As a former pupil at a single sex school, I remember all too well the buzz around International Women’s Day. We would all be sitting in the assembly hall and representatives from the school would be telling us how this day was ‘for us’ and how amazing we are as individuals. We would be told the stories about the great women of the world – Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, and how we too could achieve great things like these figures. This assembly would follow the same format, year after year on or around the 8th March and I remember sitting there as a 13-year-old, admiring these women and truly believing that I could be like them when I grew up.
Fast forward to now, and we still hear the stories of Marie Curie, Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa, amongst others, on International Women’s Day, which is great, of course. Except, why do we feel the need to shine the light on these women on every March 8th – shouldn’t we be celebrating and telling stories about women every day?
According to the history books, the first observance of a ‘Women’s Day’ was in New York in the early 1900s, set up by the Socialist Party of America and then by 1914 on Sunday 8th March, the first International Women’s Day took place in Germany in 1914. At that time, the day was largely used to promote social movements such as women’s right to vote. And there’s no doubt that over the years International Women’s Day has been and will continue to be successful in promoting inequality issues and helping women have a voice.
But the problem we see with the modern International Women’s Day is that it feels like it’s the only day of the year where we see or hear about women doing amazing things, whereas in reality, women are doing incredible things every day. Last year, for example, when the English men’s football team reached the semi-finals during the World Cup, we saw headlines saying that it was the first time England had reached the semi-final in 28 years, when in fact, England had come third place in 2015. The difference? It was the women’s football team who achieved third place in 2015, yet the newspapers decided not to mention that.
Then there’s the marketing side. Companies and brands will choose to promote products and services that are aimed at women on International Women’s Day. And whilst we all love a freebie or discount, it totally defeats the purpose of the day that the women in Germany worked so hard to set out back in 1914.
Whilst I’m grateful for my school for embracing International Women’s Day and for teaching me the stories about great women, it’s important that we remember why the day was created in the first place. Let’s not make the modern International Women’s Day a marketing campaign or a reason to rejoice in all the wonderful women. We should stop treating International Women’s Day as a ‘special day’ for women and learn to celebrate women on all the other 364 days of the year too.
Even in the supposed age of equality, a question that is still being thrown around is ‘Why aren’t there more women in the technology sector?’. It seems that the momentum for change is growing from inside the industry itself. Woman’s Hour the other week ran a feature on how men are fighting for their techy sisters to be better represented at tech conferences. A group has even formed which aims to boycott conferences that have an all male line-up. Doing some digging, I discovered that according to a recent report, only 17% of jobs in technology are held by women. While this obviously means that there are simply fewer women in the sector to choose from when selecting spokespeople for stories or speaker slots at conferences, women are still under-represented in technology. Instead of asking ‘Why?’ I found myself asking ‘What?’. What does the lack of female representation in technology mean for the industry and what is the industry doing to lure more women in?
The first answer is it makes for an industry that is ‘out of touch’. Without a female force in the boardroom, decisions are made that can result in a real turn off for 50% of the consumer base. Take for instance Google’s idea to run an algorithm to work out why women weren’t staying at the company. Or the ‘pink it and shrink it’ idea employed by many consumer tech brands in an attempt to reach the female market. Both of which only go to reinforce the gender gap. Instead of looking at stats or telling women what they want, why don’t brands start talking to find out what women really want?
And that is what some companies have publically begun to do. The recent announcement of Alicia Keys’ appointment as Global Creative Director at BlackBerry teamed with other BlackBerry announcements spread the message to an untapped generation that technology companies are at last listening to them to bring more women into the technology fold. Miss Keys follows in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, who in 2010 became Creative Director of Polaroid. But are these popstars really what the industry needs to show that it is changing? Why does tech need to borrow the music industry’s big stars? There are plenty of would be women tech superstars out there doing much more interesting things then just appearing at launch events.
Marissa Mayer’s move from Google to Yahoo certainly secured a lot of news coverage, but what about other women in technology? How often do you see them being covered in the press? When was the last time you saw Sandy Carter, Cher Wang or Susie Wee in the press, outside of ‘Women in technology’ lists? These women are doing fantastic things for their companies as well as the industry itself, so can we just hear about them a bit more please? My belief is that there is a want and a need for more women in technology to start making their presence and influence known for the benefit of the industry as well as the consumers. So come on ladies, throw your hands up at me.
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