By Harriet Vivian
Think about it, what does it mean? For me, it has meant breakfast networking meetings or an opportunity to listen and learn from the current reigning businesswomen. But this year I thought, well what about the international part? Do I know what women in other countries do, is it the same everywhere?
Coincidently, or perhaps the universe just knew I was interested and decided to lend a hand, I began working with Agata Nowakowska, Skillsoft’s new VP of Area Sales, UK, for Skillsoft EMEA. Agata is originally from Poland, but has lived and worked in the Netherlands for the past 25 years and only recently relocated to the UK.
Fitting perfectly, I cornered her in the staff room and we sat and chatted about International Women’s Day (IWD) and what it means to her.
Harri: Tell me about IWD in Poland.
Agata: Miedzynarodowy Dzien Kobiet – IWD in Polish – has been celebrated in Poland for as long as I can remember. Initially it was the Soviet Union, where it was a day off work for everyone, not just women, who introduced the day to Poland. During Stalinism, it was a day when newspapers congratulated women who were meeting or exceeding their production goals and workplaces were festooned with pictures promoting women as work champions. When Stalinism fell, the focus shifted from work to the role women play in society in general – as mothers, wives, individuals. In the 70s it shifted again. Officially women workers received flowers – usually carnations, sometimes roses, and ceremonies took place honouring women in the workplace, while unofficially, women also began to receive gifts of chocolate and wine. Additionally, since so many schoolteachers were women it meant we children could expect an easy day at school – no exams or homework.
H: Is this still how IWD is celebrated in Poland?
A: Not really. In the 80s when Poland wanted to disassociate itself from all things communist, IWD fell out of favour. Besides there was a strong desire by most Polish people to adopt all things Western. Valentine’s Day became very popular and overshadowed/replaced IWD. I believe there is a revival of sorts happening today. Perhaps women missed being treated special and different for just this one day?
H: Do you think that is a good idea?
A: I think it is important that we continue to recognise the changing role of women; that it is still important for other women to see and hear those women who have succeeded in business. Women who have ‘walked that extra mile’. Women like Isabelle Kocher, whose appointment in May as CEO of Engie, the world’s biggest non-state owned electricity company, catapulted her into the history books. She is the first Frenchwoman to lead a company in Paris’s CAC 40 stock market index.
H: What else would you like to hear or see on IWD?
A: I would like to see more promotion of female success stories. To hear about, or from, female CEO’s and political leaders. Women like Ana Botín, the Executive Chair at Banco Santander, the second largest bank in Europe by market value, who overhauled management at the bank when she assumed control and seen profits increase by 33%. Or Carolyn McCall, CEO EasyJet, who is big on innovation and has rewarded her investors with significant increases in the airline’s market value since she became CEO. Having said that, I also think that recognizing women’s contribution to the workforce and society in general should not be reduced to one single day. Doesn’t that slightly underestimate our role? And sometimes just focusing on gender and gender diversity in the workplace diminishes what is an incredibly complex situation. At the end of the day it is for me more about the right person for the job, and we have shown time and again that we are the right person, so why should there be still an issue?
H: I quite agree. It is more than just numbers or quotas. But the continued inequality, the continued barriers to equal pay, equal opportunities means that days like these are still important, still very relevant. We must keep reminding everyone that whilst there has been progress, there is still much to be done. Plus, the idea of an extra day off – who can argue with that?
Harriet Vivian is a Marketing Communications Executive for Skillsoft EMEA.