As women, men, brands and businesses across the world celebrate International Women’s Day, The Drum takes a look at whether coining a day in honour of women is still relevant or retrogressive.
On 28th February 1909 crowds of people assembled in the Murray Hill Lyceum, at 34th Street and Third Avenue in New York City. They were there to observe the first National Woman's Day (NWD), created by The Socialist Party of America in honour of the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York, when women protested against their working conditions.
Across the city’s East River, writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman told a crowd in Brooklyn: "It is true that a woman's duty is centred in her home and motherhood, but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state." It was a statement ahead of its time in 1909, when women's oppression and inequality was entrenched in the fabric of society.
Since then, the world has undergone a substantial attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about gender equality. Women today are equals. There are female astronauts and prime ministers. They represent their countries playing football and they run businesses. And often, they exceed and excel their male counterparts, all the while blasting stereotypes and social barriers and (usually) raising a family at the same time. Since 1909 and decades before, women have been juggling multiple roles, and yet it’s still viewed as a surprise when they make it work.
One such role juggler is Jules McKeen, who was recently appointed chief revenue officer at innovation agency Redscout. She balances her role at the agency with numerous other projects, including working as a startup mentor and a columnist, and its a trend that is becoming more commonplace in the industry as businesses begin to realise the merits of new ways of working.
The female role juggler
The media consistently ignores the fact that women are just getting on with it and have been for decades.
According to Engine’s 21st Century Woman report, women perform on average of five distinct roles every week. That goes up to seven roles per week when that woman is a mother. So, whether they are being parents, carers, employees, employers or everything else in between, women are constantly juggling, and smashing, multiple roles.
“In the past if someone was working part time, particularly a woman or a mother, they would be seen as making a compromise or not fully committed to the job,” says McKeen. “But the narrative is changing, and has been changing over the last 10 years”.
McKeen points to the trend in Silicon Valley, where often “25-year-old males with no commitments” will come on board for a project at a company such as Google but “throw [it] out not to work on a Friday because they want to work for a startup.”
“That culture has started to filter across [to the UK]. I want to see my children, I want to have my head up in culture, because working on these different projects makes me a better all-round person. It gives companies a happy work force.”
Other women balancing different roles include Gillian Jackson, direct youth engagement lead at youth-led creative network Livity. She works on numerous solo projects including her company events initiative Disco Dodgeball, which recently partnered with breast cancer charity Coppafeel. Jackson is also a wedding planner for those on a budget. Likewise, her colleague Shahnaz Ahmed created and launched charity Knit Aid, a social enterprise which calls for the donation of knitted items to help others in need around the world.
As Mckeen points out, it’s not just women who are getting in on the act of juggling multiple careers, but are women doing it better than their male counterparts?