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Gender equality still a long way off, despite positive steps

By Nicky Marr

Better for Balance is the theme for International Women’s Day 2019, and I am proudly supporting it.

I am adding my voice to the many millions of others, male and female from across the globe, who are standing up for the right of women to be equal to men.

I am glad to be a woman. I am a happy woman. But then I have every right to be; I am in a position of extreme privilege. I am white and educated. I earn enough money to have a comfortable home, warm clothes and plenty to eat and drink, with money left over for holidays.

I am in a relationship in which I am respected and supported, and never abused or belittled. I live in a country with free healthcare and where clean drinking water comes out of every tap.

I may want new shoes, but that’s just greed. I don’t understand what it is like to need new shoes, or to need food or shelter, or to feel safe.

So, what is International Women’s Day about? It is about making our world better for everyone.

Since the first International Women’s Day was marked in 1911 with an astonishing 1 million participants worldwide, women have taken great strides towards equality. Then, barely any woman had the vote. Now 32 per cent of the Westminster parliament is female. And while that’s good, it’s not good enough.

If it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today

But it’s not just about representation. The IWD2019 website states: “The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage...” The campaign seeks balance in every aspect of life.

Gender balance is not just morally right, it makes good business sense too. Head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has made female empowerment her goal. IMF research shows that more women on boards would make banks and businesses more stable.

Lagarde famously said: “If it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.”

Gender equality at work widens the skill pool and boosts both creativity and productivity. But you can’t just employ women, you have to pay us the same, and equal pay is still not a given. Furthermore, it was recently estimated that it will be another 118 years before the gender pay gap is closed.

I have never knowingly been overlooked for a job because of my gender, but I have stood up against injustice.

Twenty-two years ago, when the male bosses in my law firm were recruiting my replacement, they disregarded all the CVs from female applicants in case they "got their fingers burnt" with another solicitor getting pregnant.

I was there in the room. I watched them separate the CVs into two piles and place one pile – the larger one – in the bin.

I took a deep breath and called them out on it. For once, they listened. My successor, a brilliant woman who had come top of her year, turned out to be a fantastic asset to the firm.

Two decades have passed since then, but we know these situations still arise.

Each one of us – man and woman – who stands up for women’s rights, or even the rights of one single woman, hammers another nail in the coffin for sexism. But is shouting about equality one day a year enough? Of course not. We all have to stand up for women, and every day.

I’m not a fan of positive discrimination but I absolutely believe that the right person should be appointed for every job, every time, regardless of gender, race or any other factor.

What I am for is achieving gender balance through equality of opportunity; making it equally easy for girls and boys to consider careers in any field, and for stereotypes, fears and prejudices to have no place in recruitment.

Education opens the door to opportunity, but open-mindedness is needed too. Without gender balance across jobs, board appointments, representation, media coverage and the rest, we’ll not achieve equality.

And without equality we’ll continue to miss out on the skills and ideas of half of the population.

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