International Women’s Day in a post-gender world

By Elisabeth Kelan
March 5, 2010

Elisabeth Kelan-Dr Elisabeth Kelan is lecturer in the Department of Management at King’s College London. The opinions expressed are her own. Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.–

To mark International Women’s Day, the Women’s Empowerment Principles: Equality Means Business will be launched in New York on March 9, 2010.

It springs from a collaboration between the United Nations Global Compact and the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and contains comprehensive recommendations on how women and gender have to be considered in modern organizations across the world.

While the launch of the Women’s Empowerment Principles points to the sustained inequality between men and women in the workplace, many young women in the global north see International Women’s Day and specialist events for women as outdated. They seem to believe that they live in a post-gender world where gender no longer matters.

For many young women in the global north, gender equality is not seen as a relevant issue for their careers. They have grown up in a world, which makes it appear as if gender inequality is a thing of the past. Women form the majority of university graduates and achieve excellent results.

They cannot see why this should change in the workplace. Gender inequality appears to them as an outdated concept that is no longer worthy of discussion.

In our recent study on gender and the MBA, which will be published this month in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, women had an ambivalent relationship to discussing gender issues. Most of them believed that gender equality in the workplace is a fact and no longer needs any work.

In stark contrast to this stands the numerical evidence of women in the workplace. Our research has shown that most companies in Europe hire 50 percent women at entry level – with some industry related variations. However, women make up 30 percent of mid managers and 10 percent of senior leaders.

Developing leaders includes a focus on sending the future leaders on executive education and overseas projects as well as developing their skills through business critical projects. The research highlights that organizations do not systematically equip women with these crucial skills to become leaders.

The current generation of women might see gender as an issue that is solved. Yet they might find themselves in a workplace where gender inequality is still rife. Having never seen gender as an issue, they then lack the tools to address this gender inequality. For this reason it is so important to raise awareness for women’s position in the workforce.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles are an excellent way of doing this. They highlight how women matter in business globally. This includes women working in the supply chain to how women are presented in advertising.

By adopting these principles and by considering them in business decisions, the sustained gender inequality in the workplace can be discussed and acted upon. In a post-gender world where gender no longer seems to matter for many, it is vitally important to have such initiatives and commitments.

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