Today is an opportunity to come together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a day to take stock of how far our society has progressed when it comes to gender equality, but to also recognise the challenges we face and focus on taking action for the future.
Choose to Challenge
This year’s International Women’s Day 2021 is focused on the theme “Choose to Challenge”, but what does that really mean? Who are we challenging? Is it ourselves, is it those around us, or the societal norms we take for granted? My view is that it is all three and more.
This year’s theme is particularly prevalent in light of events over the past twelve months, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement and the shift towards taking accountability for our own unconscious biases, and calling ourselves out for taking a back seat in addressing the inequalities we see around us. That time is now over, and it’s this spirit of challenge that this year’s International Women’s Day is harnessing.
Choosing to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes and help force an inclusive world is imperative, and it must come from all sections of society. This is no longer a conversation that should be led by women, we all must continue to be part of this movement, stepping up to challenge behaviours that we see on an everyday basis. Sitting back is no longer an option.
When writing this blog, I found myself looking back on my career and assessing my own ability to challenge, and wondering where I could have done better. I remember many times in the past that I have let a flippant, sexist comment side. On one particular occasion, many years ago, a comment made me so uncomfortable I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I raised it with a senior team member. However, I decided not to progress it further for fear of stirring the pot or appearing over sensitive. It felt too difficult and I was too afraid to challenge. With a few more grey hairs on my head and years under my belt, I wish I could go back and give my younger self a stern talking to.
Looking back on those days, it makes me realise how far we have come and how lucky we are not to live the world our mothers and grandmothers lived in. I am very grateful that things have changed, and that my daughter can say she doesn’t face the same things that I felt I did. However, I know that is not the case for everyone and that we still have a long way to go. It is the responsibility of us all, across every level of the organisation to choose to challenge gender inequality and call out behaviour that is unacceptable.
We must also focus on creating a workplace where women from all walks of life can thrive, and as a leader I feel responsible for driving that change. Smarter, outcome- based working is a key element here. The pandemic has certainly been a catalyst for that positive change, forcing us to challenge outdated thinking around presenteeism and shift our attitudes around traditional 9-5 workplace practices. Our approach must be more outcome-focused, enabling and empowering staff - all genders, parents, carers, grandparents alike - to flex their work around their lives to achieve true work-life harmony, rather than the other way around, while still getting the job done.
I’m really proud that the DIO is already focused on this goal, and I look forward to supporting the wider Defence enterprise adopting this approach and achieving the positive benefits it brings. Only by enabling and supporting this flexible approach can we create and support a truly diverse workforce.
So, this International Women’s Day, we must remember, a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change, so let’s all chose to challenge, ourselves and each other. What will you do to challenge this year?