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IWD Special 8 Mar 2022 - 5 min read

We don't need a day, we need a revolution: Women downing tools might do more than a handclap emoji

By Laura Aldington - CEO, Host/Havas
Laura Aldington, CEO, Host/Havas

The annual jamboree of panels, breakfasts, social posts, shout outs, ‘should I hold the door open?’ questions or – God forbid – cupcakes haven't really moved the needle, says Host/Havas CEO Laura Aldington. Instead of fiddling while Rome burns, we should be going on strike. The women of Iceland did – and, funnily enough, it got stuff done.

The notion of a day to ‘celebrate women’, however well-intentioned, still feels like the modern equivalent of fiddling whilst Rome is burning. We simply aren’t shifting the dial at anything close to the pace we need to be.

Laura Aldington, CEO, Host/Havas

Time for an Icelandic IWD

As we gear up for our annual 24 hours of hashtags and handclap emojis, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate another international women’s day. My favourite one, actually. I say international because it happened in Iceland – on a Friday in 1945 – when 90 per cent of Icelandic women simply refused to work for the day. 

Some people reading this may think this sounds ridiculous. Funnily enough, many Icelandic men treated that Friday like a joke too. The laughter quickly stopped, however, when the telephone lines went down, banks and financial centres ground to a halt, schools and childcare facilities closed, shows and events were cancelled, and food production fell into disarray leaving families to scrounge for food.

Iceland very quickly learned that it could not function without its women, and those women were demanding equality.

One year later they had formed the Gender Equality Council and passed the Gender Equality Act against discrimination in the workplace. Four years after that, the first woman president was elected. 

Today, subsidised childcare entitles each parent to three months of paid leave, plus an additional three months to share. Nearly half of company board members are women. There are roughly two women for every three men in Parliament.  

And the World Economic Forum has ranked Iceland the world’s most gender equal nation, thirteen years in a row. 

Iceland may not be great when it comes to the weather, but my god, they’re brilliant when it comes to progress.

Likewise, 73 per cent of businesses still have a gender pay gap in favour of men. Only 19 per cent of CEOs are women.

Laura Aldington, CEO, Host/Havas

Nearly one in four boards are ALL male

Much better than Australia is, it seems. If you don’t believe me, let’s just take a brief but sobering look at the most recent findings by The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published in February of this year. 

There has been a marginal reduction in the pay gap in Australia but, to be clear, it now means that for every $10 a man earns, a woman earns $7.72 instead of $7.67.  

Likewise, 73 per cent of businesses still have a gender pay gap in favour of men. 

Only 19 per cent of CEOs are women.  

Men are now twice as likely to earn more than $120,000 a year than women and women are 50 per cent more likely than men to be in the bottom quartile, earning $60,000 or less.

Almost three quarters – 74 per cent – of boards still have more than 60 per cent men, while 22 per cent are comprised of ONLY men. Yes, that’s right – almost a quarter of all boards have no women on them at all. Of those male-dominated boards, only 12 per cent have set a target to change this. 

"From the very top-down, women are undervalued in Australian businesses and underrepresented where decisions are made," Mary Wooldridge, director of the WGEA, said. 

Feigning bewildered confusion as to whether they are even allowed to open doors for women anymore, [many men] know perfectly well that the doors they really need to open (but clearly still aren’t – see above) are the ones that lead to equal pay, equal opportunity, equal promotion, equal representation, and ultimately, equal respect.

Laura Aldington, CEO, Host/Havas

Smart men deploy weaponised incompetence to gender issue

Against this backdrop, the notion of a day to ‘celebrate women’, however well-intentioned, still feels like the modern equivalent of fiddling whilst Rome is burning. We simply aren’t shifting the dial at anything close to the pace we need to be. Interestingly, many men (I fully appreciate it is certainly not all men… but it’s enough that my point stands up) choose exactly this moment to deploy weaponised incompetence. 

That is to say that despite backing themselves with enough intellect, resilience, empathy, strength, imagination, and entrepreneurism to run about 90 per cent of the countries in the world, this issue still seems to leave many men confounded. Feigning bewildered confusion as to whether they are even allowed to open doors for women anymore, they know perfectly well that the doors they really need to open (but clearly still aren’t – see above) are the ones that lead to equal pay, equal opportunity, equal promotion, equal representation, and ultimately, equal respect.

International Women’s Day exists globally to ‘celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women’ (and it’s hard to argue that this isn’t richly deserved) but we surely have to admit that part of what makes these achievements so very worthy of celebration in the first place is that they ever happened at all, when you consider the dizzying array of social, economic, cultural and political obstacles in the way. We end up with a day spent celebrating women who have beaten crazy odds, when perhaps we need to find a new way of forcing those odds to be more even. 

So perhaps next year (whilst I tip my hat today – and every day – to all the brilliant women organising and participating in events across Australia), we don’t just need a panel, a breakfast, a social post, a shout out or (god forbid) a cupcake. We need a revolution. We don’t need a day to simply celebrate women. We need a day off, Iceland-style. Sound overly dramatic? The men of Iceland thought so too. 

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