Should International Women’s Day be a holiday in the UK?

General Women's Day

If you are in the UK, you might not be aware that International Women’s Day (IWD) lives up to its name with it being a public holiday in some 27 countries.

The only jurisdiction in the European Union to observe IWD with a public holiday is Berlin, who adopted the holiday in 2019 to address the lack of public holidays in the state compared to other parts of Germany.

Back in the UK, it is a holiday that gains significant traction in the media, but has never been suggested as a potential addition to the pantheon of British public holidays.  Given that the UK lags behind most countries in the number of public holidays, wouldn’t IWD be a fitting reason to have another day off?

Interestingly, only one in four male employers (25%) think International Women’s Day should be a public holiday, compared to just one in eight (13%) women employers, according to a survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

The REC suggests that IWD is best marked by employers taking action to remedy discrimination in the workplace rather than adopt token gestures which make employers feel good about themselves for a day but don’t have the impact that women employees deserve or want for the longer term. 

Indeed, a public holiday for Women would feel like generic lip-service. Think about how many public holidays around the world celebrate individual males compared to individual females. In case you don’t have the time for such a laborious labour-related task, we did just that in 2018 and found that of the non-religious holidays that celebrate individuals, 93% were male focused.

It is also worth noting that in many East European countries, IWD is treated more like Mother’s Day than a day to mark empowerment and highlight gender inequality.

It seems most of the employers surveyed agreed with the need for action rather than a holiday. One in six (17%) employers think IWD should be a public holiday, but the majority (72%) are against the idea. Just 5% think that IWD should be a public holiday for women only.

The idea is a bit more popular in London, with 26% of employers saying IWD should be a public holiday for all and 9% saying it should be a public holiday for women only.  

There is much need to improve equality for women in the workplace but the REC agrees with most of those surveyed who don’t think a day off is the answer. Instead it wants employers to use IWD as an opportunity to create plans to improve recruitment processes which will increase the diversity of the workplace and create equal opportunity. 

Sophie Wingfield, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the REC, said:

“Women deserve action not token gestures. International Women’s Day should be celebrated, but a day off isn’t going to eradicate the gender pay gap or other forms of discrimination that still hold women back. Employers should use IWD to take action to increase diversity and equality in the workplace. Making sure recruitment processes are free from bias is a good place to start. We recommend deleting gendered language from job ads and offering flexible working from the outset are simple steps to attracting more women applicants. We want an end to discriminatory work practices and a day off would do little to achieve this.

“Closing the gender pay gap would add £150 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. Increasing diversity in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense. Despite this, often unwittingly, organisations are reducing the likelihood of women getting jobs because of outdated recruitment processes. Recruiters are well placed to help employers adopt best practice recruitment. The facts speak for themselves – more diverse executive teams have been shown to out-perform the competition by as much as 21% in terms of earnings.”* 

*Research by McKinsey & Company found that closing the gender pay gap would add £150 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. They also showed that more diverse executive teams out-perform the competition by as much as 21% in terms of earnings before interest.