International women’s day: what’s the point?

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year. You could believe it’s one of the right thing to do, but how wrong is it really?

On this international Women’s Day, the debates, the initiatives and questions are rekindled about the place of women in the world and in organisations. I’m surprised, angry and sad that organisations are still trying to answer the wrong question: how do we get more women in top positions? Because answering this questions only leads to half-baked initiatives to help women be more aggressive and combative in a man’s world of business. The real question we should ask is: why do we want more women at the top?Because answering this question only leads to half-baked initiatives to help women be more aggressive and combative in a man’s world of business. The real question we should ask is: why do we want more women at the top? And by answering this question we could understand that the real need is for cultural changes and not more training for women to be more assertive.

Understanding why more women should be at top level of decision making in organisations is understanding the need for organisations to change and gain a better balance of feminine versus masculine values and behaviours. Feminine values such as cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life, are not exclusive to women and have now been understood to be as important as masculine values (achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success) to support organisations in their capacity to innovate and compete in ever-changing markets.

julia andrews - merkapt

Not addressing the real “why” question disengages men in the process. The reasons they hear are: because it is a legal obligation, because we want to have a good image in society, because it’s nice or it is trendy. Disengaging men (and some women too) only leads to punctual communication exercises with no real impact on the cultural transformation of the business. Once an organisation understands why we need to integrate more feminine values, then the actions gain purpose and are not limited to positive discrimination. Because looking for balance is not limited to women, it is hence infused into:

  • The management practices: the way we deal with conflict, we engage employees, we lead with care rather than authority, etc.
  • The talent management: how people get promoted, how we detect potential, how we value diversity of competences and qualities for various missions.
  • The work environment: the way people work and balance their lives, the way we communicate, how we manage our time.
  • The customer relationship: the way we listen to the markets, interact with customers, care about society.
  • The bottom line: the level of risk we take, how we invest, how we consider value creation beyond financials.

Once a balance of feminine and masculine values is achieved in organisations, the question of “having more women at the top” will be a non-problem.

The issue that remains for now is “how do we get decision makers in organisations to see the need for feminitity-masculinity balance in their organisational culture?” My answer is to help them understand the connection between the feminine values and practices with the future or continued success of their business, to connect cooperation with innovation, quality of life with performance. It is also about educating women (and men) on how their femininity (I’m not just talking about looking pretty and feminine here!) creates value in the business, how these soft skills can support the strategy, how they are crucial, and not just a “nice to have”,  to sustain a competitive advantage and how balance is what we’re looking for… not an over-feminisation.

I can respect International Women’s Day as a point in time to focus the mind on femininity and to acknowledge the men and women who have inspired us to more openness.

Let this day be a spring board to launch real cultural transformations towards more balance rather than just another communication exercise for companies to show they are “nice to women”.

Author: Stéphanie

Specialist of Executive Coaching and Entrepreneurial Mentoring, insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.