#IWD2019: Balance is Only the Start
Unless you’re on a social media sabbatical (in which case, high five!), you’ve probably noticed that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s occasion is “Balance for Better,” so naturally, there’s been a groundswell of conversation over the last few weeks about how to achieve greater gender balance in the boardroom, balance in the media, balance in education, and balance in any other situation where balance might be a good thing to have.
(Bonus: there’s a great game in this post, if you want to count the number of times we use the word “balance.”)
The overall takeaway of this movement is positive and powerful and progressive, and the sheer visibility and participation in the global campaign is a giant step forward for everyone, men and women alike. But if we peel back the outer layer to think about what this year’s theme is really asking us to fight for—and the implications of the word balance itself—I can’t help but wonder:
Should “balance” really be our end goal, or is it only a starting point?
In its most basic of definitions, balance means equality. Parity. Two things, or groups of things, having the same weight or presence on either side of a scale. This interpretation makes perfect sense when you’re trying to reach a state of equilibrium between, let’s say, calories in and calories out, profits and losses, or even the always delicious yellow and green Pretzel M&Ms (a personal fav).
But when that purely mathematical construct is applied to people or cultural situations, it has the potential to take on a different set of, most likely, unintended connotations. Because while the word “balance” is amazing at describing proportionate quantities of similar things, it fails account for the individual strengths or accomplishments or nuances of similar people.
We know that there’s no way to generalize humans the same way you could generalize bananas. Or sheep. Yes, we may have overlapping beliefs or traits or characteristics, but no one “group” is ever homogeneous enough to be blanketed under a single catch-all umbrella, regardless of whether we’re talking about women, men, minorities, LGBTQ, short people, tall people, or odd people who hate french fries (are there people who hate french fries?!).
When we start grouping people together this way in order to fit into a tidy construct of “balance,” we gloss over what makes each of us unique, and instead, start focusing on the sum total of our headcount.
Where does that leave us? Working toward a goal that’s based more on perception than actual progress. Having 10 men and 10 women around a conference table is technically “balance,” but what if 6 of those women are simply tokens to fill a quota? What if three of those men are CEOs and half of the women are mid-level managers (or even, vice versa)? The “balance” of gender in the room may be equal, but the balance of presence, of voice, or of opportunity certainly is not.
I won’t pretend to have the answers to how we solve this, and it’s worth repeating that I DO believe achieving balance is, at the very least, a valid and attainable first step. But I also believe it can’t be our end game.
We know that real change happens, regardless of gender, one person at a time: by someone recognizing and fulfilling their own potential; by others honoring and elevating their successes; and by those who have already made progress continuing to open the door for others to do the same–even lovingly pushing them through it at times, if we have to.
So I leave you with a thought for today: instead of celebrating International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate International Woman’s Day. In the singular. Go tell an amazing, unique, individual woman that she’s seen and appreciated–like we’ve been doing all week here at Media Cause, highlighting #FacesofChange within our agency, our clients, and our communities. Give her the knowledge and resources she needs to reach her own dreams, and the confidence to share them with the world. Work towards policies and practices that allow her, as a person rather than a gender, to achieve anything she sets her mind to.
Make sure she knows that “balance” isn’t where we stop–it’s just where we get started.
(And in case you were counting, it’s 16.)