Today is International Women’s Day - a day to highlight the struggle for equality that millions of women around the world still face every day. It’s also a day to celebrate the accomplishments and sacrifices made by those women who have led the movement for gender equality.
These efforts start with improving basic equal rights. Across the world, the rights of women to drive, file a divorce or leave the house without their husband’s permission still remain in question. One in three women still experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and almost 800 million people aged 15 and over remain illiterate, nearly two thirds of which are women, a proportion that has remained unchanged for two decades. But these rights extend all the way to our companies’ boardrooms; out of the S&P 500 companies, only 5.8 per cent of CEO positions are held by women.
The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap, measured through health, education, economic opportunity and political empowerment, won't close entirely until 2186. This is too long to wait. Achieving equality should not just be considered a women’s issue; everyone – men and women – should be taking action to help achieve parity more quickly. We will all be far better off once we do.
I recently read an Economist article that makes the argument for governments to introduce gender budgeting. I’ve never been one for economics jargon, but the types of policies highlighted here are exactly the kind of common sense decisions our governments should be making in order to move closer towards gender parity.
For far too long we have ignored how policies at the heart of our government may affect different genders. By taking into account the impact of policies on men and women, we serve to not only improve the effectiveness of public decision-making but also make a significant contribution towards gender equality.
There are some great examples of countries taking leading steps in this direction. The Rwandan government’s investment in improving basic sanitation has a led to higher enrolment of girls in schools. Austria has enacted reforms that adjust taxation on secondary earners, which had previously impeded women’s labour force participation. And Sweden, as a pioneer in this field for over a decade, has repeatedly adjusted its budget to address challenges from violence towards women and disparities in pay.
But it’s not just our governments that can make effective change. Business can and must do so much more to promote equality, respect and fairness. Removing barriers like discrimination through education and training is a necessity for business success.
Each of us can become champions of gender equality within our businesses and do their part to close the gap. At Virgin, we know that the most successful businesses are the ones that promote a climate of diversity and inclusion. We recognise and celebrate the amazing contribution that women are making to our workforce every day, and we know we are a much better business for it. Competing in quite few sectors that have for decades been dominated by men, many of our businesses are now led by female leaders and employ women in senior roles.
But much remains to be done, and we have identified a number of areas where we could do better. Placing gender equality as a business priority is the first step towards establishing an environment where all people can thrive – because of who they are, not in spite of it.
These are all moving pieces of a puzzle, one that continues to be shaped by all of us. As governments, businesses and individuals, we must work to foster inclusive markets and societies. And standing up for gender equality should be at the centre of this effort. This International Women’s Day, I am joining the call to #BeBoldForChange, we all stand to benefit.
Head over to our International Women’s Day homepage to read more and #BeBoldForChange.