Gender equality isn’t just ‘self-evidently right’, it is also a major economic opportunity for the planet – according to hard-headed uber-capitalists, writes Susan Dalgety.
Apparently my “cloud” name is Dewy S Wonderfluff. Not impressed? Neither am I, but no doubt there are thousands of teenage girls delighted with their new nickname, courtesy of a global coffee chain and Ariana Grande.
The singer is an ambassador for Starbucks, and to mark yesterday’s International Women’s Day (IWD), she has inspired a sickly sounding new coffee drink: ‘Iced Cloud Macchiatos in Caramel and Cinnamon’.
“So light and fluffy they’re basically a cloud in a cup,” trills Starbuck’s Twitter feed, before inviting you to choose your “cloud” name.
Personally, I think IWD should only be celebrated with a double espresso, drunk standing up, but then I am old (school), and I need all the raw caffeine I can get just to get me through the day.
Intrigued to find out more about Starbucks’ feminism for Millennials, I scrolled past unearthly images of coffee cups floating on clouds to find that campaigner Malala Yousafzai has “created the perfect International Women’s Day playlist” for the company.
A quick glance and it only confirmed what I already knew. I really am old. Where was Aretha Franklin? Annie Lennox? Even Ariana Grande? I had to Google every one of the female artists, from Red Velvet to First Aid Kit. But how wonderful that there are so many young women making music. Growing up, my only role model was Suzi Quatro.
International Women’s Days may have become so mainstream that cynical global brands see it as nothing more than a hook for a marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean the day has outlived its usefulness.
Not while the statistics speak for themselves. In what could be the last time the UK features in a Eurostat news release for IWD, the EU’s statistical office revealed earlier this week that only one in three managers across Europe are female.
Latvia is the only country where women dominate, with 56 per cent. Luxembourg comes in last with an embarrassing 15 per cent, and the UK is average, with 37 per cent of our managers women.
Business, leadership and the economy are central to this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, which is #BalanceforBetter. Gender balance is not simply a women’s issue, the organisers argue, it’s a business case for economic growth.
The argument is simple: the global economy will only thrive if there are more women in government, in the boardroom, and in work.
We would all be richer if there were more women managers, and more women earning the same as their male colleagues, whether we live in Scotland or Malawi, whether we work in a supermarket or run a law firm. Not convinced?
One of the world’s leading business consultancies, McKinsey and Company, estimates that the world would become $12 trillion (£9.2 trillion) richer by 2025 if countries had a better balance of women and men in the workplace. This is equivalent in size to the current GDP of Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.
And if women were able to participate in the economy at the same level as men, the global economy would grow by an incredible $28 trillion (£21.4 trillion), or 26 per cent, by 2025, roughly equivalent to the size of the combined Chinese and US economies.
McKinsey acknowledges that gender parity in the workforce and leadership positions is “not necessarily a normative ideal” as people will always want to make personal choices about their lifestyle, but even this hard-headed, uber-capitalist, business-focused company thinks the world would be a better place if there were more women at work.
Or as their report asserts: “We believe that the world, including the private sector, would benefit by focusing on the large economic opportunity of improving parity between men and women.”
Look behind the jargon and the impact of gender equality is simple. Unleashed, the economic power of women could mean clean water in communities where there is none, education for girls forced to leave school at puberty, food for hungry children.
Women’s economic power could build more social housing, and provide extra investment for essential public services such as education and health. It could help tackle climate change and narrow the income divide.
But only if we have equality, which brings me back to IWD. The roots of the day can be traced back to 1908 when 15,000 female garment workers marched through New York demanding better pay and shorter working hours.
A year later, the Socialist Party of America held the first National Women’s Day to honour the striking women, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations designated 8 March as a global event.
Fast forward to 2019, and women are still fighting for better pay. The latest battle for equal pay in the UK is being played out in the aisles of the UK’s four biggest supermarkets, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.
Staff on the store floor, predominantly women, are paid less than their colleagues, mostly men, who work in the warehouse. It is estimated that 500,000 store workers could win an £8 billion payout if the courts decide in their favour.
All these women want is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It was what their American sisters marched for over 100 years ago, and women have been marching for ever since, from the machinists of Ford Dagenham whose 1968 strike for equal pay resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act, to the women of Glasgow City Council who won their equal pay battle a few weeks ago, after a 12-year campaign.
I am spending today in the Scottish Parliament at the annual event organised by the Scottish Women’s Convention to celebrate International Women’s Day.
I will be with nearly 400 other women, of all ages and all backgrounds. Some may even have heard of First Aid Kit. But while our taste in music may vary, we will, I hope, be united in one righteous cause, that of women’s economic empowerment.
When Labour’s Barbara Castle introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970, she asserted that the concept of equal pay for equal work was “self-evidently right”.
Nearly 50 years later, equal pay remains self-evidently the right thing, and not just for the women who earn it.
If you liberate women and their economic power, you transform not only a family, you change the world for the better.
That’s a return on investment worth fighting for.