Photography by Suzy Mitchell
One hundred and sixty-nine years.
That’s how long The World Economic Forum predicts it will take us to close the gender gap. We have to get there faster! And so, on International Women’s Day (March 8), women around the world are called to action to accelerate gender parity – to #BeBoldForChange by taking decisive steps to forge a more inclusive world. How will I #BeBoldForChange?
I will help women build mental resilience
Mental resilience, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity or stress, served as my secret weapon when I was hit by a big change last year: the job and team I loved was made redundant. By viewing this turn of events as an opportunity instead of a setback, I have emerged fitter and stronger, both mentally and physically. For women all over the world, mental resilience will be a critical capability as we persevere in our efforts to drive greater change. Read here to understand how mental resilience can be your secret weapon in the workplace!
Of course, building mental resilience is easier if you don’t go it alone – and I am fortunate to be part of a network of amazing women leaders. We support each other, learn from and draw strength from each other, and celebrate our achievements.
As I planned my own bold actions, I turned to these wonderful women and asked them, “How will you #BeBoldForChange?” Here’s what they told me…
I will work with others to keep gender on the agenda
It takes real courage to be bold for change. Not everyone will understand our ‘why.’ We will face criticism of our ‘what.’ This makes our ‘how’ all-important. The key word for me is collaboration. By working together towards gender equality, there is real strength in numbers and our impact is more keenly felt.
I will push women to expand their comfort zones
To enable bold and courageous change, challenge your limiting beliefs as well as your limiting constructs – those bigger conceptual stories and ceilings that stop you from really swinging out to unlimited opportunity and potential. Know and grow your internal gifts. Harvest the gems of your innate strategies, techniques, resources, and capacity – and keep building on them. Here’s a challenge: do something that makes you gulp and expands your comfort zone everyday. That will keep the fire in your soul alive and thriving and make giant leaps suddenly not seem so big.
I will promote women-focused scholarship
In academia we talk about a steel ceiling – not a glass ceiling. Whilst things are improving, just 22 percent of professors in the UK – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Therefore, the advice I give to aspiring academics is this: be ambitious. Too often people have pre-conceived ideas about you especially if you have children. They assume you are in the ‘Mummy’ track. Tell them what you want to achieve – and don’t be afraid to break the rules. I have always been a great believer in the adage, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” This is where being bold comes in. Sometimes you just have to just do it if you believe in it and worry about the consequences later!
I will promote inclusivity for all
There is a great Swahili saying, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” that reflects the #BeBoldForChange sentiment so well. We have traveled far as a group and many great women have helped pave the way, but we still have a long journey ahead of us. This is underscored by a recent report issued by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which states, “The US, which is a leading State in formulating international human rights standards, is allowing its women to lag behind…” Clearly, being bold for change is not an option – it’s a requirement to ensure that someday parity will be realized for everyone, independent of nationality, race, or religion. When we strengthen others, we all grow stronger.
I will encourage women to spread their wings and fly
Don’t think about what you can’t do but what you can do – you have transferable skills! For example, I made a bold move last year and left technology for life sciences. I had to learn a new business, industry, and team. But I brought my personal leadership style, passion, and business knowledge with me. We all have something to learn and something to teach. Be aware of your strengths and play to them! Don’t be afraid to try something new and have confidence in your own abilities.
I will invite women into situations where they’re not already present
Being bold for change requires each of us to reach out, across, down, and up to support other women. We must help other women develop and grow and enable them to reach for and obtain the next opportunity in their career. Men also need to play a part in offering this support but more importantly encourage ALL of their male counterparts to do the same. The Men for Inclusion Employee Resource Organization at Cisco is doing a great job with this effort and it’s making a difference. Boldness together will, without a doubt, get us to where we need to be faster.
I will encourage mentoring to support women on their journeys
Mentoring is simply the most powerful, positive, and practical way to make a difference.
For mentees, it improves confidence, performance, and decision-making. For mentors, it improves confidence and skills. And for any organization involved, it creates a collaborative, positive, inclusive culture. Confidence is so often the biggest mountain in the way preventing women from achieving what they really want especially when there are changes to be made – let mentoring support you on your journey to find the path that really works for you.
I will create new opportunities for women
Although it is heartening to read about progress made in terms of gender diversity, this progress can sometimes seem frustratingly slow. Men dominate most senior and management roles at law firms across the world, so I am extremely pleased to be working with the International Bar Association to help achieve greater gender parity in the legal profession. By galvanising a high performing cohort of female leaders, I believe we will be able to redefine opportunities for future generations, forge a lasting legacy of growth, and create truly inclusive and equitable organisations.
I will celebrate women’s journeys and encourage giving
Being strong and helping others during a period of personal difficulty often feeds the soul. It fuels our personal growth that gives us the opportunity to make changes in our own lives. Giving is receiving – and if you do it without preconceived conditions – you will find yourself receiving what you need at a time when you need it most. Remember: whatever it is you’re currently trying to achieve, make sure you LOVE it, for when we love what we do it never feels impossible!
I will challenge inequality
Women make up half the world’s population yet represent 70% of its poor – and fundamental to their needs is water and sanitation. It’s hard to imagine that one in three women and girls in the world are still without safe sanitation, exposing them to the risk of assault and harassment and reducing time spent on education and income-generating activities. Let’s be bold and empower the women and girls of the world with something as simple as clean water.
I will overturn stereotypes
Big challenges can often seem insurmountable. But the impact of each of us taking small, everyday actions never ceases to amaze me. Recognizing your unconscious gender biases, and encouraging others to do the same, is shockingly eye opening. To do this, I suggest: flip it to test it. Just mentally flip whomever you’re dealing with, for someone else, to test yourself. For instance, if you’re interacting with a woman in the workplace and she’s coming off as arrogant, flip it and ask yourself how you’d feel about that situation if it was happening with a man. The gender gap is an emotional and polarizing topic but this simple step taken by each of us could turn the tide and accelerate its closure!”
I will empower women through language
Here’s an action that women can take to improve their working lives: Think out loud. Verbalise internal thought to act as a mirror for other’s behaviour – good and bad. I teach every female coachee and trainee I work with to say things like, “This is what I heard you say and this is what it made me think of….” OR “I have been thinking about x and y – I’ve not yet finalised my thoughts and it would be good to get your input on…” This helps you to share your concerns without losing strength or losing ground.
In the same way, you can avoid feeling like a fraud or imposter, (as so many women do) by knowing that after every telephone call or meeting, you can send a note to someone that says, “It was good to talk/meet with you on x date. What you said really made me think and this is what I have been thinking…” and then say what you wish you’d said in the previous interaction. It makes you look reflective, analytical and decisive.
I will champion women in the workplace
Although International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s, many companies are still struggling to create gender balanced businesses and fail to recognise the talent in the market by attracting, retaining, and rewarding the contribution that women are making in business. Taking steps to champion gender diversity in the workplace, committing to invest in women, and helping women build strong internal and external networks will help accelerate the change we want to see in the world.
I will work to create conducive, flexible work environments
Involving men matters. Closing the gender gap is not a women’s issue as progress delivers economic and social progress for all. In Iceland, women participate in the labor market in greater numbers than anywhere else, yet we also lead in terms of birthrates. This is possible because we have invested in childcare infrastructure and we offer paid parental leaves. Icelandic mothers and fathers are entitled to three months of paid leave each. Additionally, three months of paid leave can then be taken by either parent, resulting in a total of nine months of paid leave. This levels the playing field and provides men and women the opportunity to choose to enjoy both professional work and family life.
I will encourage women to be brave and step up
I’m asking you to give yourself one gift for this year’s International Women’s Day. It is the gift of progression. You have the power to change things, be it your jobs, your areas of focus, and ultimately what lies ahead for your future. Being bolder in terms of asking for what you want or need may involve being a little braver, you might also find it a bit uncomfortable! However if you don’t ask, you don’t get! It is time to step up for change, ask for that opportunity, ask for that connection, ask for that pay rise, ask “why” and if not now, then when and how! Be bold, be brave, and let’s use International Women’s Day as a catalyst to have the conversations you need that may just lead to the change you seek!
A more gender inclusive world is only possible if all of us – men and women – work together. And so, on International Women’s Day, I ask you: How will you #BeBoldForChange?
Would you like your business and hard work to be recognised? Then apply or nominate someone for one of our prestigious National Women in Business awards, so we can celebrate your success and inspire other women to do the same. There’s nothing we love more than promoting incredible women in business! Apply/Nominate HERE.