We’ve seen a range of ways that employers aim to address International Women’s Day over the years, from holding lunches and panel sessions to even putting women in all frontline and public positions for the day, as the ABC once did across all its platforms.
Typically, what happens is that these initiatives create more work for women.
It’s women who organise the panel sessions and events as organisations push to show they are thinking about IWD.
It’s women who show up to acknowledge the meaning of the day and start getting active on the work that needs to be done.
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It’s women who have those conversations, “how can we get more men involved?” And women again who make up the vast majority of audiences and participants in any kind of IWD activities.
That’s why this approach from Organon for International Women’s Day particularly stood out.
They’re giving staff the day off, as paid leave. Not just the female staff, but all staff.
They’re not doing it to give women a “break”. One day of paid leave is not going to solve the years of exhaustion that so many have experienced as a result of the pandemic.
Rather, they are doing it as a call to action for their own staff to prioritise their health and wellbeing. To think about what they can do to live healthier lives, to make time to schedule those appointments, including screenings that may have been missed, and to think about the health of other women in their lives.
Organon is a female-focused pharmaceutical company that launched in 2021. It has 9500 employees across the world, including in Australia where managing director Nirelle Tolstoshev leads the business.
Although still less than a year old, it’s already pushed and received great media attention for a range of measures for supporting its staff, including giving staff three hours a day during lockdowns for managing things like remote learning for kids.
It says its public push to give its staff March 8 off as paid leave — and encourage other employers to follow their lead — is being done to recognise growing women’s health inequity, given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women taking on additional caring responsibilities and other loads, and in so many cases sacrificing their own health needs in the process.
In its statement announcing the paid leave, Organon noted the hard-fought gains for women in the workplace that have been unraveling due to the pandemic, as well as the increasing rates of burnout and stress experienced by women that impact physical and mental health.
Organon cited stats noting that women are putting scheduling appointments despite experiencing symptoms, with 44% of older women waiting until a health symptom became urgent before scheduling an appointment and the number jumping to 62% in the 20 to 34-year-old age bracket.
Locally, Organon noted recently published ANROWS research that outlined the cost of the pandemic on Australian women, including stats that 31% of the 10,000 women surveyed had been laid off, lost their job or had to take a pay cut or reduced hours during the first 12 months of the pandemic.
“As a company investing in innovation to improve women’s health, I felt a responsibility to help address this within our global community of almost 9500 employees,” CEO Kevin Ali said on the announcement.
He said the symbolic action of offering paid leave is done to encourage all staff to spend the day making a commitment to their own health or the health of the women in their lives, “whether that’s going to the doctor, taking stock of their own wellbeing, or reflecting on how to make a change.”
“Organon launched with a commitment to listen to the needs of women and as part of our research, we learned that women are finding it harder than ever to make the time to care for even their most basic health needs.”
Tolstoshev said healthy women are the backbone of a thriving, stable and resilient society. “When she is healthy, she prospers, and so does her community, her society for generations to come,” she said.
“Empowering women to put their health needs at the top of the priority list is part of the change we need to drive to increase gender equity in all aspects of their lives. Especially as the pandemic continues to limit women’s ability to take care of themselves, we are proud to show our commitment to meeting women’s unmet health needs today and into the future.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.