International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, when more than a million women and men gathered at rallies to call for an end to discrimination. More than 100 years later, the day has become an occasion to celebrate all that women have achieved and to push for continued progress toward gender equality.
Women and girls still face discrimination. They are not safe from the threat of physical and sexual violence. They do not have equal access to education or health care. Women and girls do the majority of unpaid care work and when they work for wages, they are still likely to be underpaid. At the current rate of change, it will take 257 years to close the global gender pay gap. In the United States, women are paid about 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gap is even wider for women of color.
This current state of affairs is why gender equality is one of the Sustainable Development Goals. As the United Nations puts it, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” Everyone benefits when women and girls are treated equally. It’s a global goal all of us can and should be working toward, including in our businesses and workplaces.
Companies can do more to advance gender equality – and drive business results
Business leaders have begun to recognize the value of having a diverse and inclusive workforce and have taken steps toward gender equality.
The number of women serving on corporate boards has increased in recent years, which is a great step, both for gender equality and for businesses. Research has shown that having gender diversity in company boards is linked to increased corporate social responsibility and ethical behavior. Women are clearly playing a key role in the move toward a new kind of capitalism, where businesses are measuring success for shareholders and stakeholders.
Studies also indicate that companies with women in leadership and management positions may perform better than companies without gender diversity. Research points to the fact that diversity of any kind brings in new perspectives and points of view, which spurs innovation.
Women are still underrepresented on corporate boards and C-Suite positions and change has been slow. But things are moving in the right direction. And one way to ensure more C-Suite women in the future is to support women at all stages of their careers.
All of us can take steps to advance gender equality.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is #EachforEqual. That means embracing “collective individualism” – the idea that all of our individual actions and choices can add up to powerful, collective impact.
You can start in your own workplace.
- Be an ally. As we say at Salesforce, there are four simple steps to being an ally: ask, listen, show up, and speak up for one another. If you practice these concrete actions at your office, you’ll gain a better understanding of your colleagues’ diverse experiences and you’ll be better able to use your platform to support them and create change. You don’t have to agree on every single issue to stand as someone’s ally, but you do need to stand beside one another when it’s needed. For example, if a woman’s idea wasn’t acknowledged in a meeting, you can be an ally by restating her idea and giving her credit. Or, if somebody makes an offensive comment, check in with the person on the receiving end of the comment to see if they’re okay and then make clear to the person who made the comment that it is not acceptable. You can learn more about how to be an ally on Trailhead.
- Join and empower employee resource groups. I’m proud to be the executive sponsor for the Salesforce Women’s Network, an employee-led global organization to build community for our women employees as well as their allies and to advance gender equality in our company and the industry at large. Joining an employee resource group at your company is a great way to show up as an ally. If your company doesn’t have employee resource groups, consider working with colleagues to start one.
- Close the pay gap. If you’re a hiring manager, take steps to close the gender pay gap at your company. Salesforce has invested more than $10 million to ensure that our employees are receiving equal pay for equal work. We conduct annual pay audits, evaluating by both gender and race. As a hiring manager, you can also examine your hiring practices to evaluate whether they are inclusive. How are you recruiting and spreading the word about open positions? Are there ways that unconscious bias could be impacting hiring decisions? Make a commitment to finding and addressing any potential issues with your hiring process.
- Use your platform for change. There are so many ways you can show up and speak out for gender equality. For example, think about which employees you sponsor. That is, which employees are you advocating for, investing in, and helping move up the professional ladder? Men tend to sponsor more men and women tend to sponsor more women and everyone tends to sponsor people who look like them. While we know this is not always the case, when it happens, it perpetuates gender gaps. Be intentional about diversifying your sponsorships. It results in a more diverse leadership pipeline, and, as outlined above, can also lead to better company performance.
You can also find ways to encourage the next generation of female leaders. One of my favorite sayings is: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” You might be able to work with your employer to provide opportunities for girls to see what they can be. Through partnerships with organizations like Girl Scouts or Girls who Code or local schools, you could bring young people, including girls, to your office. It’s an opportunity to show them that women can and do lead teams, projects, and companies. It can change their visions for the future.
International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to check in with yourself, your colleagues, and your workplace to evaluate what steps you’re taking to advance gender equality. It’s a day to celebrate what you’ve accomplished thus far and recommit to taking steps to work toward equality for all.
About the Author
Ebony Beckwith is EVP and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce. As the head of the Philanthropy and Engagement team, Ebony directs programs and strategic grants focused on education and workforce development. She is responsible for engaging employees in volunteer opportunities and administering millions of dollars to improve communities around the world.