It’s been several weeks since International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th and I wonder what you learnt, what surprised you and most importantly what you committed to?
- Are we making progress in narrowing the gender gap and improving women’s rights?
- Do you believe that International Women’s Day is valuable and impactful?
These were some of the questions I asked myself as I tried to make sense of the tidal wave of tweets, news stories, videos, meetings, protests, blogs and discussions around IWD2017. As my inbox filled up, I wondered at the range of activities and initiatives. It felt not only overwhelming but also fragmented. Could we have greater impact if we partnered more frequently, blended similar programmes, and (heresy) combined some of the organisations with common goals? A lot of questions but I was trying to make sense of it all. What matters? What matters Most? What can I do to make a difference?
By the end of the day I started to recognise some common threads and began to formulate my own conclusions. That evening KEA New Zealand and New Zealand Business Women’s Network hosted a panel of 4 amazing New Zealand women to mark International Women’s Day, they were:
- Jan Beagle, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations; Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS.
- Victoria Macdonald, Health and Social Care correspondent, Channel 4 News
- Linda McDougall – Television Director and Producer
- Tee Twyford, Head of Content, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty
Each was asked to celebrate their lives as Kiwi women living in the UK.
What followed was a series of thoroughly entertaining anecdotes as well as enlightening observations. Some shared a summary of their career path, others selected a few of the significant highlights and low points; there was plenty to learn from their journeys. While some knew what they wanted to do from the start, others followed a more winding path to discover their strengths, passions and eventually their career. In spite of their different professions and their different paths, they mentioned several important elements as keys to a successful career.
- CONNECTIONS: You never know when people will reappear in your life and in what role; they may have the power to help or hinder you. Make sure you treat everyone with respect! One acquaintance had unexpectedly gone on to become President of Fiji; another had become a member of the South African government.
- CHOICES: You always have choices! Sometimes the choices are tough – as in changing careers or giving up on a long held dream. Our careers, and lives, are rarely simple or direct; they invariably include some side-tracks, dead-ends and disappointments. The message was don’t worry if you don’t have a clear career plan when you start – you can still find your passion and speciality along the way.
- SUPPORT: Early on support from a mentor is extremely valuable but mentors need not be from your own organisation, or even industry. Support should be a two-way exchange – so take the time to work out what you can offer in return, maybe your technology skills? Later the need for your personal support team – both at work and at home – becomes ever more critical as you become a senior leader. It gets more and more lonely as you climb higher in any organisation, be it private or public sector; and so you need to prepare for that in advance. Finally never forget the importance of supporting other women.
However the most powerful message was the importance of SELF-BELIEF to women wanting to achieve their goals and transform their dreams into reality. Self-belief really is the secret sauce! Each of the women acknowledged the absolute supremacy of believing you can do whatever you want, even if when you start you don’t know how you will do it.
The speakers all agreed that, in New Zealand, women are brought up to believe that they can turn their hand to anything. In fact they are expected to do so! This uniquely Kiwi attitude may be the most important benefit for girls growing up in New Zealand as it often translates into powerful self-belief. Even without this background, we can each build and nurture self-belief – both in ourselves and in other girls and young women.
Did I find any answers to my questions about IWD? Well, some. I still believe that International Women’s Day is important – it makes us stop and think about what is needed and what can be done. More importantly it gives us the opportunity to consider what we can do, what we are willing to commit to. What did I decide to do? Support other women in business – helping build their self-belief through mentoring, sharing contacts and connections, and giving them my business.
What was your commitment for IWD2017? How will you #BeBoldForChange ?