How to create change this International Women’s Day: today, tomorrow, every day

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

Every year on the 8th of March, people all around the world take a moment to celebrate International Women’s Day. They gather for fancy breakfasts, pound the pavement in fun runs, and slap a sticker on their email signature to empower and acknowledge the amazing women in their lives. These women are role models, leaders, mentors, mothers, sisters, and everyone in between.

Then, on the 9th of March, everyone pats themselves on the back, says job well done, and returns to their day jobs. Inspiring words are spoken, people feel good about themselves, and women continue to earn 78c for every $1 on average a man earns.

International Women’s Day may be just one day, but it calls for something beyond words. It calls for change: today, tomorrow, every day.

The journey beyond International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day has a simple, but powerful, demand: inspire inclusion.

On International Women’s Day, we embrace everything that makes you, you. We acknowledge, celebrate, value, and seek to understand the many intersectionalities of a woman’s identity—disability, race, religion, gender, and sexuality.

We celebrate women’s achievements. We raise awareness about discrimination. We educate ourselves and take steps to inspire inclusion.

Inspiring inclusion means educating ourselves, leading by example, and creating change that breaks down barriers and opens up opportunities for women to reach their potential.

This is no small task. Inclusion is a big word, with an even longer load of carriages. The question is, where do we start?

The state of inclusion. Mind the gap

It’s no secret women face extra hurdles on their path to employment. For the first time, gender pay gaps from some of Australia’s biggest employers have been revealed.

The findings are unsurprising for most: men earn more than women across every single sector.

  • Three in five companies have a gender pay gap of over 5%.
  • For more than half, the gender pay gap is over 9.1%.
  • This number stretches between 37% and 52.3% in the top 5% of worst companies with more than 250 employees.
  • Companies with female leadership are more likely to have a gender pay gap closer to the WGEA’s target range.
  • This report does not include the earnings of CEOs, heads of businesses, or casual managers. Nearly 80% of CEOs in Australia are men.

 “The time for talk and excuses is over… Change takes action and employers need to double down on ensuring all employees are fairly represented and equally valued.” – Mary Wooldridge, WGEA CEO

But what does change look like? It starts with making it easier for more women and women with disability to participate in the workforce.

How to improve workplace inclusion and accessibility for women

Inspiring inclusion can’t just be talk. It must be action.

It’s not a person’s sex or gender identity that stops them from succeeding in the workplace. It’s the systematic barriers and misconceptions that make employment inaccessible.

These barriers are twofold for women who meet at another intersectional identity. For example, women with disability are almost twice as likely to be unemployed than women without, and also more likely than men with disability to be underemployed.

When we remove these barriers, we open up opportunities for women to live authentic lives and achieve financial independence without sacrificing part of themselves.

Flexible work

Today, women still overwhelmingly bear the brunt of household and caregiving responsibilities, whether that be for a child, elderly parent, or family member with a disability.

Additionally, women are significantly more likely to live with a chronic condition and have multiple health conditions. For example, 75% of autoimmune conditions only affect women. They are impacted by health conditions at a younger age than men and are forced to access healthcare more frequently to manage long-term pain and ill-health.

Flexible work options are vital in levelling the playing field. They create opportunities for women to balance their work, health, and caregiving responsibilities, without having to choose between them. That might include work-from-home options, remote work, flexible work hours, and job-shares.

When women can access flexible work, they are more likely to stay in the workforce. They are afforded more possibilities for career growth and chances to step into leadership roles that were previously unattainable without sacrificing their health or family.

Neurodiverse-friendly workplaces

Although the world is gradually becoming more educated and aware on what neurodiversity in the workplace can look like, this is a very male-centric view. ADHD in women is often internalised, and struggles can be invisible or brushed off as anxiety or depression.

When employers are not supportive of neurodiverse workplace adjustments, women with ADHD are pushed to the breaking point to succeed in a workplace designed exclusively for neurotypical people.

And succeed above and beyond they generally do—women with ADHD can be incredible assets to an organisation—but the question is at what personal cost. This might materialise in six months of extraordinary performance followed by masking fatigue that causes burnout, absenteeism, productivity loss, and eventually turnover.

Removing barriers to allow neurodiverse women to succeed is not challenging. It starts with education, an authentic conversation, and leading by example. Some simple, but hugely effective, changes that can be made around the workplace might include:

  • workplace modifications, such as noise-cancelling headphones, flexible work hours, and lighting adjustments
  • extra equipment or tools to help manage and boost productivity
  • a change in work pattern to support periods of hyper-focus and reduce fatigue
  • a change in processes.

Recognise, celebrate, and create space for women in work

Inspiring inclusion is more than creating a physically accessible workplace. It’s recognising the successes of women—which are historically disregarded or misattributed to others—and creating space for them to achieve their goals. We need to work to raise their voices in meetings and acknowledge their thoughts, ideas, and achievements.

When you grow up in a world that nit-picks and criticises your thoughts, behaviours, and decisions, it’s no surprise many women feel unwelcome or unsafe in professional environments. Women are judged based on their clothes, weight, relationships, decision to work or not to work, parenting, decision not to be a parent, and emotions.

Occupying space is a powerful tool, and it can be a difficult presence to establish. Change starts with breaking the cycle of judgement, choosing to lift each other up, and encouraging safe spaces women can occupy.

When we champion the working women around us, we create more opportunities, more role models, more leaders. We create a world where women are granted more than one seat at the table.

Here are just a few excerpts of women celebrating each other’s career successes from our Facebook page over the last twelve months:

  • Absolutely brilliant! 😊
  • You got this 👍❤️ Love, me.
  • Good on you! 👏 I have bipolar and I work too. We can do this.
  • Beautiful. Well done.
  • Depression is like the flu. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but when it does it’s not easy. Hope you are well. We must stick together.
  • You should be so proud of who you are and what you’ve achieved.

This International Women’s Day, make a commitment to create inclusion every day

Are you ready to be the change you want to see? This International Women’s Day, don’t just ask for change, do it. Make a long-term commitment to building an accessible and inclusive workplace where everyone can reach their potential. Inspiring inclusion starts by leading from the top.

For over 30 years, EPIC Assist has been educating and supporting businesses to increase their workplace inclusion and accessibility. As your local disability employment specialist, we assist employers to create an inclusive workforce and hire job-ready staff with disability.

If you are ready to level the playing field for women with disability, contact EPIC Assist today.

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