Pioneering spirit still at the heart of International Women’s Day

Interviewing a young businesswoman
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Many women’s careers are made up of firsts. Billy MacInnes says it's a sign of the slow progress towards workplace equality

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10 March 2021 | 0

There’s a well-worn question posed by many people who are critical of International Women’s Day and it goes something like “how come we don’t have an International Men’s Day”?

The simple answer is that there is such a day and it happens every 19 November, so don’t forget to celebrate it this year.

The fact we pay more attention to International Women’s Day (IWD) is not a reflection of bias but a recognition that there’s a lot more work to be done to achieve proper gender equality in today’s society. Many of those inequalities still exist, violence against women remains endemic and assaults on women’s reproductive rights have become more intense.

 

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IWD serves as a focal point for those issues and as a vehicle to commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women in all areas, including IT. Hopefully, something changes for the better every time it is celebrated.

It’s worth pointing out IWD is not a modern phenomenon created by the PC (politically correct) brigade in the 1980s. The earliest National Woman’s Day, organised by the Socialist Party of America, was held on 28 February 1909 in New York and International Women’s Day was marked for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

It was made a national holiday in Russia after the October revolution in 1917 although, you will be unsurprised to hear, it was still a working day until 1965. The UN started celebrating International Women’s Day in 1975 and invited member states to proclaim 8 March as the UN day for women’s rights and world peace in 1977. It didn’t specify whether the quest for both had to be completed at the same time or if women’s rights could be achieved first.

Every year in the run up to 8 March (and on the day itself), there is a flurry of announcements about the strides and advances businesses, organisations, industries, governments and countries are taking towards making the objective of IWD a reality.

The spotlight is thrown on women who have done well in their chosen walk of life and risen to a top position in a particular industry or organisation.

Clone wars

But it says something about most industries, including IT, that the faces of the small number of women in leadership positions stand out so prominently from the serried ranks of clone-like male leaders.

If you want to get an idea of the yawning equality gap that still exists between men and women, ask yourself when was the last time a man was asked what it was like to become the first male managing director or CIO or IT director at whatever company he happened to be working for.

Many men in leadership positions in any industry or vocation are following in the footsteps of other men who went before them. By contrast, most women’s careers are made up of firsts.

They are the first woman sales manager, the first woman sales director, the first woman operations director, the first woman CIO, the first woman managing director, the first woman CEO, the first woman vice president, the first woman president.

Being the first of something definitely deserves to be commemorated and celebrated. But we’ve never had to commemorate the first male CEO of a big corporation, the first male Taoiseach, the first head of the world bank or leader of the united nations. They are things that have been there since the start.

If you want to get an idea of the enormity of the achievement for a woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, for example, consider this: Katherine Graham became the first ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 1972 as chairman of the Washington Post company. By that time, eight men had already walked on the moon.

So yes, it really was easier for a man to walk on the moon – not just one man but eight – than for a woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

It’s a source of some shame that however far off the moon may be – 384,400kms or thereabouts – it’s still much closer than true equality and opportunity for many women in the world today.


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