Today, on International Women's Day, we should seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. But this day should also make us think, asking why we still need a special day to “celebrate” equality and women power. #ChooseToChallenge is the motto of this year’s International Women’s Day. “Choose” is a very good point, because the right mindset is crucial for more (gender) equality. And important to finally overcome the cliché that a working mother is a problem per se. But instead of moving forward, my impression is that Corona in part even strengthened these clichés. Women are struggling between homeschooling, childcare, and working from home, and too often it seems that it is primarily a women’s challenge to find the right balance. That is far from being fair.
I recently saw a study that shows that the mental well-being of one third of mothers deteriorated significantly after the birth of a child. However, it is not the child itself that puts a strain on the psyche, but rather the environment and expectations of motherhood. This is something that I experienced even stronger when I moved to Germany with my husband and our three sons a couple of years ago. I was surprised that gender equality is such a big issue. I see how often working moms are stigmatized and how much pressure they put on themselves.
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“It is long overdue to overcome these gender stigmas and clichés. We need to change our mindset! Having a career AND being a mother is possible!”
Flexibility, infrastructure, and an inclusive culture are key
I believe that three things are important: flexibility, infrastructure, and culture. Flexibility is the key for everything. As a young mother, I had no time for myself. Top priority was and still is my family, but work has always been a close second. Luckily, my husband and my colleagues and supervisors always supported me and gave me flexibility to organize my work as it fits. Flexible working hours are important. We should be able to redefine working full-time in a new and more flexible way. Everyone works in their own way. Maybe they prefer to sit at the desk after caring for the children in the afternoon. That is why companies should enable flexibility for parents (attention: not only mothers!). An essential part of a good work-life-flexibility is giving moms and dads more freedom and the chance to also work from home or elsewhere, and not just in the office. Infrastructure plays a big role in this context. At our headquarters in Germany, we have three kindergartens for Henkel employees, and we offer special support in childcare or any other private challenge through our so-called Social Service department. Recently, we started a partnership with voiio, a digital platform that offers virtual childcare.
Of course, ensuring equality is a question of culture, too. That is why we understand diversity holistically as a leadership topic. We live diversity and equality on a management level and actively foster an inclusive leadership culture. It’s important that our leaders are accountable. That means, we measure leadership on these topics. It is not enough for executives to have expertise and deliver good numbers. Good leadership is also about empowerment, enablement, empathy and inclusion.
An essential part of a good work-life-flexibility is giving moms and dads more freedom and the chance to work from home or elsewhere, and not just in the office.
Sylvie Nicol, Executive Vice President Human Resources and Infrastructure Services at Henkel
Kids as career booster
For sure, despite these measures, being both a mother and a career woman is not easy. It is actually quite tough. Also for me. Many years, I did not take the chance to move to our headquarters in Düsseldorf because of my kids. But once they were old enough and I had the feeling that it was the right time in my professional and private life, I was happy to accept the offer. But, and that is really important for me, I was never declined a potential development step because of my family. On the contrary, all my supervisors and mentors throughout my career were supportive.
With the right circumstances and the understanding that both women and men are equally responsible for taking care of the family and also have the same conditions for their career, we could change something. Then, everyone could find their own solution – an individual solution that works for them.
Why think of children as career killers? For me, my kids have rather been a career booster! They are impressed and proud that they have a working mom which in turn motivates me a lot. However, I am convinced that being a mother has enabled me to grow, personally and professionally. With that in mind, women, be proud of yourselves and your incredible performance during the Corona pandemic. Have the courage to fight for equality! And men, if you want to do something for equality, start with yourselves. Share childcare and housework equally with your partner! It's that simple – or is it that hard?
What is International Women's Day?
The International Women's Day has been celebrated worldwide for more than 100 years. It first took place in 1911 as an initiative of socialist organizations in North America and Europe with the aim of fighting for women's suffrage. Since then, every year on March 8, attention is drawn to women's rights, gender equality and existing discrimination. The day is intended to honor the achievements of women to date and at the same time encourage them to work for gender equality. The motto and call for action for this year's Women's Day is: #ChooseToChallenge - i.e. "Decide to challenge (the status quo)" in order to draw attention to overt or covert discrimination and disadvantages faced by women. The raised hand signals that one is willing to denounce these inequalities and advocate for equality. Henkel is also participating in this global activation to challenge gender injustice and gender stereotypes, celebrate women's achievements and successes, and make an important contribution to an appreciative and inclusive society.