By Yasmine Lingemann
In light of International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated annually on March 8th, there is no better time to honour the achievements of women. As women continue to be underestimated, their drive to surpass expectations is fuelled. Hope and inspiration are ignited by female leaders who, against all odds, have changed the world. Phenomenal females who we greatly admire and who have been recognised under the international spotlight include Christine Lagarde, Jacinda Ardern, Margeret Thatcher, Kamala Harris, Helena Dalli, Michelle Obama, and Ursula von der Leyen. Young women are at last able to see a glimmer of hope that one day they could achieve like them. However, we wanted to dedicate this space to showcase women who are not given as much spotlight as other great women, and to give examples of women who are just as impressive but not yet as acknowledged:
LITERATURE: Amanda Gorman, youngest poet, and first black female poet, to perform at a presidential inauguration.
TRADE: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, first female, and first African head of World Trade Organisation.
TECH: Blanca Treviño, Founder and President of Sofftek, and ranked by Forbes magazine as “one of the 10 most powerful women in Mexico”.
LAW: Gloria Allred, Attorney who (amongst many other respectable achievements) filed the first lawsuit in California – pro bono – challenging the denial of same-sex marriage, and won the case, transforming the landscape for LGBTQ+ rights in America.
POLITICS: Sophie Wilmès, first female Prime Minister of Belgium.
BUSINESS: Gita Gopinath, first woman Chief Economist of the IMF.
AEROSPACE: Helen Sharman, first British astronaut in space and first Western woman in space.
MEDICINE: Shi Zhengli, virologist who discovered that Covid-19 belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS, and played a major role in finding the origin of the virus- leading to ground-breaking and life-saving research.
SPORT: Arunima Sinha, first female amputee to climb Mount Everest, as well as 6 other mountains. A motivational speaker, 7 time volleyball player, and winner of the Malala award and First Lady award, amongst many others.
This not only a celebration, but a moment to pause and critically reflect on why over half of the world’s population continues to be underrepresented because of their sex. Even in female-dominated industries such as healthcare, where women make up 77% of the NHS, only 47% of those in senior management positions are female. IWD is about recognising that there remains a huge disparity in how men and women are paid, even when all compensable factors are controlled. That although 60% of graduates in the EU are women, only 8% of the EU’s largest companies have female CEOs, according to the European Commission. It’s about acknowledging that six in ten women in the EU have experienced sexist treatment or suffered sexual assault in the workplace. It is about calling for systemic and social change and fighting for it until we no longer need an International Women’s Day.
The good news is that women are now making up more than a third of top jobs at the UK’s 350’s largest firms. The number of women on boards has risen 50% from 682 to 1,026 in five years- figures released by the government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review, which was launched in 2016 to encourage UK-listed companies to appoint more senior women. It said they showed “a dramatic shift in representation at the very highest levels of British business”. Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said: “FTSE companies have made incredible progress in recent years, but we cannot become complacent in building a society where everyone has an opportunity to get on and succeed. Our collective efforts to truly eradicate those barriers and create an inclusive leadership culture doesn’t stop here, this is where it intensifies.” We are also very proud to see that as of October 2020, Belgium’s new federal government, led by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, has ten male and ten female members. This 50/50 balance is something we hope other countries (and companies) will follow, so that women are fairly represented and rightfully leading in all walks of life.
Gender equality does not only benefit women. Achieving goals such as equal pay allows companies to attract the best talents for a job, and improves motivation, efficiency and overall productivity at the workplace. A study done by Credit Suisse proved that working in a teams of equal parts both powerful women and men evokes a more global and holistic perspective, better organisational performance, and greater innovation. A diversity of talent leads to a broader range of skills amongst employees, as well as a diversity of experiences and perspectives which increases the potential for increased productivity, too.
This IWD the strap line is ‘Choose to Challenge’. So, what do you choose to challenge? We do not need to tell you that men and women should be treated equally, or to convince you that there is a problem. We ask our readers to act- and we promise to act too. Whether you’re a man or a woman, ‘choose to challenge’ when you feel something isn’t right. With privilege comes power, and there are so many ways you can use that power for good: speak up and call out sexism and misogyny amongst your peers, stand up for and champion women and men equally, hire and promote women that are best for a role, and create an environment that encourages women and men to succeed together, not compete against one another.
We are proud to say that our team is made up of more women than men, because they were the best people for their roles. But it does not end there- we have a diversity & inclusion team here that makes sure we are prioritising the promotion of diversity and inclusion to better serve the needs of our members, employees, and key stakeholders. We encourage women who have insight into EU politics and business to get in contact with us, join our network, and speak at our events- we would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to also let us know if you would also like to get involved with our committee, and stand with us in the fight for equality, diversity and justice.
Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.
See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/