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Celebrating women past and present this International Women’s Day

06/03/2024

Helen Gaier, Chair of employee network Connected Women, reflects on the origins of International Women’s Day and how this has shaped where we are today, as she celebrates women past and present and our ever-important allies.

Helen Gaier, Chairmen of Connected Women

8th March marks International Women’s Day (IWD) across the globe. Like many organisations, ScottishPower will support women working here by highlighting the progress that’s been made during the year such as the gender pay gap report, policy changes and strategic strides to close the gender gap.

As Chair of ScottishPower’s women’s network, Connected Women, it’s a day to celebrate the amazing achievements of our women and the progress we have made, but it’s also a time to reflect: do we still need International Women’s Day?

Companies are getting better at recognising the power of diversity of thought when it comes to decision making, innovation and the impact on the bottom line; as well as the moral argument of equity for all.

IWD 2024 has the theme #InspireInclusion and  social media will be filled with support from women, allies and companies alike. While it’s good to see, it has also been criticised as a marketing or attraction opportunity, rather than the authentic effort to dismantle inequalities that it set out to be.  

International Women’s Day has been around for over 100 years and it initially grew from grassroots activism, entwined with workers’ rights movement and struggles of the working classes.In the early 1900’s, oppression and inequality were spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay & voting rights. Then in 1909 the first National Women’s Day was observed across the US on 29th February. In 1910, we saw the second International Conference of Working Women, held in Copenhagen, which saw the movement expand outside of the US and start to gain international support.

In 1911, more than one million people attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. Less than a week later, on 25th March, the tragic “Triangle Fire” in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, which drew global attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the US.

The UK became more heavily involved through the suffragette movement. By 1914 women’s rallies to campaign against the war were commonplace. A  march in London  in support of women’s suffrage, resulted in headline news when Sylvia Pankhurst  was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square. The subsequent hunger strike and force-feeding of suffragettes again turned global attention to the issues faced by women.

On the last Sunday in February 1917, Russian women went on strike in response to the death of over 2 million soldiers in WW1. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike for 4 days until the Czar was forced to abdicate, and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.

The roots of IWD might seem difficult to relate to in 2024, but when we think of changes that have be taken place it can be surprising how recent some of these were, for example:

  • 1974 - women are able to open a bank account, have a credit card / apply for a mortgage without a male co-signatory

  • 1982 - women are allowed to spend money in pubs without being refused service

  • 1986 - women are allowed to take factory night shifts

  • 1992 - rape inside marriage recognised as illegal]

ScottishPower Connected Women Conference

In 2024 – are we done? The short answer is no. Women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, in fact, it will take 50 years to close the gender pay gap at the current rate of progress. Women are not equally represented in business or politics and, on a global level, women’s health, education and violence against them is worse than men’s.

As chair of ScottishPower’s employee-led women’s network, I’m proud to work for a company that takes inequality seriously.  The company recognises that we have work to do and is willing to work with us to improve - through collaborative strategic alignment and tangible actions.

We know that women over 55 years old are the fastest-growing age group in the UK workforce, so this year ScottishPower has committed to gain Menopause Friendly Accreditation,  to ensure women in the company are understood and seen.

We have launched our Allies Network to engage the conversation on a wider level.The importance of allyship in a male-dominated industry cannot be over emphasised – having male senior leaders in our business talking and advocating across our company’s diverse range of employees is powerful and engaging. The company rightly believes that diverse teams with inclusive leadership is the future, and this is the sort of employer I want to work for.

So, on International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate us – the women past and present who have got us to where we are now, the women yet to come who will continue to change and evolve inclusivity in ways we can’t yet imagine, and the allies all around us who lift us up and see us every day.

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