#IWD2020: Same shit different century but with one big win

by | Mar 8, 2020

Same shit different century - or will this year's win make a difference?

Would the suffragette have been disappointed with the progress to date of gender equality? Will 2020 be different?  Who knows.

I wrote a post in 2018 using this image. I find today that for the most part all I needed to do was change the date to 2020 with a few tweaks.  It is indeed same shit different century, and even only a different year. I'm not a fan of IWD. There is a flurry of activity one day a year with lots of conferences, events, tearful promises and deserved accolades for activists and male allies, who are trying their best in difficult circumstances. It's a nice idea, but in reality progress is tortured. We are still taking two steps forward and then one step backwards. Most of the news is not that significant, in some areas we are even regressing. But we do have one BIG win.

Harvey Weinstein is in gaol.

Historical perspective

John Stuart Mill said in 1867,  let's be clear about this, it was over 150 years ago:

'This claim to confiscate the whole existence of one half of the species for the supposed convenience of the other appears to me, independently of its injustice, particularly silly'.

And in 2020 we are still having to deal with similar underlying resistance and silliness. To quote the Women's March poster of 2017 "Same shit, different century."  2020 has special significance for International Women's Day for two reasons. Both reasons highlight the level of resistance to gender equality that women have experienced for more than a hundred years. Some would say always. But the second also adds a touch of optimism and may possibly signal a small sea change.

Women in politics

Some progress has been made on the political front. Sanna Marin, was appointed Finland’s prime minister on December 10th, and is the youngest head of government in the world. She is one of only five women among the European Union’s 27 current leaders.  She leads a coalition whose five parties are all led by women, three of whom are under 35. Her cabinet contains 12 women and seven men: at 63%, the female share is the highest in the European Union. Despite having a Master's Degree in Administrative Science, opponents and press describe her career progression as one from cashier to PM.  The same was said of Congress woman Alexandra Ocasia-Cortez, an international relations and economics graduate, but who worked as a bar tender in university. Successful, young, assertive and passionate women need to be put down somehow.

Set against that we have seen a rise the level of abuse that female politicians experience. In the US voters would rather see a cabal of elderly men as Presidential candidates (some with diminished cognitive capacity) standing for election, than consider the prospect of a competent female President. In the UK, we race for the bottom with serial cheat and philanderer, Boris Johnson, Lord of the Lies, as Prime Minister, as more and more incompetent men seem to become leaders. A misogynistic press drives women out of countries and even to suicide.

Repackaging gender equality

The suffragettes might possibly have been disappointed with the rate of progress after 1918. It took another half century for Equal Opportunity and Anti-Discrimination legislation to be passed. Female CEOs continue to be rare. The "Superwoman" anthem of the 1980s which basically gave women permission to do something outside the home, made sure we were still firmly in charge of hearth and family. This has barely changed today, with women assuming the lion's share of household responsibility. We still see the phrases "career woman" and "working Mum", with no comparable terms for our male counterparts. As Kristen Pressner says when you "flip it to test it" - it sounds ridiculous. Career man? Working father?

Women were silo-ed even further by the "having it all"  initiative, which translates into "doing it all, or managing it all"  And still there were no great results, other than high levels of burnout. We found that second generation discrimination or unconscious bias makes us all closed to change. Two days ago research from 75 countries told us that 90% of people exhibit gender bias against women.  Women are still "leaning in," some say to the point we were almost horizontal. And so the needle barely moves.

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Bundling gender equality

To get around this we are doing what women do well. We play the game, or allow it to be played around us. We continue to repackage gender equality to make it more palatable to resistant groups. And there are many. We call gender equality "gender diversity" which also encompasses other sexual orientations. We work with general diversity programmes, bundling gender parity with race, religion, physical ability, nationality, educational background etc.  Now more recently, we lump it in with wider inclusion programmes. It's a bit like having to persuade kids to eat their greens, by mixing them in with something else. Perhaps the thinking is if you don't talk about it - it will happen on its own.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, gender balance expert and author of Late Love says:

'Gender diversity' has been around for a long time, because 'gender' issues were unfortunately put under the 'diversity' bucket, which minimises the shift in the world that gender balance represents. People know when they are being made to swallow something they don't want to. We bundle gender with nationality balance, because people in global companies 'get' that, then gender slides down with a strategic, burning business issue, not a bunch of nice to have minorities driven by international companies."

And so it goes on

The fact remains that despite more than a century of campaigning, gender equality in 2020 remains frustratingly elusive. Women are underrepresented in senior roles, they do not receive equal pay, and are less likely to receive critical early management promotions than men. They are subject to pension poverty. 94% of women experience sexism in the workplace. Companies need to approach gender equality with hard facts and big data and make business decisions accordingly. But they don't. Women should renegotiate their personal relationships. But they struggle with those too and end up with 80% of household work.  As Avivah said in another article:

"If you can't find a spouse who supports you, stay single."

And they are. An increasing number of women across the globe are choosing to stay single.

same shit different century

Women and the workplace

I could go on pulling out stats about the experiences women have in the workplace, but I won't. Career progression for women remains visibly sluggish. Research published in HBR finds that there are "no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role. We couldn’t see the types of projects they were working on, but we found that men and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. Yet women weren’t advancing and men were."

#TimesUp for Harvey Weinstein

This brings me to the reason why 2020 is important and with it a glimmer of optimism. Harvey Weinstein is in gaol. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements highlighted the sheer scale of sexual harassment in all sectors, globally. This is pivotal. For almost the first time we saw real and severe public consequences for the illegal behaviour of a high-profile figure, as well as repercussions for bystanders and enablers. This was someone who evaded prosecution and exposure until a handful of women found the courage to stop playing the game of silence and collusion. It was a huge step and one that cannot be underestimated.  The movement also shows the level of pain and sacrifice women are forced to experience, so that rest of us can receive our basic human rights.

But even as I write this, I am freshly back from a week's awareness training on sexism and harassment in the workplace, where 10% of the participants, all ordinary women confirmed they had experienced harassment involving physical intimidation and the abuse of power. That is far too high. More than ever, women also have to stop being bystanders to abuse. And we have to reframe our messages to men. Instead of telling women how to protect themselves, let's start telling men not to hurt us. And although Weinstein faces gaol time, other high-profile men evade paying the consequences for their role in Jeffrey Epstein's global sex trafficking ring. And we wonder why 75% of sexual harassment cases in the workplace still go unreported.

Going forward

2020 has seen some of the real issues women face being highlighted, but how far-reaching the consequences will be for those who break the law remains to be seen. One high-profile gaol sentence doesn't make a trend. The move for gender equality should be a done deal - but it isn't. Will we see some real change this year or will we continue the depressingly slow progress we are experiencing to date? Personally, I would rather give up the one day set aside for women (really - ONE day!) and have gender parity all year.

So by all means celebrate all the small wins and achievements, but check in next year to see if I use the "same shit, different century" image in 2021. Hopefully not.

 Sexism and sexual harassment awareness training is vital for men and women. Find out what your organisation needs to do. 


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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