March the 8th marks International Women’s Day. Since moving in to the world of work at 18 (I quit uni, but that was a story for another time), I’ve always known that there is a gap. A difference. An inequality. Between myself, and between the opposite sex. International Women’s Day is a fantastic initiative and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate one another, and to help further educate ourselves, our colleagues, our daughters, sisters and nieces, around how we can achieve equality.
I want to talk about two things today, the first is an amazing talk I went to last week by the authors of The Glass Wall – Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacobson.
the premise of the book is this:
“We don’t believe there is a glass ceiling any more. There is a glass wall. Women can see through it – to the meetings that they are excluded from, the casual conversations that accelerate careers that they are not participating in, the times a boss does not consider a woman in her thirties for a promotion because she might go on maternity leave.”
In my view, there’s a complacency; because the law is changed, which is hugely significant, but the divide still exists. The Glass Wall is a great book with Case Studies from women all around the world, in all different positions and industries. It gives tips on how to utilise the tools they talk about, and gives handy tips for ‘On The Way Up’ or if you’re already in a position of leadership.
Sue and Kathryn’s talk was funny, insightful, intelligent and inspiring. The more we speak up, the more we educate ourselves, and both women and men around us, the closer we will step towards gender equality. This is long overdue, but it’s something we have the power to change, and we can’t start right now.
I am going to buy this book for everyone I know – male and female – it’s powerful, clever and usable. Thank you to Sue and Kathryn for reigniting my passion for women’s rights. 🙂
Back to celebrating… 😉
There have been many women who have inspired me throughout my life, but there are four in particular who have helped shape me into the person I am today, by supporting me every step of the way, and by inspiring me with how they dedicate themselves to everything they do…
Mum. My Mum is my best friend. Actually, I think my Mum is everyone’s best friend. She spent many years as a hugely successful teacher, and then dedicated herself to raising us four children. We were never without a packed lunch, a permission slip, or someone to run us over to a friend’s house. She did everything for us, from getting stuck into being ‘horsey’, to drawing epic birthday cards. She is the most loving, kind and caring person in the world. I only hope that one day I can be even just half the Mum she is to us. I can’t thank my Mum enough for dedicating herself to raising us. We all love you so much Mum x.
Sister 1. Sister 1 is 14 years older than me, and in many ways, she was like a second Mum when I was born, and long after. I have great memories of her doing all sorts for me – from holding the sick bag when I was car sick (we subsequently learned to always check for ventilation holes in the bag), taking me to the theatre, giving me advice about money and all the ‘big’ things.
Moreover, she’s also shown me how great it is to be in your 20s. She adventured all over Europe (and further), made it to the top of her career, and maintains being there, all whilst being an incredible Mum.
She’s funny, but she’s also really tough. I often ask myself what she’d do, if I’m in a challenging situation at work or in my personal life. I’d never tell her that though 😉
Sister 2. Sister 2 is 11 years older than me, and really, I owe my career to her. She’s also another one who made it to the top of her career, and has subsequently moved into several entrepreneurial ventures. When I left uni, she took me in at her company.
I was supposed to stay for a week’s ‘internship’ (I think at the request of my parents who were convinced I’d soon miss going out every night and only attending 2 hours worth of lectures), but that somehow stretched into 3.5 years.
I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much since. Leaving working for S2 was one of the worst things I’ve had to do. S2, like S1, is clever and funny and tough, and again juggles being a successful career woman alongside being an amazing Mum. I suspect both of them probably don’t realise it, but watching them with their kids, really reminds me of how our Mum was with us when we were younger. It’s incredible watching them both.
To me, their ability to balance successful careers, and be the incredible Mums is incredibly inspirational. I’m so proud of them both and it’s been such a privilege watching them become the Mums they are.
Mrs T. At 16, it was time to head to sixth form. All my siblings had left for uni, so when the opportunity came up to go to a local boarding school with some friends, I jumped at it. To set the scene, this school was headed up by an older man who lived on site, and I should probably mention, that they had only let girls in the prior two years, with my year having the most (12) and the prior year having five. That left us as 17 women, up against a school of 300+ boys, the head of this school, on reflection was a complete misogynist. On arrival, we were introduced to someone I’ll refer to as ‘Mrs T’, who was head of girls at this school. A tall, dark-haired woman, who showed us around and settled us in. I was scared shitless of Mrs T for the first few months (sorry, Mrs T).
As it would turn out, Mrs T is one of the strongest leaders I would ever know. She was really, really tough on us. Not in a pushy ‘you must do better’ sense, but in a ‘you will obey all of the rules way’ – which I suppose was her job ;). And when she saw potential in us, she backed us all the way, constantly encouraging us whilst always fighting our corner. She treated us like daughters in many ways – and went on to be an incredible Mum herself to a beautiful little girl.
As well as being tough, she was hugely empathetic. I had a really rough week one week at college, a death in the family, close friend in hospital, and the boys being antagonistic. When it got too much, she sent me home to my parents, and called it a ‘Mental Health Day’. At that time, mental health was slowly getting more airtime, but it was an incredibly brave thing to do, I know it can’t have been easy to vouch for that in the staff room. She always, always put herself on the line for us, measuring being tough with huge amounts of empathy, and a cup of tea and a hug when we needed it.
To me, that’s great leadership, and the kind of strong woman that should be celebrated on International Women’s Day. Women who are tough, who put themselves on the line, who encourage you to be the best you and who can be hard on you, but who can also give you a hug and reassure you when you’re on the right track. At the age of 16/17/18, some of the most formative years you can have, Mrs T gave us the best possible start.
International Women’s Day serves as a great reminder to think about the women who helped us become who we are, and how we can help other women – whether they’re colleagues, bosses, direct reports, daughters, nieces, mums, cousins, and also how we can educate society in a wider sense, to promote gender equality. The right steps are being made, but we’ve still got a way to go.
Here’s to the women who encourage us, inspire us, and continue to help us strive towards equality.
This is a video that went viral a while back, but was shown at a Women and Leadership conference I attended last week. It makes me well-up every time I watch it. I recommend you show it to everyone you know.
Here’s to the brilliant women in our lives.