Corporate virtue-signalling on International Women’s Day is patronising; what can companies actually do to promote gender equality in the workplace?

Corporate social media timelines have recently been flooded with girl power memes, queen emojis, #MeToo hashtags, and Maya Angelou and Germaine Greer quotes – all in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, of course.

And, as is becoming an annual event, companies worldwide have later rushed to delete their social media posts in real-time on International Women’s Day when challenged about their corporate virtue-signalling.

Last year, British pub chain Young’s Pubs posted an apparently harmless photo of two women drinking beer with the caption: “Raising a pint to International Women’s Day.” But it was not well received as it was discovered that their women employees’ median hourly pay was around 70% lower than men’s.

What do public displays of advocacy really do?

Let’s be clear, companies should indeed be promoting the core values of IWD on social media, but they cannot only do this, and not only on March 8 each year.

Public displays of advocacy without doing anything to support the cause meaningfully are unhelpful and offensive.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8 since the early 1900s. It grew out of the labour and suffrage movements when women worldwide were fighting for their rights and demanding better working conditions.

A day to celebrate women’s achievements

Today, it is recognised as a day to celebrate women’s achievements and to raise awareness about the challenges that women continue to face, including gender-based discrimination, violence, and unequal access to education and opportunities.

Such is the ongoing importance of IWD; companies must do more than corporate virtue-signalling and commit to taking measurable steps to improve gender equality in the workplace.

But not only because it is a moral imperative, but it also makes good business sense for several key reasons.

Businesswomen shaking hands in the office
Image: © pixelfit | iStock

Gender diversity broadens perspectives in the workplace

Gender diversity brings diverse perspectives and experiences to the workplace, which can lead to better decision-making, innovation, and problem-solving. By creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, firms can tap a wider range of ideas and insights that can help them stay competitive in today’s global marketplace.

It’ll also improve employee engagement and loyalty, which can help companies attract and retain top talent. By creating an inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and supported, companies can reduce turnover and build a strong employer brand.

How does gender equality benefit businesses?

Gender equality can help organisations forge ahead into new market opportunities and better understand their customers. By promoting diversity and inclusion in their products, services, and marketing, companies can better connect with different client cohorts and fuel growth.

Studies have also revealed that companies with greater gender diversity in leadership positions tend to perform better financially. I believe that this is down to there being better decision-making, improved talent retention and recruitment, and expanded market opportunities.

In addition, encouraging gender equality is a social obligation, and those that prioritise gender equality demonstrate their commitment to creating a more equitable and fair society, which can enhance their reputation and build trust with clients and investors, amongst other stakeholders.

How can employers support gender equality without merely corporate virtue-signalling?

There are several proven ways that businesses can enhance gender equality in the workplace.

Employers can foster a culture of diversity and inclusion by recruiting and promoting individuals from diverse backgrounds, implementing inclusive policies and practices, and providing training and education on unconscious bias.

They can conduct regular pay audits to ensure that women and men are paid equally for equal work. They can also implement transparent salary scales and promote salary negotiation skills among employees.

Flexible work arrangements such as remote work, job sharing, and flexible scheduling to accommodate the needs of employees with caregiving responsibilities, who are often women, should also be adopted.

Leadership training should be provided for women to help them develop the skills and confidence they need to advance into leadership positions.

Businesses should have established policies and procedures to address sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace and create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents.

Much of what can be done to support women in the workplace is easy. But less than simply using International Women’s Day as a marketing tool without implementing meaningful changes in their policies or practices.

Whilst it’s important to recognise and appreciate the efforts of businesses that demonstrate their commitment to gender equality and diversity, it is equally important to hold them accountable for their actions and make sure that they make good on their promises.

We’ve come a long way with gender equality in the workplace. But, as employers and as a society, we still have much to do, and we mustn’t stop now. Nothing less than complete equality will be enough.



Written by Beverley Yeomans, COO and CDO of deVere Group


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