International Women’s Day Challenge

Every year when people start talking about International Women’s Day (IWD), I imagine myself as a child holding a daisy, plucking off the petals, saying “I love IWD, I hate IWD, I love IWD, I hate IWD”.

Why do I love IWD?  What’s not to love? It’s a day that celebrates women, our accomplishments, and puts a spotlight on women’s equality. That’s. My. Jam.


I hate IWD because it reduces women’s equality to a checkbox on a to-do list, a 24-hour performance.  And I really hate the performances. The worst offenders are the big corporations, of course. They max out their corporate social responsibility (read: marketing) budget on panel discussions and events to show us how much they support women. The event titles are often vague, like “Women in the Workplace”. When I read that one, I always imagine everyone crowding into a dark tent at a travelling freak show. The crowd murmurs uncomfortably as they wait. Finally, the curtain is pulled back to reveal – gasp! – women in the workplace!

Cue the Impotent Spectacle

I call these types of events “impotent spectacle”. Lots of glitter and balloons but not much going on. We are surrounded by impotent spectacle all year round. It’s the pitch competition that has an entry fee. It’s the tech conference that proudly publishes the number of women that attended (but doesn’t mention that most of those women received free tickets). It’s the panellist who proudly states that he cares about how women are treated because he has a daughter. (I guess the mother of his child doesn’t rate). It’s the audience who claps for this statement. It’s the shiny ads and pledges and mentorship programs that achieve very little – except to distract us from the lack of substantive progress on women’s equality. 

As Founder and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, I would like to put forward a challenge to the corporations who are planning to hold an IWD event.

Nancy Wilson, CEO of CanWCC

My Challenge is this:

Do not hold a company event unless it is a frank and transparent discussion about what your corporation has achieved and what work you still have to do on one of the following issues:

  1. Wage equity
  2. Supplier diversity
  3. Women in senior management
  4. Flexible work arrangements


Alternatively, redirect your IWD marketing budget to support one of the hundreds of feminist organizations in Canada that operate shelters, programming for women, girls, trans and queer youth in crisis, and advocacy organizations who fight for universal childcare, reproductive rights and pay equity. Many of these organizations are registered charities, so you’ll get the added benefit of a charitable tax deduction – talk to the finance department, this is a win-win-win. Good PR, good tax planning, and tangible action to support gender equality on IWD.

Get your house in order first

Finally, don’t even think about claiming to support the advancement of women without being clear about your company’s stance on reproductive and trans rights as outlined in the provincial and territorial Human Rights laws and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Acting in accordance with human rights legislation is not only required by law but is also the bare minimum your company can do to show support for gender equality. Without this basic foundation, skip IWD – you have more important issues to sort out.

Corporations of Canada, will you take up the challenge?  Or will it be another year of impotent spectacle this IWD?

Dear reader, will you amplify this message? We need to start demanding better and ignoring the impotent spectacle. Click to tweet or follow CanWCC.

I support the Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce's IWD challenge to Canadian corporations to do something different! Show Your Support I don't want another year of impotent spectacle this IWD! I support CanWCC's IWD challenge for Canadian corporations. Show your support