International Women’s Day

So, Saturday was International Women’s Day. What does this day mean to women in the UK? For me it doesn’t feel celebratory nor does it feel like a protest march or a campaign. It just feels like a time to pause maybe.

I have been thinking a lot about gender issues. I am a newly promoted Managing Director and my team are predominantly female – smart and inspiring women in very different ways. I am also a member of a Women in Leadership Brighton based networking group where I get to meet other smart and inspiring women. A few weeks ago RSA Fellowship ran an event in Brighton where Caroline Lucas spoke passionately about How Women Lead and an audience of over 200 debated issues from female only shortlists to the importance of support networks to self promotion. My bedside table is awash with Sheryl Sandberg, Daniel Goleman and Brené Brown , and I’m slowly finding my own personal narrative through some of the issues as I understand and experience them.

I can’t recall a time when I have been passed over for a promotion or missed an opportunity because I am female. My father had four daughters and was adamant that the world was there for the taking and nothing should hold us back. But the career I chose and the jobs I have succeeded at are ones where more feminine qualities can serve you better. Getting the best out of creatives, bridging commercial realty and artistic temperament, and creating an environment where individuals can be the best version of themselves requires sensitivity, patience, communication and nurturing. I have never been in a role which required me to be ruthless, sell, negotiate or die. That is not a role I would ever choose for myself.

We have recently been working on a few really interesting client projects which have bought about many a discussion between female colleagues. These include Young Women’s Trust, a new organisation born out of Platform 51 that tackles the issues that isolate increasing numbers of 16-24 year old young women in this country, and Girlguiding, an organisation that impresses me the more I understand it and the more people I meet within it. Girlguiding is involved with the No More Page Three campaign and also produces the annual Girls Attitude Survey which gives a unique overview of the state of inequality for girls in the UK today – last year’s report revealed that 87% of girls aged 11-21 think women are still judged more for their looks then their ability, for instance. Both of these inspiring organisations are initiating the conversations and beginning to get to the nub of the issue as I see it. Self worth.

For reasons that are hard coded in to our very being and for reasons that pepper our entire experience as a girl and young women, many of us women spend too much of our lives with a hole – a void at the centre where self worth should be. We doubt ourselves, dislike ourselves, look for validation externally, feel inferior, feel judged, feel anxious, feel ugly. These feelings are in no way exclusive to women – I have worked with creatives, male and female for over 15 years, and I regularly see how crippling self doubt can be. But I think the self worth hole is more widely experienced in girls and women.

Why? Why is the default setting in so many young women so debilitating? When does it actually start to overwhelm us and affect our choices? My daughter is 7 and incredibly optimistic about finding her place in the world. Currently she wants to be an historical baker (!) – baking cakes in the shape of Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1st. But in a few years, she’ll may well start to lose that belief that she can be whatever she wants to be and the negative voice and the self doubt may rear their ugly heads. Does it have anything to do with puberty – once the hormonal roller coaster is in full swing, do we think we are nothing because once a month when that egg goes unfertilized, to the universe, we are nothing? I’m interested in exploring that further.

Self worth, belief, inner validation, trust in our own ability, self love – these are the starting points for successful relationships, both personal and professional. The pattern I see so often is that of teenage girls and young women using drink, drugs, promiscuity, anything to fill the void; entering into disastrous relationship choices; being unable to make decisions based on their own needs and desires but looking to please others and be only what others need them to be. And then hopefully at some point if we’re lucky, a trigger, something that starts us on that journey towards self worth. This is what really matters – it is only when we see value in ourselves, love ourselves that can we truly love others.

The hardest thing about my new role is believing I can do it. It’s a daily practice to allow the loudest voice in my head to be a positive one. What I can do is create a space where we feel comfortable talking about this as women in the workplace. A space with no judgement but with love and support. And the commitment to encourage all the women around me to be the best they can be and where I can support them on their journey as they support me on mine.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Image credit: Flickr vintagecat