Our Group Client Director Anna Butler writes on on ‘where to now’, after another International Women’s Day left her feeling ambivalent at first and now galvanised to challenge herself and her colleagues.

Every year on International Women’s Day I feel ambivalent.

I experience a strong sense of pride, hope and inspiration when I read about all of the amazing achievements of women, the obstacles overcome, the trails blazed and the examples set.

But I also feel a deep sense of disappointment, frustration and fatigue when I consider the latest studies or metrics regarding gender-based violence, girls’ access to education, the gender pay gap or, as highlighted by this year’s theme, women in leadership. Each year it seems we make headway in some areas, and yet slide back in others.

I have read a lot this year about how COVID has disproportionally negatively impacted women.

During the lockdowns many women became trapped at home with perpetrators of family violence (as I learnt from our work with No To Violence last year), or disproportionally lost their jobs, or juggled domestic/unpaid work with paid work while working from home.

The gender disparity of economic impacts from COVID has been significant enough to become coined the “pink recession” or the “shecession”.

And all of this is despite the significant role that women have played in the response to the pandemic. I recently read in an essay by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership that stated 70 per cent of health and social care jobs around the world are held by women, which means most of the people in our frontline response were women. However, 25 per cent of leadership roles in health are held by women.

Women were also underrepresented in all of the key international COVID-19 decision-making groups which is alarming because as Ruth Bader-Ginsberg once said:

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

When problems are big and complex, like the issues I’ve briefly touched on (that are also just the tip of the iceberg), we have a tendency to want silver bullet solutions.

We get asked by clients facing a range of different issues and challenges – what’s the campaign or initiative that will cut through and make the difference? What’s the one solution? Is there a quick fix?

In reality, it usually takes a lot of hard work, in lots of different areas by lots of different people to make real and sustained progress. As we often advise our clients, being consistent matters, doing the hard work matters, having your actions match your words matters.

So I’m going to take our own advice and this year I am going to use #choosetochallenge to channel my annual bout of disappointment, frustration and fatigue into action.

As a woman and a communications professional, I am going to #choosetochallenge myself, my colleagues and my clients to the following:

  • Call out gender bias and inequity – question our thoughts and assumptions
  • Challenge the language we use
  • Challenge the sources we use – to ensure gender parity and representation
  • Encourage, enable and empower women to speak up and take up space
  • Seek out and celebrate women’s achievements

I’ve been lucky to have had the privilege of working with some incredible women in leadership positions over the past ten years as colleagues, mentors and clients and I look forward to working with many more in our new COVID-19 world.