Why investing in women will change the system for good

Exploring the importance of investing in women, challenging stereotypes, and fostering inclusivity.

Why investing in women will change the system for good

First off, let me start by saying that International Women’s Day isn’t just about celebrating the amazing achievements of women (although, let’s be real, we definitely deserve all the applause). It’s also about recognising the need for meaningful, lasting change – the kind of change that shakes up the status quo and paves the way for a more equitable and inclusive society.

Here in the the UK, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #InspireInclusion. Not that I disagree with the sentiment - but given the urgency of equity and the significant barriers faced by women across the world, I think we could do better.  The UN’s International Women’s Day theme for 2024 – which is ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’ – is slightly better, because it’s at least it’s action-focused. The UN has identified five key areas where changes in society need to take place so that real and lasting systemic change can happen: investing in women; ending poverty; implementing gender-responsive financing; shifting to a green economy and care society, and; supporting feminist change-makers.

'Invest in women: Accelerate progress'

A couple of years ago, a social media bot called Gender Pay Gap Bot went viral as it was built to expose the median gender pay gap companies and organisations. It was linked to the Government’s gender pay gap service, and automatically responded to a company, brand or organisation which had tweeted one of the International Women’s Day key phrases with a tweet that mentioned the median gender pay gap of that particular company, brand or organisation. The automated tweets highlighted the virtue signaling that organisations often do when it comes to awareness days like International Women’s Day.

But two years on, where is the innovative campaigning for change?  Centring systemic change requires way more than a catchy hashtag, or easy to digest soundbites; it starts by challenging attitudes and beliefs about gender roles and identities. Inspirational quotes posted to social media accounts and holding occasional ‘women’s events’ are simply not enough!

One key aspect of centring systemic change is amplifying women’s voices and leadership. Too often, women are sidelined or marginalised in decision-making processes, whether in boardrooms, parliaments, or community settings. By actively promoting women’s participation and leadership roles, we go beyond representation to  ensure that policies and practices are more inclusive and equitable, and start to dismantle systemic barriers facing women.   However we can’t look at this through a narrow lens.  Intersectionality is key because in the minds of many, when they see the word ‘women’ it often means privileged, white, non-disabled women, so we need to be intentional about putting our efforts into addressing inequity and injustice too.

This means challenging harmful stereotypes and promoting positive representation of women in media, advertising, and popular culture as our default position.  This means fostering working environments where individuals of all genders can express themselves authentically, free from judgement, discrimination and harm. And it means speaking up and out about oppression and violence, even if it has been framed as “too political” - because we know that women will be the most impacted.

Because, let me tell you, when enough people come together with a shared vision for change, amazing things can happen. I’ve seen it firsthand in my own community, where advocates and campaigners have worked hard to dismantle barriers and create opportunities for female founders and women in the workplace.

Last Autumn, myself and seven other colleagues in the advertising, marketing, media and communications industries launched an initiative called Join Our Table which is a campaign to promote the visibility of Black women in our industries. We also managed to secure outdoor advertising space, so you might have seen our adverts up in London back in October, which featured. We gave shoutouts to Black women with affirmations like “We got you, sis!” and “Queens come through!”. 

Black women told us the impact of seeing us, and themselves, on the streets of London and cities across the UK. Our intention was to help Black women feel seen, supported and visible and the campaign definitely delivered! 

If we invest in women, it means that we can't be afraid to focus on specific communities of women to address historical injustice and inequity – even as we stand in solidarity together.

As women, it’s really important that we also invest in ourselves and each other. How many women-owned businesses do you support on a regular basis? Especially those run by women from minoritised and marginalised communities.  And if you are a woman or non-binary person, how are you investing in yourself? This shouldn't be about mindless consumerism, but it’s really important that we invest in ourselves where it matters and pay it forward too. 

So, whether it’s advocating for policy reforms, supporting women-owned businesses, or simply challenging everyday sexism, let’s each do our part in driving meaningful change. Together, we can build a more equitable and inclusive world for all.

Photo credits: Bronac McNeill

People featured in the photo: Michelle Moore, Elizabeth Anyaegbuna, Chloe Davies

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