceptualizing power: changing from a hierarchical structure (power over others) to a distributed structure (everyone has the power) for work decisions and processes
- Challenging separations: our whole way of living is characterized by dualisms such as male or female, black or white, rational or emotional. These dualisms actually need to be considered together in a holistic, integrated way.
- Valuing differences: reconceptualizing difference so that difference is seen as a positive and enriching thing to be celebrated rather than a justification for oppressive behaviors and fears.
- World view: recognizing the importance of striving for some sort of consistency between what we ask of others and what we ask of ourselves.
I say let’s embrace these feminist work principles and lead our work environments, whether online or in person, toward this new paradigm. It is the new/old way to do it. Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day everyday.