This Tuesday, March 8th is International Women’s Day 2022. International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated every year on the same date, all over the world, and has been since the early 1900s. It has its origins in the USA, where the Socialist Party of America supported striking garment workers by coining ‘National Women’s Day’. The first IWD gathering took place in 1911 and was supported by over a million people. For decades it has been a day used to highlight key feminist causes, including women’s suffrage. The day marks a call to action for forging and accelerating women's equality; a cause which is still distressingly necessary, even after more than 100 years.
Globally, IWD is supported by governments, educational institutions, businesses, women’s networks, charities and the media. It’s important to acknowledge that, while this enormous global celebration is a powerful reminder of how far there is still to go when it comes to gender equality, every person can make a difference by taking action to confront gender disparity.
Each year, IWD supports a certain theme, for example, ‘a world free of violence against women’ or ‘women and peace: women managing conflicts’. The IWD campaign theme for 2022 is: #BreakTheBias. The campaign asks us to ‘Imagine a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, where difference is valued and celebrated.’
"If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader." - Dolly Parton
Manufacturing is typically a very male-dominated industry. In a UK Govt Gender Equality Monitor, data from 2018 showed that the UK manufacturing industry employed almost 2million men, and only around half a million women. With relatively few women employed in this sector, it can feel virtually impossible to break into. To encourage more women into manufacturing, it’s essential to have more women working in the industry - and this has to start at the top.
This is a fact that XL Displays founder Joanne Bass knew all too well when she first started the business in 2010. Despite being mum to a six month-old baby at the time, she forged ahead on her own, using her extensive industry knowledge, unwavering determination and tenacious nature to ensure her brand new event and exhibition stand business succeeded - despite being set up during a recession.
“Every woman's success should be an inspiration to another. We're strongest when we cheer each other on.” - Serena Williams
While the origins of XL Displays were Joanne’s dining room table, over the years she has reinvested back into the business, growing it from a solo venture to a business that now employs close to 50 staff members. However, as a strong and successful businesswoman, Joanne has always felt it important to nurture female talent. As a result (and anomalous in such a male-dominated industry) more than 60% of XL employees are women, and this is also reflected in the management team. According to data collected in 2021, only 31% of those in management or mid-management roles in the UK are female. At XL Displays, this number is 65% - proof that at the core of the business is Joanne’s passionate advocacy for women in business. XL Displays is built on the ethos that anyone can do anything with a bit of hard work and determination. It’s a company where the focus is very much on mentoring for employees of any gender, but Joanne’s personal journey means her goal is always to build her female employees up to achieve everything they set out to do.
“The most important thing one woman can do for another is expand her sense of actual possibilities.” - Adrienne Rich
Encouraging people to become their best selves is something that’s very close to Joanne’s heart; that’s why she invests so much time and effort into mentoring and coaching each person who steps through the door. As well as weekly training sessions on the job, employees are given opportunities to understand the roles of different departments in the business, and also encouraged to undertake external qualifications. Joanne believes that promoting from within wherever possible is always preferable to hiring externally, so opportunities for career progression within XL Displays are always something she considers carefully when expanding the business. In fact, more than half of the current management team worked their way up to their positions on the job.
Despite the demands of running a successful manufacturing business, Joanne makes a point of being approachable and accessible; setting an example for her management team. As a result, her can-do attitude is instilled in every member of the management team at XL Displays; creating an open and communicative office.
"Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes." - Margaret Wheatley
So, how can you get involved in this year’s International Women’s Day? Why not instigate your own #BreakTheBias campaign within your business by championing the successes of your female leaders or coworkers? Whether that’s through activating a marketing or social media campaign, developing resources for your female staff members, speaking at a local school or even collaborating with local media to spread the word; collectively we can all make a difference within our sphere of influence by taking concrete action to help build a more gender equal world.