Rebecca Wilson, CEO
International Woman’s Day (IWD) was celebrated for the first time in 1911 and has been recognised on the 8th March since 1913. Today, IWD is an official public holiday in 27 countries around the world and is a day to reflect on the importance of gender equality in our personal lives and work places, as well as within complex societal expectations and governmental policies.
Whilst I won’t be taking a day off, it is an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of women before me, the achievements of my peers, and gaze to the future for the next generations.
Despite much progress over the years, a recent report by the World Economic Forum found that the world is still 217 years off economic gender parity, clearly demonstrating that challenges still exist for many women across the globe.
I’m proud to acknowledge we have a strong representation of female leaders at WE. Our Australian business is led by five of the most amazing women who challenge and inspire me and our clients every day. Just as we need to highlight when women are not fairly represented, we can also learn from the examples where women have fuelled a powerful incremental leadership relay, from leader to leader, industry to industry and from one country to the next.
As a CEO and a mum, I’ve looked at this challenge from both perspectives of my life and share three values which I believe will support improved gender equality moving forward.
1. Be courageous enough to challenge existing thinking
When trying to define what ‘good leadership’ actually means, I often cite the following core traits: ability to inspire curiosity, open minds to new possibilities and being courageous enough to challenge existing thinking.
I love that Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run a marathon in 1967, wore the same number on her running vest last year (at the age of 71) to remind the world that it is possible to change a generation’s thinking. At the time, people didn’t think women were capable of running 26 miles!
Although gender differentiates us, I don’t believe leading like a woman is different from leading like a man, and gender certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to reach aspirations. I encourage you to be brave enough to point out when gender parity is compromised in day-to-day situations. Challenge the status quo and drive the change you want to see.
2. Be recognisant of the echo chamber
I recently conducted a video vox pop with some of the 7 year olds in my daughter’s class and asked them two questions: what do you want to be when you get older, and who inspires you to be the best you possible can? One of my daughter’s classmate replied, “I want to be an actress, a builder and a scientist”. That is not a belief. It is the reality she knows today.
This is a simple example which reminded me that as children we have no bias, doubt or prejudice in what we seek to achieve. She simply can be anything she wants to be.
Let’s encourage everyone to find renewed inspiration and motivation, away from the echo chamber of society’s opinions that we get influenced by every day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have both male and female advocates and mentors in my professional career including Tom Buchan who founded our business in Australia and who has moulded my thinking without me even realising it. It’s also important to be part of bigger networks outside of your job or industry, this broader viewpoint will support you to take bigger steps towards your goals.
3. Reset the self-doubt in ourselves and each other
Another of my daughter’s classmate responded to my question by stating confidently that she ‘inspires herself’, which tickled me as it mirrors comments from female leaders I recently spoke to – including a VP of a leading tech company and the head marketer of a successful consumer brand – when they answered it’s all about ‘self-belief and trusting yourself’. Did these leaders always have this conviction? Or are we somewhat book ended when it comes to self-belief. We have it as children, and discover it later in our careers but often struggle in the middle to trust our instincts, celebrate achievements, and strive for something more. I have certainly had to nurture this mindset at times during my career.
We’ve partnered with female leaders in the communications industry to champion #LeadLikeAWoman, including our agency’s executive management team, to share their stories and inspire a continued effort to press forward and progress gender parity. Keep an eye on our social channels to find out more!