Why International Women’s Day is so important
Or, this headline could read why I think women are amazing and I love working with them.
Firstly, let me start by saying right here that I love men too, and nothing that I say is ever intended to take away from how great I think they are. Right now, though, it seems it is women who need their voices to be heard more and that is why I am so passionate about this. About helping women believe in themselves and believe in other women.
We live in a world where still, in 2015, there is not equality. There is not equal pay rates, there is not equal opportunity. There is a glass ceiling and there is something about the corporate world that doesn’t work for women. This something could be so many things it’s difficult to list them all right here – inflexible work arrangements, lack of appropriate child care, the expectation of the role men must play in the family unit, the ever present boys club, and just the lack of understanding of the demands of being a mother. Even the expectation that to actually succeed in this corporate world women must behave like men and shun everything that makes us feminine and therefore so great in our careers. Where the feminine is not embraced but the masculine is applauded and rewarded. Well thats the beginning of a thesis right there isn’t it?
Now I can see from first hand experience how this happens all too easily. Let’s look closely at one of the stand out contributing factors – becoming a mum. Amazing creatures that we are, it is women who bring new life into the world through pregnancy, birth and nurturing our newborn babies. I have to say here I feel totally privileged and honoured to be able to do this, I will never forget how spectacularly beautiful this all is and I would not trade this for anything. The reason I mention this is that it is a fact that to have a family women must take time out from the workforce and men cannot do this. But why is this not embraced by the world as a source of greatness? Why does this somehow detract from all that we as women have already offered the world in our chosen careers? Why doesn’t having children and juggling these physical, mental and psychological demands us give us more credibility instead of less? This fact blows my mind. I think it is a combination of a lack of support from those still in the workplace and also women themselves losing their voice just a little bit in this space. Your priorities change. It’s human nature. That doesn’t mean you are not just as capable and just as willing.
I have three small children of my own and vividly remember thinking at one point that maybe I had just forgotten everything I needed to know, that I wasn’t actually worth it, that my years and years of experience didn’t matter and that everything I had learnt in my MBA had been erased from my memory. Looking to get back into work these irrational thoughts were perpetuated by many people, including the recruitment consultant who told me that I probably need to look at a lesser salary and even a lesser position because I have been away from the workforce for two years. TWO years! To her I would quote these memorable words from Madeleine Albright in her keynote speech ‘Celebrating Inspiration’ in 2006 “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” 😉
To any woman in this situation right now, reading this, please know that this is not true – you are still worth as much as you were if not MORE. You didn’t give birth to your brain. As soon as you get back into that working world those doubts and fears dissipate and you are there, doing your thing, the way you always did and in fact probably with more focus and determination that you ever thought was possible. More support for women, both emotionally and rationally, in this vulnerable space of contemplating a return to the workforce would go great lengths to giving many women the courage they need to make sure they are not accepting less than what they are worth, and not going back into roles that don’t match their experience and qualifications.
For me though, I always wanted to work for myself. And if I needed any extra motivation to finally take this huge, scary, and what frankly felt death defying, leap – going back into a corporate role was exactly what I needed. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I had so much more to give. So much more than what I would have been able to give without fighting a fight I just wasn’t prepared to fight. Because that world is tough for woman. But also because I wasn’t prepared to make the sacrifices needed when it came to my children; I want to be present in their lives in a way that feels right for me. Importantly I want to say that I applaud any choice a woman makes in this moment of their lives and I honestly believe that everyone makes the right choice here for their family. You will never get any judgement from me. If you are a successful lawyer in a big firm and that is what you want to do, that is what you believe is right for your family then I congratulate you. Equally if you decide that you want to walk away from paid employment altogether so you can focus solely on your children and your family then I congratulate you.
What I personally needed was to find a balance of the two. Whilst I am still finding that balance I believe I am tantalisingly close – much closer than I was as a full time mum or working full time for someone else. This is why I love working with women to help them build a business and a life for themselves that works for them. A place where they can use their talents and their skills as much as they want to. This applies to all women too, not just mums. So many young women are all too aware of the inequality that exists as they move into the workforce, and they just won’t stand for it. Why should they? Anything I can do to help them fight the good fight is worthwhile; even if that just means taking their own stand, owning what they know and not letting anyone tell them it is not as valuable simply because they are a girl.
I am not espousing that women or men can have it all; what I do believe is that we all have the right to have the same aspirations as one another, regardless of our gender. This is why International Women’s Day is important, because it brings to the spotlight the sate we are still in, when so many women have fought before us to make this change.
It helps us to be heard, it gives us a platform to speak. Let’s not limit ourselves to this one day though. Let’s make every day a day that we are heard.