This year’s International Women’s Day, on March 8, offers an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in advancing the interests of working women. On one hand, we see real achievements in the world of work as more women are acquiring management and executive roles. To say we’ve reached parity, however, is far from the case as across the world there are still difficult and institutionalized obstacles for female professionals.

How do we change this? Like every societal problem, it begins with awareness, and on International Women’s Day it’s an occasion to consider the achievements and setbacks. Awareness is especially important this year because of the impact of the pandemic on women workers. Since the lockdown that went into effect last year, we’ve witnessed the onset of the 'she-cession,' which has disproportionately affected working women much more than men. In the US alone, women lost more than 5 million jobs in 2020. Their counterparts in other countries also fared poorly.

There are many reasons for this disparity. Women held more jobs that were adversely affected by the pandemic than men. In addition, women tend to have more responsibilities at home, so when schools and daycare facilities closed, they were forced to juggle their work and household duties. Many simply gave up their jobs to focus on their family. In fact, a recent UN report found that women now spend 30% more time than men on childcare as a result of the pandemic. 

Beyond the added workload they face, how have women fared in their careers and pay equity? The data out there tells us that progress is slow, as most leadership roles are still difficult to reach for female professionals. According to Forbes, 2020 marked the year with the highest women representation among CEOs in the Fortune 500. Even so, they still represented just 7.4% of the total. Within the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index firms, the number of female directors has risen by 50% in the past five years, but they still account for just one-third of the total. A newly released survey also found that women account for no more than 20% of executives in the staffing industry. 

At Randstad, ensuring we are developing a strong pool of female leaders has been a priority. In fact, as reported in our 2020 annual report, 51% of our senior leadership roles are held by women. This was up from 47% in 2019. Randstad has signed the CEO Statement of Support for the UN Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs), and we have a number of initiatives aimed at training, developing and advancing our female employees.

We are, however, just one of many global businesses that need to raise awareness and take action. This year’s International Women’s Day had adopted the theme of #ChooseToChallenge, which asks everyone to commit to challenging inequality, calling out bias, questioning stereotypes and helping forge an inclusive world. This is highly practical because not only does it shed light on the various inequities that exist between men and women in the workplace, it also solicits action from us all. 

For instance, my fellow executive board member Rebecca Henderson, a featured leader on the International Women’s Day website, aptly chooses to challenge all employers to provide women with the resources they need to participate in the global labor force. Another colleague and board member Karen Fichuk, is committed to achieving equality in the workplace, especially around female representation in the C-suite and STEM roles. In the coming days and weeks, you’ll see many more commitments from Randstad leaders and other employees about the inequities they choose to challenge this year.

As the CEO of the leading HR services company in the world, my role is to help our organization enable change that leads to a more equitable world of work – through our employees, the talent we work with and the clients we serve. To that end, I choose to challenge the idea that we are satisfied with the progress made around gender parity – whether in fair pay, advancement opportunities or executive representation. I believe that not only can Randstad do better, but our industry and the global economy altogether can, and should, strengthen our commitment to a more just and inclusive world of work.

Although International Women’s Day comes just once a year, we should be mindful about the challenges that working women face every day, especially considering the impact that the pandemic has had on families. From awareness to commitment to action, we all have a role to play in furthering the agenda. We’ve seen some significant progress in recent years, so let’s all work together to keep the momentum going.

#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

about the author

Jacques van den Broek

ceo and chair of the executive board

Randstad's Global CEO, leading our mission of supporting people and organizations in realizing their true potential.