In the past several years, leaders all over the world have gained awareness of gaps in gender equity and how important it is to address these gaps. In fact, gender inclusivity is the most-requested training topic for Ethos International. Training and Programs Facilitator and the Manager of Ethos International Miriame Cherbib describes Ethos International as a “mini Ethos” within our organization that tailors services for international teams with different needs.
I interviewed Miriame on the broad topic of global gender equity for Women’s History Month. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day happens to be #EmbraceEquity. Miriame pointed out that our understanding of International Women’s Day in the U.S. most often doesn’t reflect its long history as an awareness day for women’s rights – not only a celebration of progress and achievements.
Specifically, International Women’s Day was celebrated primarily in socialist countries until it went mainstream in the mid-1970. In fact, it’s sometimes known as the "Women's International Day of Struggle" in European countries.
“I don’t need flowers on March 8th,” Miriame said. “I would actually just like to look at a pay equity assessment from one of our organizations…it would be amazing if more organizations [were] publishing what kinds of actions they’ve put in place the year prior to increase pay equality and gender equality.” She stresses that we should still be using this day to talk about women’s rights and honestly assess whether we’ve improved or recognize how many steps backward we’ve taken.
Keep reading for insights on what workplace gender inclusivity means for organizations in different countries and our approach to helping them take big steps forward.
The conversations we have about gender equity in the United States sound different than the conversations happening in other parts of the world. We use different language to describe similar ideas, and on a deeper level, the needs and challenges women and nonbinary people are facing today are shaped by their local context. Miriame’s philosophy is “Our clients are the experts [on] their situations.” She says that “The first step for us is to actually educate ourselves [about] their needs…What are the issues? Why are they calling us? What are their goals?” The cultural dynamics, politics, and history of a geographic area can all create barriers for women in the workplace.
While pay equity is a focal point in many countries, global gender equity is an umbrella term that covers multiple complex, intersectional issues in different aspects of society. And while it has historically focused on women, the underlying shared goal is to create equitable opportunities and experiences for people of all genders. Issues under the global gender equity umbrella include violence and abuse against women, reproductive rights, gender pay equity, childcare and other benefits, representation, interpersonal issues like being ignored during meetings, and much more.
If a team is opening an office in a location where it’s illegal to identify as gay or transgender, we ask: What’s the role of an international organization here, and what does it mean to improve these situations for employees, especially during work hours? Miriame explains that the common thread of global gender inclusion in the workplace is that we’re trying to create equal opportunity for individuals (regardless of gender) to reach their full potential at work for the pay they deserve.
For our U.S. clients, gender diversity and inclusion is typically part of their DEIB strategy (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging). Most of these employers care about representing women in leadership, typically have sexual harassment policies in place, and consider benefits like paid parental leave and childcare solutions because they aren’t provided by the government. The #MeToo movement, the Great Shecession, and The Great Breakup were all driving forces for awareness of the U.S. gender gap.
In contrast, European countries conceptualize gender inclusivity issues as “anti-discrimination.” Instead of DEIB, French organizations talk about “égalité des chances,” or “equality of opportunities.” Gender pay equity and transparency are big priorities across the board, but European women face different structural problems in workplace policies and different kinds of unwanted behaviors and safety issues. For instance, while the intersection of gender and ethnicity is important in Europe, many countries don’t allow ethnicity data to be collected, which means employers have a harder time measuring representation. Because of Europe’s colonial past and its geography, these organizations might choose to look at immigration status instead.
Growing up, Miriame faced her own unique challenges as a second-generation immigrant from a Tunisian family living in France. Alongside her mother and the White French girls she went to school with, Miriame saw three different social experiences of womanhood with different barriers. The ways these different women spoke, their appearances, and their abilities were all perceived and judged differently based on their identities.
Unlike her other family members, Miriame never really encountered overt racism. Expectations for boys and girls are very different: her brother had his first brush with racism on the soccer field at age six. Her mother was a teacher in the private Catholic school system, and people judged her accent rather than respecting her fluency in two languages. Miriame’s challenges were less explicit but just as life-altering: she felt pressured to “speak better French than French people,” excel at school, and look as much like a French girl as possible.
Miriame and her family had very different experiences with French society from the margins. She uses her unique perspective and keen insight to research policy impact in different countries, understand cultural nuances, and empathize with diverse client teams.
Like International Women’s Day, the #MeToo movement is a recent example of a global change campaign that has integrated with local issues in unique ways. The first wave that originated in the U.S. was focused on the film industry, arts, and media. As cases were brought to court in Europe, different countries felt their own impact at different times. Many prominent French women resisted and denounced the #MeToo movement at first. By 2021, accusations started to gain traction against powerful men in French politics, sports, news media, academia, and the arts.
According to Miriame, gender inclusivity is one of the topics that has evolved the most during her career. There’s still much to be done with policies, implementation, and behavior change, but these movements have caused leaders to evolve in their awareness. Some of the most progressive organizations are creating change by modeling behaviors in upper management and allocating enough funds for comprehensive pay equity strategies and diversity assessments. Interestingly, pay equity assessments often show that other factors besides gender affect compensation. This illustrates the underlying principle of social empowerment theory, which holds true for gender equity issues: empowering marginalized groups benefits the entire society.
Ethos International supports global organizations making efforts to create gender inclusivity through a combination of strong leadership and a strong understanding of their local context. We help leaders envision how they will enact their values as they expand to new locations and anticipate how they might respond to local issues. We’ve built a network of strategic partnerships with change agents to collaborate with and learn from, and we’re always reading about areas where our clients are present. We know there’s always more to learn, and we reflect after each project to learn from our mistakes.
Our reality is that workplace policies and guidelines have an impact on people’s bodies as well as their physical and mental health. What happens at work impacts people’s lives at home – creating conditions for people to thrive at work means creating conditions to thrive in their lives outside of work. For instance, do employees have time to be with their kids? Can they feed themselves? Enjoy the space around them? Once again, employees are the experts of their own situation. Leaders can look to ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) to identify individual contributors who are already passionate change agents and empower them with the tools and budget to meet specific needs.
Leaders can always look at their policies and say “There’s nothing wrong.” According to Miriame, they should be asking themselves “Who is that serving?” Until that happens, progress will remain slow.
Is your international team interested in working on gender inclusive language in the workplace or related topics like national origin, caregiver status awareness, gender identity, and more? Book a free discovery call and let’s chat.
Blog written by Kelsey Hoff