Today is International Women’s Day, 2018 edition. It is a day that celebrates the achievements of women and raises awareness on the lack of gender equality that still exists in our world. Last year, I blogged about this topic on INSEAD’s webpage and I challenged you by asking if you can name a female inventor (aside Marie Curie). For this year, I have a different challenge for you at the end of this post….but before that, let’s discuss a few things.

The last 365 days have been dominated by incredibly effective campaigns such as the #metoo and the #timesup movements, which have opened up the eyes of many people on the reality of sexual abuse and the lack of gender equality. Times Magazine chose the Silence Breakers as the Time’s Person of the Year 2017, as they managed to hold accountable some of the most powerful men over cases of sexual assault and harassment. In addition, many business schools such as INSEAD are putting immense effort to promote gender inclusion and engage the full potential of women leaders in business. INSEAD launched the iW50 gender initiative, a year long celebration in which they honor women at their business school, reaffirm a commitment to equip women for success at every career stage and in every organization, increase the representation of women among students and faculty, increase the number of cases with female protagonists, and explore the challenges women face today in business as well as the possible solutions to said obstacles.

It is great to see that in this year, it was not only women rising to the occasion, but men as well. It was refreshing to see various male leaders in multinational and large corporations support the #heforshe campaign (check this video of leaders in Hong Kong pledging to support this campaign). I know a lot of people like to humorously say that behind every successful man is a woman, but I’d love to one day say that behind every woman is a man supporting her in achieving gender equality. It would be a dream to see all men helping women gain the equality they so deserve.

Behind every woman should be a man supporting her in achieving gender equality

I recently moved to Japan 7 months ago, and despite it being an advanced country in so many aspects, Japan is far off from achieving gender equality. In the 2017 ranking of the Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum, Japan dropped to 114th out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality (the worst of any developed economy). If you are Japanese and you feel bad about this, trust me I know how you feel as my home country of Lebanon ranked a miserable 137/144. But to give you a sense of who ranked better than Japan, it would be the following countries: Tajikistan, Malawi, Liberia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. They all did better in terms of political empowerment and economic participation of women. While this sounds gloomy, it was a good wake up call for many people in Japan to create a change. This includes their prime minister who is a champion for the #heforshe movement. Shinzo Abe has pledged plans that will allow more Japanese women to be involved in management positions, will enhance child care policies to allow more married women to get back into the workplace, and will create stricter rules to end sexual harassment in Japan.

While these new rules take time to show their impact and to be fully accepted by society, it is nice to meet people in Japan who are eager to help push forward such positive change in their own organizations. An example of that would be the INSEAD Alumni Association of Japan who recently launched a Women in Business Japan club. The plan is to offer mentorship advice for female alumni, host panel events and discussions that raise awareness on gender related issues, empower alumni in Japan to lead change in their organisations, and publish papers that would offer guidelines to Japanese corporations and governments on how to tackle gender inequality. The beautiful thing about it is that the leadership team is equally composed of females and males, and is fully diverse in nationalities, age, industries and functions.

Gender equality needs to follow a top down approach; CEO’s and Leaders have the capability to create change and to motivate their organizations to embrace them

My view on gender equality change is still the same. It needs to follow a top down approach. There exist today so much untapped talent pools of women that are waiting to be hired for management and executive roles. But in order to properly access them, leaders and CEO’s need to first create work environments that embrace diversity. They need to provide proper support and opportunities to allow women to thrive in the workplace. Company policies need to be gender neutral, and the change needs to start with and be led by the CEO. Governments also need to get stricter with companies and make rules against gender inequality. While it is nice to fine a company if it doesn’t have enough female representations or it doesn’t have equal pay, why not just make it all illegal? Iceland did it and there is nothing stopping other countries from doing the same. Governments around the world should look up to that example, learn from it, and find a way to establish it in their cultures. And while there is still a proportion of men (and surprisingly few women) who think that women should not have equality and believe that women are not as smart or capable as men, their opinions can be overturned with time once they see the positives of having equal gender representation in our societies.

Call To Action:

Today, more than ever, there is a call to action on pushing forward gender equality. It is time to press for progress (#pressforprogress), get empowered by the momentum of the #metoo and #timesup movements, and advocate for change in our societies and organizations. Every person reading this article needs to realize that they have a role (big or small) that they can play in this. You all have had a mother, wife, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, cousin, sister, grandmother, aunt, and/or daughter that you have respected or looked up to. If you do not want to do it for yourself, do it for them. Don’t know where to start or what to do? Here is a list of action items to pick from. I challenge you to choose at least one of the following as your 2018 objective, work towards achieving it and share it with your friends and family:

1) Nominate women for opportunities in your organizations
2) Ensure that women are represented and heard in your meetings
3) Challenge statements that limit women or can have a degrading meaning (ex: you throw like a girl)
4) Learn about companies that are supporting gender equality
5) Challenge stereotype and personal bias regarding gender equality
6) Call out inappropriate behaviour and sexual abuse
7) Celebrate women role models in your organizations and value their success

Every person reading this article needs to realize that they have a role (big or small) that they can play in this. Do it for the women you admire and respect.

Finally, to the countless women in this world who are not provided the equality they deserve, again I say this: do not lose hope. This hardship that is upon you is only the passing of greed, the bitterness of some people who fear the way of progress. As Ban Ki-Moon said, we have shattered so many glass ceilings to the point that we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so that women can advance across new frontiers. It will take time, but there are many men today, including myself, who are in full support of such initiatives.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

P.S: For anyone wondering, yes there is an International Men’s Day. That would be November 19th and it is celebrated in more than 60 countries. Its purpose is to promote positive male role models who lead decent honest lives, focus on men’s health and wellbeing, improve gender relations and promote gender equality.