The Third Women’s Revolution

A look at how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go — on International Women’s Day.

Happy International Women’s Day. Here at Thrive Global, we’re marking the day — and the entire month of March as Women’s History Month — across our site by continuing to amplify and feature the voices and work of women around the world. International Women’s Day actually goes back in some form or another to 1909, a decade before women’s suffrage in the U.S. Obviously, much has changed for women in the last century and there’s a lot to celebrate, but many challenges also remain. One that Thrive Global is focused on is changing the way we work and live to end our global epidemic of burnout and stress.

Our current model — a macho work culture in which sleep deprivation, long hours and being always on are taken as proxies for dedication and seriousness — was put into place largely by men, in a workforce long dominated by men. It’s a model that’s not working for women. And, in fact, it’s not working for men, either.

So if it’s going to change, it’s going to be women who lead the way. I think of it as our third women’s revolution. The first was led by the suffragettes more than a century ago, as women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst and Susan B. Anthony fought for the right to vote. In fact, Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia was arrested on International Women’s Day (103 years ago today) on her way to speak at a women’s suffrage rally at Trafalgar Square. The second revolution was led by women like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who fought — and Gloria is still fighting — to gain access to every job at the top of every profession.

The second revolution is, of course, still incomplete. But we can’t wait for this to be completed for the third one to begin. That’s because women are paying an even higher price than men for their participation in a work culture fueled by stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout. That is one reason why so many talented women, with impressive degrees working in high-powered jobs, end up abandoning their careers when they can afford to. What we need are workplace cultures that don’t make women choose between success and the well-being of themselves or their families. As the science shows, this is a false choice — when we prioritize our well-being, we’re actually better and more productive at work.

And the sooner we change the way we work, the better. 43 percent of women who have children will quit their jobs at some point. Around three-quarters of them will return to the workforce, but only 40 percent will go back to working full-time. And in the last 30 years, even as women have made great gains in the workplace, self-reported stress levels have gone up 18 percent.

So as we celebrate International Women’s Day, and all the gains that have been made, let’s also focus on creating a workplace culture that doesn’t punish women and function as a backdoor way to keep women from advancing. The men will thank us. As the science shows, true success comes not when we burn out, but when we prioritize our well-being. If we can bring the way we work in line with what we know to be true, we’ll create a more equitable, sustainable world for everybody–with many more women at the top of every profession.