What Does International Women’s Day Mean To You?

March 8, 2017

Blogs Business and Human Rights


By Chloe Poynton

Today, March 8th, we join the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. We recognize the significant gains made globally – gender disparities in primary education have been reduced, reproductive and maternal health has improved, and the use of gender quotas has improved women’s chances of being elected–while acknowledging that much progress remains to be made.

Business has an important role to play in advancing gender equality. In some countries, it may be by ensuring basic rights are met – like the right to work – while in others it may be focused on addressing pay equity in the workplace. Indeed, businesses have often recognized the benefits of full equality before governments provide legal mandates. During the 2017 Superbowl, for example, the car company Audi developed a commercial promoting equal pay for women – an issue that continues to be a political challenge here in the US. For companies seeking to advance gender equality, the Women’s Empowerment Principles offer a powerful roadmap for ensuring equal opportunity.

To me, International Women’s Day is about recognizing and applauding the impressive work that my female colleagues and friends do every day. It is also about asking them to do more. Studies show that women, unlike men, tend to wait until they meet all the qualification requirements before applying for a job and that the biggest contributor to women running for office is being asked. My hope for 2017 is that the women considering these moves will be bold enough to take these steps regardless of whether they are asked to or meet all the requirements. The challenges are too big to wait.

In honor of all the impressive women and men fighting for gender equality, we asked ten leaders in business and human rights what International Women’s Day means to them. Their answers differ slightly, but the message is the same—it’s time to be bold.

Eileen Donahoe, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation, and former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council

In past years, International Women’s Day has been about finding ways to express solidarity with women around the world, especially in countries where women’s human rights are not recognized.  This year, the meaning of International Women’s day has shifted.  In 2017, my focus will be on connecting with women in the United States, so we collectively embrace our responsibility to lead in the protection of universal human rights at home.

Susan Hauser, Corporate Vice President, Business and Corporate Responsibility, Microsoft

When women and men have equal rights and opportunities the results are stronger economies and improved quality of life for everyone. Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, and that includes supporting gender parity. I am proud of Microsoft’s role in empowering women through promoting equal access to technology, training opportunities, and careers in the technology industry.

Ursula Wynhoven, Chief, Social Sustainability, Governance & Legal, UN Global Compact

International Women’s Day is an annual reminder of how far we have come towards achieving gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community, but also of how far we have yet to go.  Events and happenings around it are important opportunities to take stock of progress and define the way forward.  Among other things, it is exciting to see how businesses are stepping up alongside other entities to play their role in helping to bring about a more diverse and inclusive world for women and men, boys and girls around the globe.  The Women’s Empowerment Principles provide an effective roadmap towards this end.

Raúl Gigena Pazos, Human Resources Director Latin America, Chiquita

When celebrating International Women´s Day we should reflect on the progress made towards gender parity while recognizing that we are still far away from where we need to be.  At Chiquita, where we employ more than 3000 women across the world, we believe in providing opportunities for women to advance on their career and their personal life.  One of our initiatives to promote opportunities for women is a gender pilot project in our Panama owned farms that was established in 2013 in coordination with international unions, IUF and Colsiba, and with the local union, Sitraibana.  Through this project, we´ve have increased the participation of women in our workforce.  Our own path has been a challenging one, where we´ve had to question ourselves and change the ways we´ve done things in the past.

Michelle NaggarVice President of Social Responsibility, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

I find it inspiring to see the growing focus on women’s economic empowerment around the world.  The raising of awareness in all generations of the need for gender equity is vital to achieving balance and advancing the quality of life for all human beings.  This year’s call to #BeBoldForChange underscores the need to challenge the status quo, and hold ourselves and each other accountable.

Nicole Karlebach & Katie Shay, Yahoo Business and Human Rights Program

We are proud to lead Yahoo’s Business and Human Rights Program, driving Yahoo’s efforts to protect and promote freedom of expression and privacy online. We firmly believe in the power of technology and media to amplify the voices of women around the globe who are changing the world. Be bold! 

David M. Schilling, Senior Program Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. It is a day for actions to help forge a better, more gender inclusive world.  For me, two women exemplify the spirit of International Women’s Day through their inspirational and courageous actions:

Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American-Muslim has worked for racial justice and civil right as a community organizer, face-to-face and through social media. She has been at the forefront of major social justice campaigns both locally in New York City and nationally. Linda was one of four young women who organized the Women’s March on January 21st where millions of people gathered in cities around the US and the world to voice their support for gender justice, equality and human rights.  In spite of personal attacks from very powerful people, she is daily building a better future for all.

Laura Cáceres lives in Honduras and is the daughter of Berta Cáceres, murdered along with her colleague, Nelson García in Honduras, March 3, 2016.  They were killed defending the rights of indigenous people while organizing opposition to a hydroelectric dam project. Laura has continued the struggle, and spoke at the closing plenary of the Geneva UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, November, 2016. She moved the entire Forum by her courage and strength: ‘My mother was killed for protecting indigenous lands and Mother Earth.  How long will we have to wait for justice? We have taken care of the planet for thousands of years.’

Elisabeth Best, Sustainability Manager, Qualcomm Government Affairs

I’m proud to work for a company that’s committed to helping women succeed and thrive in communities where we do business. Through our Qualcomm Wireless Reach initiative, we bring the economic benefits of wireless connectivity to entrepreneurial ventures around the world, with the aim of improving people’s lives and boosting global self-sufficiency and prosperity. Because women entrepreneurs benefit immensely from access to and use of mobile technology, our entrepreneurship programs include a special emphasis on gender equality.

Marisa Mead, Student at the Berkeley Haas School of Business

The Berkeley Women in Business Club is an organization that promotes gender equality in the workplace and empowers women. This semester I became a member of this club, and it has been an eye-opening experience. I learned that being a woman equals being strong, hardworking, and successful. It means being powerful, yet understanding. It entails being independent, but also empathetic. It requires charisma and personality. It means being equally capable as a man. But unfortunately, there is still a pay gap between men and women. Organizations like BWIB aim to change this statistic and empower women to fight for equality in the business world. Empowered women empower women to be their best.

Faris Natour, Co-Founder and Principal at Article One

Today is a day of reflection for me, reflection on how much we’ve accomplished and how far we have yet to go to achieve gender equality and universal respect for human rights.  I am so proud and honored to work with and learn from so many amazing woman leaders: my wife, who built a successful career in the technology sector and who always finds time to mentor young women and girls looking to do the same; my colleagues at Article One and all our clients and partners, working to advance women’s rights and human rights in business; and my colleagues and students at BerkeleyHaas, many of whom work to advance gender equality and human rights in and outside of work.  I am inspired by their leadership and today I reflect on what more I can and must do to support them.

But I also think of the countless women here in the US and around the world for whom today is just another day in the struggle to escape violence, keep their children safe, to put enough food on their plates and a roof over their heads. Too many of them have nothing to celebrate and pausing too long to reflect may cost them their jobs or even their lives.  Today, let’s honor and support them so that they too may have a chance to one day celebrate International Women’s Day with us.

Our thanks to those who have contributed statements. We’d love to hear what International Women’s Day means to you. Please leave us a comment below.