IWD is not just for one day: Avoid the purplewashing trap and invest in women

IWD is not just for one day: Avoid the purplewashing trap and invest in women


Blog by Grace Kimberley and Anna Stanford, POWERful Women



International Women’s Day has come around again and social media will be awash with #IWD2024 posts, many of which tip into the trap of performative actions and gender-washing – or ‘purplewashing’ as it’s also become known.


The Gender Pay Gap Bot does a great job on X (Twitter) each year exposing the disparity between organisations’ warm words on gender equality and the reality of their gender pay gap.  And Avanti learned the hard way recently, when their menopause gift bag with tissues and a jelly baby (“in case you want to bite someone’s head off”), was branded a ‘demeaning gimmick’.


Coming together to celebrate women and their contribution to society is, of course, incredibly important, not least because recognition has been historically lacking (something that Women’s History Month this month helps to address) and male allyship is powerful.


But, with women still alarmingly underrepresented in business leadership, including the UK energy sector, words are not enough – we need concrete action on gender equality and we need it urgently. So, this year POWERful Women will be focussing on UN Women’s  ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’ theme, as well as the IWD ‘Inspire Inclusion’ theme.


The two go hand-in-hand of course. Our research has shown that to thrive and advance in the workplace, women need better professional development and effective flexible working policies along with female role models they can relate to. But policies and programmes won’t work unless they operate within a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. The research revealed a delivery gap between the provision of DEI policies and their uptake by women who fear that their career might be jeopardised if they, for example, go part-time. Creating an inclusive environment can help close this gap.


Leaders of some of the largest UK energy employers understand that much of this is driven from the top and have put measures in place to build truly inclusive workplace cultures to support evolving policies – and PfW will be sharing some of their commitments on 8th March.


But it’s time all companies went beyond the once-a-year photo of female colleagues gathered in the office (with the token male ally) and took steps to truly invest in women, on IWD and beyond.


Here are some suggestions for practical steps organisations and leaders can take:


  • give women visibility all year round, not just on one day – provide them with platforms where they can use their voice, contribute their expertise and share their stories, to inspire others
  • invest in understanding where you are now on diversity, equity and inclusion so that you can map your path to where you want to be: data matters, so gather and report on it and use employee groups and surveys to listen carefully to what women really want
  • set ambitious targets for diversity (of all kinds, not just women) and make them business critical – DEI should be as important to your business as Health & Safety or CyberSecurity, so give it a Board champion and invest in it
  • promote and appoint women into leadership positions through processes that are free from bias
  • invest in women’s careers with better professional development, training, sponsorship and mentoring, and design the programmes to meet women’s needs
  • normalise flexible working for everyone. Equal parental leave, for example, would benefit men and could be a gamechanger for women.
  • invest in female founders and entrepreneurs (who still attract less than 2% of capital investment)
  • ‘pull up a chair’ for women who aren’t already at the table
  • create a truly inclusive culture where people can be themselves and where everyone feels comfortable and skilled in having honest conversations
  • and #InspireInclusion in your managers, reaching out to the majority to explain why all this matters
  • normalise flexible working for everyone. Equal parental leave, for example, would benefit men and could be a gamechanger for women. 


And while we are at it, allyship is key but it has to be done in the right way. That means avoiding the “knight in shining armour” approach – don’t make assumptions about what women need, ask them how you can help and follow their lead.


We all know by now that better diversity, equity and inclusion is good for the business bottom line and, according to the UN, closing gender gaps in employment could boost GDP per capita by 20%. But an additional $360 billion per year is needed to achieve gender equality.


So it’s time to #InvestInWomen. This International Women’s Day, join with us in celebrating women who contribute so much to our society – not just with a photo, but by putting equality genuinely at the heart of your organisation and your leadership purpose. If you are truly committed to finding and keeping the talent you need for your business, you won’t regret it. And women? Well, you can bet they won’t forget it!