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Today I woke up and remembered that today is International Women's Day. I am not exactly the person who likes to greet and give wishes to everyone, and I am often kinda embarrassed when I have to do so "by force" (like in family reunions etc.)

So today I was really undecided on what to do, whether I have to say "Good Women's Day" or not (here it's kind of usual and a lot of people in the streets were selling traditional Italian flowers to express the sentiment).

I don't really know how it works in other countries, but when I arrived at my company, I tried to do it; and I received kind of... embarrassed answers.

I have other women in my company and I don't really know what to do. Plus I am gay so I have no hidden agenda or such (even if they don't know my sexual orientation).

Since it is the first time this is happening in a professional environment, I am confused on how to behave with the women I have still not met (usually, as coworkers, we usually greet each other like a big family).

I know that this can be a silly question, but due to my orientation and my first employment and my attitude towards celebrations, it is not a silly question to me!

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    I think most women would appreciate the sentiment, even if it felt a little awkward. The best thing you can do though is to treat women - and everyone else - with respect every day. That is the greatest gift you can give all of us :) – Jane S Mar 8 '16 at 10:10
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    @MarkWuji I'm sorry that people hijacked your perfectly reasonable question to argue about other things. We moderators try to stay on top of things like this but it's a big, active site so sometimes we miss things. Folks, please continue to flag things that are going off the rails. – Monica Cellio Mar 9 '16 at 16:57
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    Remember that in some cultures women themselves are uncomfortable with IWD, because it highlights the disparities between men and women. If you want to fight the fact (sad) that a woman earns 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man, start behaving like IWD is a day like any other, and your female coworkers are due the same (no more, obviously no less) respect than male coworkers – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ May 27 '17 at 11:40
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    International Women’s Day is a much bigger deal in Europe than the US and there are a lot of country specific norms about how it’s observed - consider not answering if you’re unfamiliar with these and especially Italy’s practice. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 12 '18 at 9:27
  • @mxyzplk Fair enough. FWIW, the UK is in Europe and we pretty much completely ignore the day. Europe is a continent, not a country; it's a big ol' place with a lot of very different countries and cultures. You're certainly right to suggest (modifying it) that an Italy-specific answer would be of most value. – Lightness Races with Monica Sep 12 '18 at 9:33
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I think you may have received what you perceived as 'embarrassed' answers because of your general attitude.

I'm Italian too, so I'm aware there are usually greetings and some coworkers would also buy mimosas for the women in the office. On the other side I don't expect people to do that, it really depends on their personality.

If you are not the kind of person that usually engage in this kind of things, I would probably be surprised to be wished a nice women's day and therefore my attitude may appear embarrassed.

I also think it's unlikely that the fact you are gay makes any difference in this situation. Just do whatever suits your personality, you won't be rude in any way according to me.

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International Women's Day is mostly about generating awareness for areas where we have not yet achieved true gender equality. That means you could use this day as an opportunity to check for yourself:

  • How large is the gender pay gap in your organization?
  • How is your men/women ratio in your organization overall and how is it on each management level? For example, when you have an overall 40/60 mix, but 30/70 in lower management, 10/90 on middle management and 0/100 in upper management, that tells you something about your organization.
  • Are there any tasks at your organization which are done mostly by men or mostly by women? How can that segregation be explained? And are those tasks valued differently in your organization? Is that evaluation justified?
  • Are there any company regulations which are covertly discriminating (even without actually saying so)? Remember that treating everyone the same does not always lead to true equality.
  • What does your organization do to accommodate balance between work and family?
  • How does your organization's marketing portray men and how does it portray women?

If you notice that your organization could do better in any of these regards, you might use the opportunity to raise such questions in conversations with your colleagues and superiors.

  • I favorites this question because of your answer. Excellent insights all around! – Chris Cirefice Mar 8 '18 at 21:40
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I would say you should act as you would every other day. Perhaps if the company you work for is having an event for International Women's Day and you could attend to "show support" for the day (if you want to), but other than that I don't believe it's necessary for you to do anything special!

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    Obviously if you would consider changing your behaviour on that day, maybe you should change it every other day as well. – gnasher729 Mar 17 '16 at 9:10
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I think the problem is that International Women's Day is not a holiday, or a celebration in the traditional sense. It's not Christmas, or Easter, or Hannukah, or the Festival of Lights. It's not a party. It's a name given to a segment of time for raising awareness, like Earth Day or International Year of the Potato. It's not something you congratulate people on.

So, the reactions you've perceived may be a combination of confusion ("why is he making a thing out of this? that's weird") and possibly misunderstanding ("is he being a jerk? is he being sarcastic?").

The best thing to do with days like these is to discuss but not celebrate in the sense you've attempted. In other words, you can just ignore it and carry on as normal.

It could be that people selling flowers on the street has further confounded the confusion. That's either a manifestation of the awareness-raising facet of the day, or simple commercial capitalisation! Now, I'm not an Italian, so I can't say for sure, but your report from the workplace seems to back that up.

And ultimately I don't see how your sexual orientation or gender makes a difference in this case.

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    Here it is usual to bring flowers to women this day :) Nice to know that not everywhere is the same! (I mean, in a cultural way :D ) – MarkWuji Mar 8 '16 at 17:30
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    @MarkWuji: Then why are the women in your company being awkward about it? o.O I'm confused. Either this is normal or it's not. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 8 '16 at 18:05
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    +1 by And ultimately I don't see how your sexual orientation or gender makes a difference in this case. @MarkWuji, In my country, Colombia, is usual too give flowers, chocolates, gifts of any kind in similar celebrations, but that doesn't mean mandatory. Also it celebrates the International Men's Day but that doesn't also implies that we must receive gifts. – Mauricio Arias Olave Mar 9 '16 at 13:34
  • I already have told why my sexual orientation plays in this case – MarkWuji Mar 9 '16 at 15:16
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I am a female software engineer and a team member sent me a nice chat saying, "♀ Happy International Women's day, btw ♀" just slipped into conversation. I thanked him and moved on. I thought it was really nice. Absolutely not awkward at all. I think if you brought up the topic in a more understated way, women wouldn't react with unease or embarrassment. Typically its not what you say but how you say it that makes a difference.

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Maybe it's different in Italy, but here in the U.S., International Women's Day is just not a holiday that most people -- men or women -- care very much about.

It's fairly common to wish people a "Merry Christmas". That's about the only holiday that people routinely acknowledge. No one goes around saying "Happy Memorial Day" or "Happy National Chocolate Donut Day". Or "Happy International Women's Day". If someone did, that would just be really really strange. People would likely think you were making a joke of it. I'd expect to get awkward responses: people wouldn't be sure whether you were serious, in which case it would seem inappropriate, or if you were making fun of the idea of such a holiday.

As I say, maybe it's different in Italy. Maybe people routinely wish each other "Happy Labor Day" or "Happy Republic Day".

  • Well i have heard in supermarkets people saying "best wishes to you" and greeting anyway, in my family it would have been a must if i were there but today i didin't my mother and sisters for example. It's between the line "you can leave it off" and "do it", but i sense that my confusion is well spread around anyways... – MarkWuji Mar 8 '16 at 14:33
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    Perhaps I should have added that what is appropriate with family and close friends is not necessarily appropriate with co-workers. I'll say "Happy Mother's Day" to my mother and my wife, but I don't think I've ever said that to a co-worker, even if I knew she was a mother. – Jay Mar 8 '16 at 14:39
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This is not really a question about the workplace but about etiquette in general.

There are only certain days where it is appropriate to congratulate people and/or acknowledge the day in this particular way, and this is not one of them. Moreover, the appropriateness of doing so can depend on your relationship with the person.

This does vary culturally. In some countries (e.g. Italy) it is traditional to give Mimosa flowers to sisters, wives and mothers on International Women's Day. America is not one of those countries.

Examples when you can:

  • Birthday: Happy birthday.
  • Christmas: Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Seasons greetings.
  • Mother's day: If it's your own mother or grandmother this is fine, but co-workers you don't know are out of bounds.

Workplace advice: If you are not sure if it is appropriate, wait until you hear other people doing it. If you are still unsure, ask a co-worker.

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