International Women's Day 2020

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Audre Lorde

Let’s look back 100 years to 1920. Women had just been partially granted the vote in 1918 (those aged 30 and above who reached minimum property requirements); the Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act was passed in November 1918 to allow women to stand as MPs. In 1919, Nancy Astor had become the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons (Constance Markiewicz had been elected in 1918 for Sinn Fein but did not take her seat). 

At present in politics, there are 220 female MPs in the House of Commons, a record number, we have also had two women as Prime Minister.

Despite the progress, International Women’s Day is still needed to reflect on how far we’ve come and to acknowledge where we need to push for change. As women we may face different struggles, but we are women regardless of race, sexuality, age, background or looks. As Lorde says, how can we proclaim ourselves free, when other women around the world are not?


One area in which women still encounter inequality and experience underrepresentation is in the workplace. In 2019, only 47.7% of all women participated in the labour force globally, a small decrease from 1990.[1] To compare, this figure for men was 74.7%.[2] This can partly be attributed to the gender gap in employment rates remaining, even though women in higher education is on the rise and the disproportionate rate of women partaking in unpaid caring responsibilities. For example, in the UK the average woman spends 4 hours and 9 minutes per day doing unpaid work, compared to 2 hours and 20 minutes for men.[3] This shows that whilst some shifts are being made in some areas, women are still experiencing barriers they have traditionally faced.

When we look at the top of an organisation, we can see the struggle for representation in the boardroom. The FTSE 100 is made up of only 32.4% of women.

This figure is a result of a four year drive from the Hampton Alexander Review to encourage the FTSE 100 and 250 to not only increase their representation of women, whereby companies were simply following the ‘one and done’ method, but to achieve 33% representation from women on executive boards. However, the biggest barrier doesn’t occur at the entrance to the board, it is upon climbing up to manager level, where for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 72 women make the same jump.[4] As a result, women find themselves stuck in junior positions, unable to move ahead.

This is not just an issue in the UK, but a global issue, with women only accounting for 29% of senior roles worldwide. When we look at this through an intersectional lens at women of colour, or those from a lower socioeconomic background and with any other intersection, the numbers continue to slip. [5] This, for us, is what represents the challenge of the 2020s – to increase women’s ability to permeate the workplace. 

International Women's Day Creative

The question is, how can women conquer the workplace truly? At ENGINE, we’re fortunate to have initiatives such as Beyond Her; a network that seeks to champion junior women to break through the barriers that seize to exist, offers a platform to share our frustrations and ultimately, inspires us to move up. So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we thought we’d share some of that inspiration with you, from some of the women at ENGINE who inspire us:

What is the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

“Working in male dominated industries/sectors (boys club). Will and determination to be treated as an equal.”

“Organisation, prioritisation and working efficiently are the first things to get right. Working diligently thinking I’d get noticed and that my efforts would be rewarded, I used to spend hours working away without really asking why. I soon learnt to work strategically, to prioritise, engage the right stakeholders and demonstrate added value from the very beginning.”

What advice would you give to your younger self or to junior women?

“The advice I would give to my younger self is the same advice I try to affirm on a daily basis. Be bold, be prepared and make sure you see the value in balance. I have a voice and opinions which have a purpose. Never go to a meeting, however informal, unprepared as you never know what the outcome might be. Finally, balance, it’s important to recognise when enough is enough, working more hours in a day doesn’t necessarily get you further or allow you to do more; it only makes you busy, stressed and overworked. Be efficient, strive for progress and nurture the relationships.”

“Asking for explanations to help you do your job is not a weakness, it shows you’re curious and engaged.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask – you learn much quicker than just passively listening in conversations – everyone has a role! Find a great boss – nurturing confidence starts with a great boss – someone who champions you, laughs and is there to go the extra mile. Join networks like Beyond Her – it’s an absolute privilege to be in an organisation that champions women from the very beginning.”

“Just because someone’s been doing something longer than you, doesn’t mean they know how to do it the best way.”

“If someone’s doing something you think is great, ask them to break down what they’re doing into steps so you can better understand how they’re doing it.”

“Always try and be yourself.”

“Be vulnerable. It’s scary, but if you’re having an off day, tell someone (in your team if you can). It will be better if you do.”

“Sometimes people won’t be very good at giving you feedback on something to improve and you will feel rubbish because of it. Take the feedback (with a pinch of salt) all the same. And try remembering that other person isn’t perfect either – maybe they’re having an off day/week/year.”

“Great leaders are clear communicators and are willing to be vulnerable too.”

How do you juggle your career and personal life?

“Once I nailed working efficiently and focusing on productivity, my personal life became easier to manage – work hard to build a solid foundation both at work and personally!”

“Try and make time/space for the things that are important to you; within your career and your personal life.”


To celebrate International Women’s Day, Beyond Her invited everyone at ENGINE to create a one-off piece that represents an aspect of gender equality. This exhibition is ENGINE’s response to an issue that effects everyone – not just women. Interested to find out more email:

[1] The World Bank, “Labor Force Participation Rate, Female (% of Female Population Ages 15+) (Modeled ILO Estimate), World,” The World Bank Databank (2019).

[2] The World Bank, “Labor Force Participation Rate, Male (% of Male Population Ages 15+) (Modeled ILO Estimate), World,” The World Bank Databank (2019).

[3] Figures represent individuals aged 15-64. OECD, “Employment: Time Spent in Paid and Unpaid Work, by Sex,” OECD Stat (2019).


[5] Grant Thornton, Women in Business: Building a Blueprint for Action (2019).

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