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International Women's Day 2019 - Getting closer to the goal

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Maria Harris08 March 2019
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With IWD coming around so quickly this year, it felt like a good time to reflect on just how much noise and activity we’ve seen this year to improve gender equality. From the #metoo and #timesup campaigns to the ‘heforshe’ global solidarity initiative, we’ve seen some high-profile industries and individuals get behind the movement to shine a light on the reality of gender imbalance and the impact it has on all of us.

I don’t think the level of support has ever been higher to get us to a more balanced and more representative workforce and we’ve made some fantastic progress. In the last 10 years, the number of women on FTSE 100 boards increased from 11% to 28% and we’re down to just 8 companies in the FTSE 250 with all male boards, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve reached our tipping point just yet. We’re still woefully under-represented at all levels of management especially in UK financial services where only 27% of senior managers are female and in STEM with only 37% of female students beginning their tertiary education in a STEM field.

While the thought of moving those big numbers to 50/50 is daunting, it’s easy to forget that every one of us can make a difference in our own way. As Anne Sweeney the former President of The Walt Disney Company said, “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live”. Maybe, if we all set one really small wave in motion, we could create our own tsunami of change?

None of the ideas I’m about to suggest are new or original but they’ve all inspired me or helped me to be a better manager or mentor during my career so, steal away or borrow the best ideas from your own leadership icons. Every female colleague, employee, student, intern, daughter, sister or friend we elevate, gets us one step closer to the end goal.

  • Lift someone up - go and tell one of your female stars how amazing she is and why. Nominate her for an award, suggest a really cool project she would want to get involved in, or make sure the world knows just how good she is and how much you value her.
  • Gift some time - life is mad busy, and all that tech that’s supposed to make our lives easier means that we don’t often switch off or dedicate time to our own growth. Make it compulsory that your current, and future, stars take an hour out of their diary every week where they turn their phone and email off and properly devote some time to their own development. Whether it’s watching a TED talk, listening to a podcast, or creating a mood board for their 5-year life plan; they’ll be happier, more engaged and more productive for it.
  • Be present - in an industry where results and performance are everything, it’s easy to forget that we’re all people dealing with people. 121s, coaching and mentoring should focus on their agenda rather than yours so, take the time to be in the moment and ask the right questions while being attentive to the answers. What do they need, how do they feel, what can you do to support them? Create a space for authentic and impactful interactions that build confidence and give other people power.
  • Open doors and pathways - the best jobs and promotions I’ve ever had were due to someone else recommending me or highlighting an opportunity. Use your network and industry contacts to advocate for other people, to recommend a rising star for a promotion or that dream job, or to build your own little army of advocates and supporters.

This year’s IWD theme is ‘Better the balance, better the world’ which in itself is reflective of the progress that’s being made. It’s a day to celebrate achievements and to challenge our industries, our communities and ourselves to take personal responsibility and collective responsibility for our future. I hope you’ll join me in striking a pose and joining the movement #BalanceforBetter