This is an update to Lisa’s 2018 article on International Women’s Day. Since that publication, rather than making progress, things are worse with an estimated 257 years to achieve global gender parity. And that’s underestimated due to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. If we want to build back better, then we better get serious about system re-designs and action-taking for gender equity and inclusion now—and stop posting photos holding up hashtag slogans!

For the past 112 years, International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March has focused attention on women’s rights. The 2020 theme is #ChooseToChallenge. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020 showed that action on gender equity and inclusion is especially needed. And this was prior to the adverse impact of the pandemic on women overall and especially on women of minority racial/ethnic communities and women in lower wage positions. The WEF report revealed an increasing amount of time needed to close the gender gap. Based on WEF’s data from 153 countries, at the current state it will take 257 years (it was 217 years in 2018) to close the gender gap globally. That’s twice as long as we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day. And that won’t be in our lifetimes, or our children’s, and perhaps not their children’s. And maybe longer, as UN Women’s data on gender and COVID-19 predict that progress will be set backwards by over 25 years as a result of the pandemic.

Indeed, it does feel like we are stepping forward and backwards at the same time. Here are just a few examples.

  • Talent: There’s been hope for a wider diverse talent pool with the growing trend of more women graduating from universities than ever before. Globally, women are now at parity or exceeding the number of men graduating in many fields (with the exception of engineering, manufacturing and construction).
  • Employment: However, this source of talent is not being utilised to the fullest with women comprising only 38.8% of the workforce globally in 2020. Women are carrying the heavier loads of home, family, and caring-giving needs during the pandemic, and this has led to more women leaving the workforce than their male partners and colleagues. Estimates are at 1 in 4 women will alter their work (reducing hours, changing occupations, or leaving) as a result of 2020.
  • Pay: When employed, globally women are paid 23% less than men. In the US, Black women are paid 38% less than White men and 21% less than White women.
  • Legal rights: Globally, in 2021 women only have 3/4s of the legal rights of men, and this impacts their employment opportunities and economic inclusion. In only 10 countries out of the 190 examined, do women have equal legal standing with men. And 2.6 billion women have legal restrictions on where and how they can work.
  • Leadership: Globally, women made up less than 29% of senior management roles in 2020, and only 20.6% board director positions in 2019. In the U.S., Black women currently fill only 4.1% (a drop from 4.7% in 2018) of U.S. senior leadership roles as compared to white women at 32.8% (an increase from 26.2% in 2018). This decrease of Black women’s management roles happened against heightened activism in 2020 for anti-racism. CEOs and leaders posted photos of themselves holding #BLM signs, making public statements on their company webpages, and donating money to anti-racism organisations. Yet, this drop in the numbers of leadership roles held by Black women, raises questions on where were these executives in the hiring and promotion decisions within their own organisations? (see more in this blog article)

The low numbers of women in leadership are in direct contrast with the high volume of studies showing the business benefit by having a gender balanced workforce and leadership profile. Likewise, it’s fairly common to find articles on inclusion, diversity, and gender parity in leading business publications. This mainstreamed view of the ‘business case’ coupled with heighten awareness on gender equity in society, such as with #MeToo and #BLM movements, wider use of intersectionality, legislation across many countries for increasing women on boards, and calls for greater transparency on organisations’ diversity data and pay equity (by gender and race/ethnicity), shows that this is no longer a topic to be ignored nor passed off as an HR only issue. It’s no longer the case of ‘prove it’ but now ‘do it’.

To accelerate progress for greater inclusion and gender equity, we need to apply behavioural insights, such as Inclusion Nudges, to help steer decision-making and behaviours towards this goal. Business cases, data, moral positioning, blaming, shaming, and compliance are not bringing about the change we want to see for equity and inclusion. Nor is it as simple as saying we need to choose to challenge. Behavioural science shows that we will avoid speaking contrary views in group settings and to those in high-power status roles. Research and experiences show that when the person who challenges is from an under-represented group, they will be punished with lower performance ratings, perceived lower ‘likeability’, reduced interactions, and limited opportunities. The ‘shoot the messenger’ dynamic can also apply to the persons who #ChooseToChallenge. Sanctions for challenging the status quo and violating norms holds greater implications for those from minority groups rather than majority. However, even being an insider with the majority group will still make it challenging to speak up for change. Group norms and biased deliberation patterns are powerful unconscious drivers maintaining the status quo.

So instead of making a declaration to #ChooseToChallenge, we need to design and apply new approaches that take the burden off of people to do this. Inclusion Nudges help to give rise to dissenting voices, interrupt biased decision making, reconfigure processes, and support greater inclusivity. With Inclusion Nudges, the system 1 automatic brain is engaged, which is where the vast amount of information processing occurs and where biased mental shortcuts steer our decisions and behaviours to run contrary to our stated intentions of being more inclusive, fair, and objective (learn more in this blog article).

By designing and applying techniques based on behavioural science, we can increase inclusiveness and achieve the progress that is so needed for realising our full human potential in society and work. So, for this year, how about we reframe the International Women’s Day theme to be #DesignsToChallenge? We need more focus on action and by sharing Inclusion Nudges designs, we all can inspire each other for progress. We simply can’t wait for 257 (or more) years for greater gender equity, and as we emerge from the pandemic, to Build Back Better and achieve The Great Reset, we must use smarter approaches like Inclusion Nudges.

Here are some Inclusion Nudges to support challenging the status quo.

  • Judgements of Warmth & Competence to show how bias creeps into our decisions of people. See The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and in the Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies.
  • Ask Flip Questions to Change Your Perceptions in the Moment to challenge your own thinking and that of others. See The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook, the Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies, the Inclusion Nudges for Leaders, and the Inclusion Nudges for Talent Selection.
  • ‘Why Not?’ Inclusion & Diversity to change the default on getting started with gender equity. See The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and the Inclusion Nudges for Motivating Allies.
  • Write Before Talking to Reduce Group Conformity to get wider perspectives and challenging positions into the deliberation process. See The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and the Inclusion Nudges for Leaders.
  • Share with a Peer to Access Diversity in Groups to get wider perspectives and challenging positions into the deliberation process. See The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and the Inclusion Nudges for Leaders.

Get access to more designs to achieve your diversity, equity, & inclusion initiatives

By applying Inclusion Nudges, you can more effectively achieve your diversity, equity, & inclusion initiatives. Inclusion Nudges make it easy to do this in a way that that engages all people and results in them being more motivated to take action. The research studies and the designs referenced in this article are described in step-by-step details in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook, and also in the books in the Action Guide series. We encourage you to try applying the change methodology of Inclusion Nudges. These make inclusion the norm everywhere, for everyone, and by everyone.