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Who Owns International Women's Day?

Who Owns International Women's Day?

This International Women's Day, I had a look around the internet to figure out the best way to share IWD information online - what were the main global messages? What was the hashtag?

So, I googled "International Women's Day" and this is the first site I found.  It looks like this:

It's clear and clean. The images - though stock-like - represent some diversity. The call to action is evident.  The hashtag? #BeBoldforChange - it's right there. It looks like a good, modern campaign. Nice. 

Then I had a look at the UN Women site. It looks like this: 

There is a clear reference to International Women's Day. But, the information is confusing. We're told the UN theme for IWD is "Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. There is a mention somewhere to "Step it Up." There's a 3+ minute video message by the Executive Director, in what looks like an office. I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with the information. Read all of it? Share it? 

So, I return to the International Women's Day site. Obviously, many more people have done the same. According to Google "International Women's Day is the main search term for IWD as the day approaches every March 8th.  That's not a surprise  - it's been the name of this globally celebrated day for almost 100 years.  It's a very good brand. 

International Women's Day is, unsurprisingly, the most searched term for IWD. 

International Women's Day is, unsurprisingly, the most searched term for IWD. 

Family and friends are finding this site as well. The #BeBoldforChange hashtag appears in my various feeds, including from friends and colleagues who work in the United Nations and international NGOs.  I use it too. Why not? 

A quick Twitter hashtag analysis from March 4-10 2017 tells me that the combination of #InternationalWomensDay and #BeBoldforChange account for about 70% of the popular hashtags used during the week of IWD.  So, the "owners" of these two phrases are getting great visibility and strengthening ties to a strong brand.  

So, who are the owners? To be blunt, some of them are these guys below - the executives of  BP (formerly British Petroleum). BP is one of the 10 corporate partners that makes www.InternationalWomen'sDay.com possible. It has for several years. Yet of the 10 members of BP's executive team, there are zero women. Their Board of Directors is slightly better - 3 of 14 of the members are women. 

BP's Executive Team 

BP's Executive Team 

The other corporate partners include EY (formerly Ernst and Young) - which seems to be taking a lead role - together with Aecom, Caterpillar, PepsiCo, the EBRD, F5, Vodafone, MetLife, and Western Union. I looked on each of their websites, and here's a chart of the gender composition of their executive teams, below.  

(There is also a charity partner called Catalyst in this chart. I'll happily write more about them a bit later in the post. The Girl Guide and Girl Scout Movement is also a charity partner).   

This chart shows how the "best" company is PepsiCo - almost 1/3rd of senior management, including CEO Indra Nooyi are women. (Now if PepsiCo can continue to cut salt, fat and sugar and improve nutrition in its products...)  Next best is Western Union - with 3 women of 13 executives. Many others fall in the 15-20% range. Some are below that. 

Let's talk about the EBRD - the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It is the worst. Each of the 65 countries has a member on the Board of Governors. There are only five women on this board. Yes, 8% of the Board are women. They are from Israel, Latvia, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden.  

Just 15% of the executives amongst the www.InternationalWomensDay.com partners are women. 

Because the EBRD has such a large board and so few women, and most of the other companies don't even meet the global average of 24% - the IWD partners have a grand total of 33 women executives of 222. That's 15%.  And, diversity is another topic altogether - there are almost no women of colour amongst the 33 executives. 

Before going further it's important to say - I have no problem with the private sector supporting International Women's Day.  These IWD partners are supporting a platform that brings women from around the world together. A place to share events and ideas.

It's also an opportunity to showcase big thinking and self-reflection. Company leaders lent their names to op eds, participated in interviews, and talked about their own shortcomings. EY, in one Forbes post, says it recognises that "we have some ways to go." In its statement on the IWD website, Vodafone says it plans to achieve 30%+  women hires amongst its middle and senior managers by 2020. If participation in IWD helps CEOs to think more about the issues and develop strategies that will hire and retain more women and pay them equal salaries, it's progress.  

The current situation is still dire. Catalyst - a non-profit and IWD.com charity partner -  predicts that at the current rate of change in women's participation in senior roles, women won't reach parity with men until 2060. Check out Catalyst's considerable research about current workforce trends

A pause here to congratulate Deborah Gillis - a Canadian who is the President and CEO of Catalyst. There are 27 senior roles at Catalyst. Women fill 26 of those. That's 96%. That's leading by example. 

Women fill 26 of 27 senior roles at Catalyst. That’s leading by example.

Now, back to the issue of www.InternationalWomen'sDay.com.  I wondered how long it's been there, and who has been involved in the past?  I did some checking (thank you Wayback Machine). A quick look back shows: 
- The website was registered in October of 2001
- It seemed to get rolling as a place for people to register their IWD events in 2003 or so. A company called Aurora sponsored it. It looked like this.  

Over time, the site became more sophisticated. By 2007, more companies were involved including HSBC, Cisco and Deloitte. The African Development Bank was also a partner for many years. Partners have changed quite a lot over the years. At no time has any UN agency been a partner. 

As shown below, for a few years the IWD website prominently featured company logos, including huge banner-type ads at the top.  Good advertising. 

In 2015, EY became a partner.  Registration of the site was updated in April of 2016 (through GoDaddy so we can't see who actually registered it) and is valid through 2021.  In 2017, EY is playing the role as lead campaign partner. Currently they have 18 global executives and three are women.  That's 17%.  I assume they're trying to improve. 

Looking at today's www.InternationalWomensDay.com, it's hard to immediately see it's owned by private sector companies.  It's hard to tell who is behind the website. If you write to "contact us", who is responding?  Is it one of the partner companies? Or, a PR firm? Who gets to be a partner? Do they pay for it? (I have written to them and I'll let you know when I do).

Given the popularity of the search name and the hashtags, these companies are getting very good publicity linked to a great brand - possibly for very minimal work. 

UN Women is filled with many talented and committed people doing a great job to progress policies for women everywhere. But today, brands and name recognition really matter. Unfortunately UN Women - which arguably speaks for the world's women and could be a convening place for IWD - has lost a strong brand to the private sector. When people search for International Women's Day they will find the corporate-sponsored site first. 

UN Women should make a stand here - either by partnering with the private sector and joining the International Women's Day brand - or building a clear, modern campaign that will draw more people next year.  

Ultimately, we're all striving for the same goals - a world where women are equal everywhere; where women's rights are human rights;  and where women's role in the workforce is at parity with men.  The more people spread that message from the public and private sector, the better.

But if the private sector is going to own www.InternationalWomensDay.com, it better be doing much more than talking and tweeting. 



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