Every year on 8 March, the world comes together to recognize International Women’s Day. For certain, this celebration and the contribution women have made cannot be confined to one day of recognition. But in the current times, more than ever, we need to recognize female trailblazers, raise awareness against bias and act together for gender equality.
To drive this change, IWD is this year calling for people to #ChooseToChallenge. Stemming from the belief that a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change, I believe this is a powerful campaign to help us forge a gender equal world.
But I also believe it is just as important to look within ourselves. Society and businesses have come a long way, but there are still many instances where we’re either outrightly or unconsciously forced to be someone we’re not.
If we are to truly reimagine our world, it begins with believing in ourselves – and then having the confidence to speak out and campaign for change. By sharing my own experiences, I hope this can help you share our journey to shaping a better workplace and society, for everyone.
Invest in yourself
Years of being shaped by society’s expectations to be the woman that “fits in” at home, at work and in social surroundings meant I had lost my individuality, my uniqueness and my voice.
I found myself in situations where I was trying to “fit in” and realized something was wrong. and I quickly learnt that you can’t be happy if you’re trying to be something you’re not. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to take time to learn about myself and really discover who I was.
It is never too late to find yourself. By investing in you, learning who you are and where your strengths lie, you’ll find that life’s long and winding journey becomes easier to navigate - and fun.
This is especially true of the workplace. Finding something that motivates you, by teaching, engaging and giving you a sense of purpose is so very important. It may be in this job you are currently in or one you never thought you could (or would do). Only you have the answers. Find them.
Take action for equality
Fostering a diverse and inclusive culture is central to equality, and the onus is on business leaders to support self-belief, by listening to individuals and supporting their unique needs. By conveying conviction in their own actions, they will raise awareness against bias and embody equality.
In the midst of COVID-19, the road to equality has been a bumpy ride with many diversions – exacerbating existing inequalities between women and men in almost all areas of life, as outlined in the EU’s Report on Gender Equality 2021.
So, to get us back on the right path, it is time for business leaders to take positive action for gender equality. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by embracing flexibility, which some businesses, like Cisco, have done so wholeheartedly.
Some, however, haven’t, so now is the time to do so, because no one has two (or three) separate lives. Our work and home lives are unavoidably intertwined so people must be granted the flexibility to balance responsibilities and live a fulfilling, stress-free life.
Of course, this isn’t exclusive to women. However, two out of every three caregivers are women, which means they’re disproportionately affected and therefore more in need of support to not have to choose between work or care responsibilities – and also be able to focus on their own well-being.
Businesses must therefore create a safe and informal environment, where people are comfortable asking if they need help. It is also vital to create a framework where everyone has the chance to discover their strengths and purpose – to understand which path they would like to walk.
The (many) benefits of diversity and inclusion
By embracing the above and fostering a truly diverse and inclusive culture, you won’t just be helping people to find their purpose and balance caregiving responsibilities - you’ll also be bringing untold benefits to your business.
70% of companies that embrace diversity are better positioned to capture new markets and increase profitability, owing to increased creativity and also the fact that 87% of inclusive workforces are better at making decisions, according to Forbes.
From my own experiences as a leader, I know this to be 100% true. The awareness and different perspectives that comes from my team’s collective assimilation of background, age, skills and experience is imperative to our business and our collective success. During the pandemic, this has more important than ever, where we’ve leaned on, learnt from and been supportive of one another’s individual needs.
Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, nor the tiger its stripes, people shouldn’t be expected to be something they’re not. By embracing diversity and stamping out inequality, businesses can lead the way on our journey to shaping a better workplace, society and world.
But above all, invest time in yourself to understand who you are and what you believe in – then you are sure to believe in yourself.
Explore how Cisco has been helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19 here.