International Women’s Day may be a global celebration of women and their impact on society, but in America, the message of the day is far more urgent: Businesses had better behave.
“In the past three or four years, issues around the wage gap and women’s work have become more prominent,” says Ariane Hegewisch, a program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. She notes that with a new administration that has proposed defunding key protections for women, including Planned Parenthood, and with a widening gender pay gap, women are increasingly voicing their concerns with the status quo.
To be sure, International Women’s Day, which has been around since 1909, is intended to draw attention to the social, political, and economic successes of women. However, in the U.S. the holiday has taken on much more defiant tones. This year, many women are opting to stay home from work as part of the so-called A Day Without a Woman strike.
Organized by the co-founders of the Women’s March on Washington, the strike is meant to raise awareness for the value of women’s work. Women continue to earn just around 80 cents to the male dollar, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics–a reality that more businesses have pledged to take on.
Indeed, for entrepreneurs, demonstrating support for female workers is a no-brainer. “If you want to appeal to half of the population, this [International Women’s Day] better be well considered,” says Cindy Whitehead, the founder and CEO of the Pink Ceiling, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based startup incubator and consulting firm focused on women entrepreneurs.
While U.S. businesses typically mark International Women’s Day with social media campaigns or other, more symbolic measures, many are now making a more serious investment. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting offerings surrounding this year’s International Women’s Day:
Raising the stakes
For Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and CEO of Birchbox, the decision to recognize International Women’s Day was an easy one–the “stakes,” she tells Inc., are higher than they were before. Her makeup subscription service, most recently valued at $485 million, is planning to offer a 20 percent discount on select products (20 percent, of course, representing the difference between men’s and women’s earnings). A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Girl Project, an organization that promotes education for young women and girls. That’s not an insignificant amount; in fact, Beauchamp characterizes the impact on her bottom line as “huge.”
Even so, “it’s important for all women that we never see any sort of change in administration as a threat, or as taking a step back as a gender,” Beauchamp says, referring to the surprise victory of U.S. President Donald J. Trump in the 2016 election. In particular, she says, she was stung by the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge the Women’s March, which drew together more than two million people in January to protest some of his policies.
In addition to the discount, Birchbox will host an “Advocating for Yourself” training seminar for female employees. It’s also planning on offering some free professional photo shoots and makeovers at the company’s retail store in SoHo. (These International Women’s Day-related activities are happening on the 9th, to accommodate employees who wish to strike.)
Tictail, an e-commerce startup jointly based in New York City and Stockholm, also plans on recognizing International Women’s Day–for the entire month of March. The company, which connects emerging designers to customers around the world, is selling only female-founded brands at its physical New York City store from March 8th onward. All proceeds from the first week will be diverted to the nonprofits Planned Parenthood and #HeForShe. (Though Tictail would not disclose what percentage of revenue that accounts for, a spokesperson says it’s “significant.”)
“Empowering female entrepreneurship is essential in the fight for gender equality,” explains Carl Waldekranz, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Taking one for the team
Other companies, in the spirit of striking, are going so far as to give their female employees the day off. Cindy Gallop, an advertising consultant and the founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, says her women staffers aren’t coming to work. Her business–a site for women and men to share racy videos–counts around 400,000 members, and has taken in around $500,000 in sales since launching in 2013.
“The key thing about MakeLoveNotPorn is customer support,” says Gallop. To compensate for the lost staff, the entrepreneur says she’s personally managing all customer service calls.
Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, a serial entrepreneur based in New York City, similarly plans on shutting down her two businesses: Guest of a Guest, a roughly $3 million publishing venture, and Lingua Franca, a six-month-old retailer. While the effects on her bottom line are unclear, she estimates that she could lose out on thousands in advertising revenue at Guest of a Guest. Lingua Franca, she argues, may stand to benefit in the long run, inasmuch as it makes clothing that criticizes the Trump administration. (Top sellers have included sweaters that read “Fake President” and “I Miss Barack.”)
“I am a woman, and I have been discriminated against because I’m a woman,” MacPherson says, explaining her decision to temporarily close up shop. “I’m not afraid at all to speak out against this administration. I’d be more afraid not to speak out.”
The show goes on
Of course, not all businesses recognize International Women’s Day or the related A Day Without a Woman strike. It’s also worth pointing out that many women can’t afford to strike, or else they’ll lose valuable income for the day. According to a recent Oxfam America study, sexism has pushed millions of women into jobs that pay low wages, provide few benefits, and impose inflexible work hours. For this reason, some argue the strike could end up being much smaller and less impactful than anticipated.
Meanwhile, some women simply feel they can have more of an impact by working. “All of the women in my company have collectively decided we want to work today,” says Mary Fox, head of product marketing at logistics startup FR8 Revolution in Oakland, California. She adds that the CEO said he would support those who didn’t. “We are launching a product,” she says, “and didn’t want to sit the day out when we, as women, could make such a big impact by coming to work.”