How To ‘Invest In Women’ The Right Way?

This International Women's Day, we all need to consider if we are truly open to invest in women, or just making the right noises.

With less than six weeks to go now before we come to International Women’s Day 2024, I thought this would be the right time to look at this year’s IWD theme, Invest in Women. What does it mean for all of us, and especially for organizations across sectors looking to mark the occasion meaningfully? 

The complete United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is Invest In Women: Accelerate Progress.

The rationale for this theme is painfully obvious. While people around the globe face challenges of poverty and conflict, women and girls often face the worst of it – for instance, even today in India, if money is scarce, it will be the women and girls who get the least part of an already poor diet. UN data also shows that despite a lot of rhetoric, organizations led by women and working for women get very limited financing – limiting their ability to create real impact. 

If all of this feels remote – consider this – study after study shows that when the business climate is poor and layoffs are rampant, it is women who are disproportionately laid off, even in white-collar work environments.

Business leaders and decision-makers making plans to celebrate IWD need to consider if we are truly investing in women, or just making the right noises.


When organizations truly invest in women…

Over the years, here at Women’s Web, we have been part of the IWD celebrations and activities of many organizations. We’ve helped organizations think through the right things to do, to celebrate their female employees in a meaningful way, to build bridges to the societies they operate in, and to do it in interesting formats that connect people.

Some of these initiatives have worked remarkably well, others less so. Here are some of my learnings on what organizations that get it right do.

To invest in women, they include women! These organizations understand the importance of inclusion at a consistent, overall level and not just in terms of marking an individual day, important though that may be. They consult women on building safe and equitable workplaces that enable women to thrive, and build accountability for leaders to make this happen.

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Given this context, IWD celebrations then become an occasion to deepen the conversation and take additional steps for the coming years. 

Some ways in which our clients over the years have done this include:
  • Creating safe spaces on IWD where women’s experiences can be shared – women learn from each other and men (usually the larger number in any organization) learn from women
  • Examining the benefits being offered to women, and using IWD to reflect, revise and enlarge on the benefits being offered. For instance, do healthcare benefits include all women including trans women? Does maternity leave also consider the needs of mothers through adoption? At a broader level, it could also consider expanding paternity leave to make caregiving itself less focused only on women
  • Enabling women to lead the celebrations while ensuring representation from different divisions and organizational levels
  • Investing in women through learning programs designed to address specific challenges or gaps that women may face (for e.g., in accelerating to leadership, returning to work)

While most of these are long-term efforts, International Women’s Day is a great time to evaluate any such programs your organization is running and announce any additions, upgrades, or expansions.

Invest in women – beyond the superficial

On the other hand, it is always tempting for overworked HR and Operations teams to treat the IWD theme of the year and IWD itself as just another item on the calendar to be ticked off. The initiatives that truly pay off in terms of women’s advancement at work often take years to show results; as a result, some organizations find it more appealing to take a shortcut and simply treat IWD as a celebration rather than the meaningful occasion it is.

In such cases, the International Women’s Day simply becomes a day to hand out roses, chocolates, spa vouchers or something of this nature to all your female employees. Now I am not against companies giving their employees of any gender something fun and enjoyable; however, let’s be clear that these goodies are just that – a little something to be enjoyed that day and forgotten. Neither do they advance women’s careers in the workplace in any meaningful way, nor do they further organizational goals such as building more women up to be leaders or reducing attrition among employees. 

If we want IWD to be a milestone each year that actively furthers both women’s growth at work and organizational goals such as lower attrition or inclusive and collaborative workplaces, there is a lot more work to be done than just handing out the roses!

So, as we approach International Women’s Day 2024, let’s truly reflect on the theme, Invest in Women, and ask ourselves what it means to us. Whether as individuals, team leaders, business leaders, HR leaders or in any other capacity, how do we want to use this occasion to build women up? Can we approach the occasion as one step in our long-term goals to create inclusive workplaces where everyone can bring their best selves, rather than as an event to celebrate and forget?

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About the Author

Aparna Vedapuri Singh

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations to create change. She has been writing since she was ten. In another life, she used to be read more...

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