by | Mar 8, 2024

The past, present and future of International Women’s Day

By Gemma Carter, Account Manager, Touchdown PR 

The United Nations officially recognised 8th March as International Women’s Day in 1977, as a focal point in the women’s rights movement and an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world. But the history of the day itself dates back much further than just a few decades ago. The first record of International Women’s Day is in 1911, when more than one million women and men across Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland attended rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and to ultimately end discrimination.

A lot has changed in the 113 years since this first rally, but there is still a way to go to achieve total gender equality. Although women can now vote, work and hold public office, female leaders remain underrepresented. In the workplace, only 40% of management roles are held by women. In male-dominated industries, such as science and technology, this figure falls as low as 5% – despite the sector having produced some of the most renowned female figures in history, from Ada Lovelace to Marie Curie.

But we have come a long way even to get to this point. One of the first recorded women in technology was Nicole-Reine Lepautre, a French mathematician and astronomer, who predicted the return of Halley’s Comet by calculating the timing of a solar eclipse in 1759. Despite her work being a triumph, it didn’t pave the way for female representation in STEM, as we might have expected. In fact, the subsequent century was full of hurdles for women working in science and technology. Although colleges began to offer computer science courses for women – and they even hired female teachers to lead the courses – they were forced to resign if they got married, as balancing a career and family life was not considered an option.

The declarations of World War One and Two in the 20th century brought women even closer to technology, as they supported the war effort working in factories, taking on engineering roles, maintaining machinery, and dominating the industry of telephone operations. But despite filling the exact roles that their male counterparts had before the outbreak of war, when it came to women doing the work, it was considered ‘secretarial’. Even within the Bletchley Park codebreaking operation – of which 75% of those involved were female – it was the men who were praised for the success of the operation and went down in the history books. Their female counterparts considered to be just supporting staff.

International Women’s Day in 2024 and beyond

International Women’s Day is a great reason to reflect on how far we have come and it is clear that huge progress has been made in the past century. Women are now able to and are recognised for working in technical roles, aren’t expected to sacrifice their career to raise a family and are celebrated for their achievements in their own right.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more work to be done. Within the technology sector in particular, organisations can do a lot more to inspire, support and encourage their female colleagues, customers and partners. Even the smallest of steps can make a huge impact in reducing the gender gap that currently plagues the industry – from implementing blind recruitment techniques to make less-biassed decisions, allowing flexible working to reduce the pressure on women balancing their job with family commitments, and introducing a mentor scheme to inspire, empower and support your female colleagues.

But of course, the bigger the initiative, the better! Working with schools, colleges and universities to inspire the next generation to pursue a career in technology will have huge long-term benefits for closing the gender gap that currently plagues the industry. Many organisations will also hold events to bring women in the tech industry together – a great initiative considering 72% of women in tech reported that they were routinely outnumbered 2:1 by their male counterparts.

International Women’s Day in the Touchdown PR community

Investing in these initiatives is something that many of our clients at Touchdown are passionate about and get involved in. In January 2024, Intellias worked with UN Women to host She is Tech, a one-day online event that united more than 1,000 women entrepreneurs, top managers and social activists from across Europe and the US. The conference had women from various countries, industries and backgrounds share their stories, experience and motivations, providing the opportunity for ideas to be exchanged and ultimately foster gender balance for the future of tech evolution.

Similarly, Node4 hosts regular ‘4Women’ events and webinars, bringing employees, clients and partners from a variety of departments and backgrounds together. Hosting talks on significant issues for women in tech, such as imposter syndrome, balancing career with motherhood and simply how to kickstart a career in tech, Node4’s events educate and inspire women and girls to forge careers in tech.

Another popular initiative is to set up Women in Tech groups within organisations, providing a place for female colleagues to support each other and work together to combat external challenges. A great example of this is Exabeam’s ExaGals, an internal community that reaches out to women in tech, with career development, education and personal growth opportunities. Working within the cybersecurity sector, the ExaGals are very familiar with the cybersecurity labour gap, exacerbated by a lack of qualified female graduates entering the workforce. They are committed to helping address these challenges through their work supporting programmes that expose women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech.

These are just a few examples of the hard work and dedication that those within the Touchdown family put in to address the gender imbalance within the tech industry. On International Women’s Day, and every other day in the year, we urge everyone to do as much as they can to combat gender inequality and create a level playing field for all.