In an ideal world, we won’t need an International Women’s Day. But until then, the day offers a fantastic chance for us to take stock of how far we have come and how much further we have to go.
Progress is not just about celebrating the achievements of extraordinary women. It’s about recognising women everywhere who are still struggling to have their voices heard and acknowledging those who are pushing limits placed on them everyday in whatever way they can. It’s also about being grateful for the sisterhood.
Women can and should be the biggest champions for other women. This year, we spoke with a selection of female business leaders from a range of sectors whom we work closely with and admire. Below they reflect on whether the day has been and continues to be a success; charter their journey to the top of the tree and impart practical careers advice for women new to the world of work.
Anne Boden, CEO, Starling Bank
To me every day is International Women’s Day. As a female founder, I don’t just prioritise women on one day of the year.
One stereotype I would like to see broken is that women are inherently less astute in managing finances. It’s simply not true. In my first 20-30 years I didn’t think the bar was being held any higher for me than it was for men. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that what I had to do was more than my male peers. Thankfully, at the time, I was oblivious to it and that gave me the energy to continue. It’s like training at altitude – you just get really good at working in difficult environments.
To those women who are entering the world of business, I would say: keep moving forward, support others, speak positively and be careful about your choice of words.
Dyan Crowther, CEO, HS1 Ltd
My advice to women this International Women’s Day would be: if you have something to say then don’t leave a room without having said it. When I first joined my voice got lost – so re-finding that voice earlier on in my career has been a significant contribution to my success.
During that time there weren’t even ladies’ toilets in the signal box where I was working, so I needed to have a guard on the door to make sure I could go about my business. I felt very much as though I was in a minority. When you’re there, there is a tendency for you to emulate what your peer group are doing. I soon realised that wasn’t going to work so started being Dyan and not trying to be what the rest of my peer group – mainly male – were going to be.
Teresa Graham CBE, Chairman of the Pagefield Advisory Board
International Women’s Day was first celebrated in the US in 1909 and then in Copenhagen in 1910, spreading rapidly thereafter. As an invented day it certainly beats the rest.
In my professional life I have observed that what we measure, we value and track and so the day has a real value as a clarion call and time to reflect.
It’s a day to celebrate successes, reflect on what else needs to be done and look internationally for lessons learnt. Jude Kelly (theatre director and Founder of the Women of the World Festival) and Sandi Toksvig (actor, presenter and Founder of the Women’s Equality Party) are two great heroines of mine who are always doing something exciting to mark the day and provide a platform for others – so keep an eye out for them!
Having a day to mark our achievements and plan the next campaign, all the while celebrating my birthday, sits rather well with me.
Naisola Likimani, Support Unit Lead, SheDecides
Today we pause to celebrate how far we’ve come in our journey towards true gender equality. For those of us who work year in and year out on women’s rights, progress sometimes feels too slow, oftentimes like a fight to hold on to the gains already made. But when I think back to my childhood, growing up in a country where women could not pass on citizenship to their children, and where no one would dare speak out on domestic violence, I can see that significant advancements have been made.
Through the tireless efforts of feminist movements, change is happening, and the world is a different place for a girl born today than for one born just 25 years ago.
It is easy to take this for granted when we are constantly confronted by grim statistics on the inequities, discrimination and violence women and girls face the world over. But as long as there exist bold champions willing to speak out and push for change, and dynamic movements like SheDecides, we will always have something to celebrate. And in so doing gain more courage for the journey ahead.
Sally Wilton, Founder, The Lexi
International Women’s Day is the one celebratory day in the year that I actually remember with ease. At our community cinema The Lexi, we always mark the day; last year with partner Into Film we had a day of free screenings for local schools headlined by BAFTA nominated animator Daisy Jacobs. This year we have a preview screening of an important new film from Kenya: RAFIKI, directed by Wanuri Kahiu.
Hosted by film critic Grace Barber-Plentie (Gal-dem, Sight and Sound), one of our former interns, RAFIKI was the only African film in the Official Selection at Cannes last year. It’s F-rated, which means that it has a fully developed female character at the centre of the film, a female director and a female script writer – what better way could we find to celebrate International Woman’s Day?
And on a more personal note, how could I ever forget the date on which my son was born, which also happens to be my partners birth date too!
So, YES, I would say International Women’s Day has been and is an ongoing success, an important day to celebrate, mark progress and continue the battle.