PAUSE - the silent opportunity of connecting with your audience
December 1, 2014
Women's March to Freedom
March 8, 2017
Women's March to Freedom
March 8, 2017
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.”
I had the privilege this week as part of International Women’s Day – “Be bold for change” to be involved in numerous women’s initiatives and events.
It was an honour to be keynote speaker for Neesie, a global charity set up by a remarkable woman whose painful and shocking story of abuse left her without a voice, her dignity and her basic human rights.
I worked with Sandra who told me that despite meeting all the requirements, her male boss refused to promote her, called her a “witch” in public and humiliated her where possible.
I heard the story of Charlotte, a highly talented woman who felt trapped because she had to make a choice between accepting the role of CEO and becoming a mum.
Finally, it was refreshing to hear from men too. Male CEOs and MDs who shared their insights on this issue and spoke about their genuine interest and desire to support women in their organisations.
As part of International Women’s Day, I want to applaud both men and women all round the world who stand up for women’s equality; who challenge unacceptable behaviours; who put forward innovative ideas and set up new and exciting platforms for women to have a voice and grow.
This global day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women since the early 1900's.
The world-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist Gloria Steinem says "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,". International Women's Day is about “unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action.”
Many people may feel that there aren’t many more battles to fight and that women have come a long way and gained equality.
And yes, while there certainly has been an increased number of women in the boardrooms, greater equality in legislative rights and many companies seeking to raise their female representative in Executive and Board positions, we cannot afford to be complacent and think that true equality has been achieved.
The reality is that women still do not receive equal pay compared to that of their male counterparts, women are still not represented in equal numbers in business or politics and globally the lack of women's education, health and the violence against them far exceeds that of men.
In spite of this, every year the world looks to inspire and celebrate women’s achievements in all areas. Women who have broken the glass ceiling:
Felicity Aston, the first British woman to ski solo across the Antarctic aged 34. Her mission continues to inspire more ordinary women to take this extraordinary expedition with her, break barriers, recognise their potential and follow their dreams.
International female astronauts whose numbers have increased over the years to now reach sixty.
Women CEOs who run global companies whilst juggling family lives. These include Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Indira Nooyi (PepsiCo), Mary Callahan Erdos (JP Morgan) and Sara Blakely (Spank).
Female Political Leader around the world, such as Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Christina Lagarde and Angela Merkel, Aung San Suu Kyi.
These and many more are powerful role models to young girls and women sending them a clear and important message that no dream is too high to reach.
I have been fortunate to work with many aspiring, high achieving and talented women from the private and public sectors for over the past 20 years. Despite their capabilities and successes, many of these women still lack one very important ingredient - confidence.
Research shows that “92% of women state that lack of confidence rather than concrete obstacles are the greatest impediment to their promotion”.
Women will say that they don’t feel “good enough”, “smart enough”, “experienced enough” and “valued enough”.
Women have been conditioned for centuries to play the supporting role which
results in passive, submissive and compliant behaviours rather than assertive ones.
Women need to realise that hard work and good luck are not enough to get them noticed and promoted. They need to be bold and learn to ask for what they need. This could be a job, a pay rise, a promotion or even an audience.
“If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it.
If you do not ask, the answer will always be No.
If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.”
Women need to trust in themselves, their expertise and the value they bring to the table. They need see themselves as equal to men, stand up for what they believe in and credit themselves for their successes.
As Maya Angelou writes:
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women”
However, gender equality is not a just a woman’s issue, we need more men to participate in this movement.
Men who will step up as ambassadors, sponsors and mentors for women.
Men who will speak up for women’s rights, help support and promote women.
Men who will call out unacceptable behaviour.
Men who will set standards for other men to follow.
Men who recognise that diversity matters and that when working together companies do better.
As Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever” says,
“Companies with the highest representation of women in managerial positions delivered 34% greater returns to shareholders.”
This journey to equality for women is a march towards awareness. Awareness of unconscious bias, stereotypes, labels and the power of the media that keeps us stuck to images that do not respect and empower the freedom of women.
As Marianne Williamson in her famous writing puts it:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
Neesie the global charity I spoke about earlier provides a global vision for single mums with the skills, training and support to prosper and grow. It is a story of one courageous woman who refused to be a victim, who stood to abuse, found her voice and provided a platform for other women to realise they are not alone - that financial freedom, independence and empowerment are possible.
Jane’s story about a boss who did not validate her, came to recognise that she was not the problem - that men of quality do not fear equality. She learnt to stand up to her boss, get the support she needed, take her space and voice her opinions. She is now promoted and continues to build on her communication skills.
Finally, Charlotte‘s feeling that she had to make a choice between being CEO or having a baby, realised with the support of her male boss she could have both. A strong team would be put in place during her maternity leave and the role of CEO would be hers on her return. A progressive company that found a way to keep the talent they valued for the future.
International Women’s Day is a reminder that no matter how difficult the journey is, if we stand together, push boundaries, question limiting beliefs, call out unacceptable behaviours, look for solutions and find alternative visions, we can take our rightful place as equals on this march to freedom.