#BalanceForBetter is a Low Bar

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 leaves a lot to be desired.

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

“Can someone please explain to me what #BalanceForBetter means?”

A leader of one of the gender equity networks I am a part of posted this question to the group’s listserv yesterday. As I read it, I felt a sigh of relief that I wasn’t the only one feeling the cynicism about this year’s theme for International Women’s Day.

Interestingly, the United Nations has a different theme for International Women’s Day 2019, but somehow the #BalanceforBetter theme has taken off. The group behind the theme explain it on their website:

“From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”

It is true that companies and organizations are increasingly expected to have more women featured on their boards, in their leadership, and on their speakers’ panels. Consulting firms like McKinsey and Company and Deloitte are regularly reminding us that this diversity is not just good for women, it is good for everyone.

But I cannot help but feel cynical about how male-dominated corporations have taken over the narrative about women’s rights and gender equity. After all, International Women’s Day is rooted in workers’ rights and women’s collective action. It sprung out of women’s movements in the early 1900s for better pay, shorter hours, and voting rights.

The theme #BalanceforBetter feels like a short sale. Balanced representation is meaningless to me if it is not supported by tangible changes to women’s collective status, power, and wealth relative to men’s.

And isn’t it premature to celebrate an “exciting period of history where the world expects balance” even though women of color still make up less than 6% of board members for Fortune 500 companies?

It reminds me of how alicia sanchez gill, Executive Director of the grassroots organization, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, described the tendency of white people to congratulate themselves after they put together a diverse panel of speakers even though it doesn’t actually result in any systemic changes for women of color.

To all who are celebrating International Women’s Day, I call on you to raise the bar and aim higher. Women deserve more than just “balance”. We deserve rights. We deserve justice. And not just because it is better for everyone else. But because it’s what we deserve.