International Women’s Day is about more than annual ad spots: here are 3 ways to drive change throughout the year.

08 Mar 2021 | Culture

International Women’s Day is about more than annual ad spots: here are 3 ways to drive change throughout the year.

By Laura Giffard

Each month the Perq Studio #BluePaper cuts through the noise to bring you topical stats and actionable insights your brand needs to succeed.

Every year as International Women’s Day approaches, our news and social feeds are filled with the usual quizzes and infographics about changemaking #girlbosses or inspirational women throughout history. There’s no problem with driving awareness. There’s no harm in reaching out to women across the world to say: “we support you!” But as a female-led business in a male-dominated industry, so much of the infantilising qualifiers are tone-deaf. We’re not girls, just bosses, thank you very much. And then we remind ourselves of the statistics and they remain, frankly, f***ing depressing. No Google Doodles are going to change that.

We need to remember that International Women’s Day isn’t about marketing, it’s about drawing attention to the areas where we can truly support the development of women worldwide.

Are you doing enough? Here are 3 ways to drive actual change.

1) Invest in women founders! (read: invest in success)

Why we need to talk about it

According to Forbes, VCs invest 98% of their capital in start-ups led by men. That’s not a typo. And you’d think there was some sound logic behind this staggering statistic: some compelling proof of gender-weighted success. But it’s just not there.

Despite the stark gap in funding, start-ups co-founded by women actually perform far better over time, generating 10% more revenue over a 5-year period. In fact, a Silicon Venture Capital firm crunched data from 10 years of investments and made a clear conclusion: female founders consistently outperform their male peers. Teams with at least one female founder did 63% better than all-male teams. So, if this mind-blowing 98% stat isn’t based upon sound data or insight, what’s it built upon if not pervasive, medieval bias?

What needs to be done

The data is clear. There are no excuses. And it’s not just about closing the gap to create happier and more successful women. Female entrepreneurship genuinely has the power to change the world. Analysis from BCG suggest that if women and men around the world were allowed to participate equally as entrepreneurs, the global GDP could rise by 3-6%. And that’s not all. Incredibly, women reinvest up to 90% of their income into their families and communities, compared to 40% for men.

So how can we collectively seize this huge opportunity? We accept it’s not just about financial capital. Particularly for women in developing countries, there are huge shortfalls in human and social capital: things like training, resources and support networks. The importance of role models and mentors can’t be overstated, (depressingly, 85% of young people who could name an entrepreneur who inspires them named a man).

But ultimately, let’s not kid ourselves, like most things, the problem comes down to cold, hard cash. If women-led start-ups can do so much with such little investment, think what could be achieved on an even playing field? Without targeted financial interventions it’ll remain impossible to smash these barriers. So invest in female founders! It benefits you and society! But as that doesn’t seem to be enough for VCs, then maybe setting specific supply chain targets or quotas is the answer. And while we’re on the subject of quotas…

2) Leadership quotas work, ok?

Why we need to talk about it

When it comes to hirings and promotions, the word ‘quota’ is pretty weighty. It sparks debate. Women, so the argument goes, would be just as harmed as the men they’re up against if they receive favourable treatment based on their characteristics instead of their talents. ‘What happened to merit-based career advancements?’ is the familiar cry, rumbling across male-dominated boardrooms.

But it’s been consistently proven that numerical targets are essential to driving institutional change. The truth is, without quotas we get a stagnant pace of change. Soberingly, the UN’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 suggests that the gender gap parity will not be achieved for another 99.5 years. Cultural and social change is happening. But not nearly fast enough.

What needs to be done

Obviously, the goal is to reach a society in which quotas are no longer needed. But clearly we haven’t quite reached that utopia of equality. Until then, quotas aren’t just important, they can be hugely beneficial to the businesses that adopt them. According to a study by Deloitte France, the 40% quota that came into French law in 2017 ensured “women directors are, on average, six years younger than male directors; and a significant number of them have international experience. The end result is more diverse, innovative companies and better corporate governance practices.”

You don’t need to wait for your government to take action. Huge, global companies such as Mars, Cisco and Deutsche Telekom have set targets (typically 40%) for women in leadership positions. Benchmarks don’t make you recruit blindly. If anything, they ensure you recruit with wider eyes, resulting in genuine change and truly diverse boardrooms.

And, we repeat: this isn’t just good ethics, it’s good business. Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing diversity “leads to better business outcomes, smarter decision-making, contributes to an organization’s bottom line and powers innovation.” Need any more convincing?

3) You need to stop losing your leaders

Why we need to talk about it

Your organisation has hired the right woman for the job. They’re competent, motivated and ready to advance through the ranks. But they also want to start a family. Obviously, this shouldn’t be a problem in 2021, but so many governments and workplaces continue to give inadequate maternity support or stifle reporting on gender-sensitive issues. The motherhood penalty is real, and it’s not just about inadequate governmental support; it’s also the ‘wall of bias’ new mothers return to, in which they’re perceived as having different priorities or new desires.

There comes a point in too many women’s’ careers when they’re forced to choose between family and career advancement. It’s known as the ‘broken rung’, and in 2019, for the sixth year in a row, women continued to lose ground at the first step up to manager.

Throw in a global pandemic, and the broken rung has never been harder to vault. As McKinsey puts it, “working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’: a full day of work followed by caring for children and household labour. Now [thanks to the pandemic] the support systems that made this possible such as school and childcare have been upended.” What does this result in? Senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to think about downshifting their role and leaving the workforce because of COVID-19. Yikes.

What needs to be done

Companies can’t afford to lose potential or established female leaders because of childcare commitments. Research suggests that company profits can be 50% higher when women are represented at the top. That’s why plenty of companies have detailed programmes in place to provide actual support for female leaders regardless of family commitments. Mars have their Full Potential platform; Sky have their Women in Leadership Series. Visa do some impressive work in this space: posing the question, why do companies invest so much into onboarding, but so little in supporting valued employees returning to work after maternity leave?

But if your organisation doesn’t have the kind of infrastructural and financial heft to set up projects like this, don’t despair. Look at collaborating with non-profit initiatives such as Business Action for Women. Because maternity support and gender-sensitive barriers to success aren’t things women, or even organisations, can tackle in isolation. Changing unequal social norms, discriminatory legislation, or a lack of resources for women requires collaboration and a deeper engagement with governments and non-profits to identify bias and drive systemic change.

Marketing can’t change the world, but it can help shape the conversation. That’s why we’re going to be shining the light on the female-led brands, businesses and campaigns that inspire us for the rest of the month, not just for this one day. And if you want to invest in a female-led business that can guarantee your brand success, then there’s never been a better time to get in touch.