For as long as I can remember I have been told that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. If I work hard enough and if I am resilient enough, then I will succeed. Yet even though I was told to aim high and dream big, at the same time I have been drip fed information about the gross gender imbalances that thrive in today’s world and would make my journey to success much more difficult.
I remember the first time I heard about the glass ceiling. It was a school assembly, I was sixteen years old and our head teacher spoke of an invisible barrier that the girls in that room would face when we entered the workplace – about the uphill battle to get promotions and pay rises.
He must have finished it with words of inspiration. He must have told us that the world was changing and we shouldn’t let barriers hold us back, but I can’t remember that bit. What I do remember is a cold fury spreading across my body. There was no way I was going to let a glass ceiling park itself over my head. I would prove to the world that I could carry out tasks better than anybody else.
Yet it planted a seed all the same. Despite my determination not to be shoved to the side-lines a little pocket of doubt started to grow. What if, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t even given an opportunity to demonstrate my abilities? What if I got stuck in a net and I couldn’t do anything about it.
When I look back, I can’t help but wonder how many girls in that room heard the same messages I did and gave up. How many of them thought that the path ahead would be too difficult, too demanding and settled for less because that’s just the way it was?
I didn’t. The positive messages that other people in my life kept feeding me were stronger and these were the messages that I chose to believe. I think that we are all worthy and capable of achieving great things, and even when barriers, setbacks and challenges are thrown in our path we need to remember that these ceilings are made of glass, not steel. Keep hammering away and it will crack and break. Collaborate, connect and work together and it will shatter.
The movement for women’s equality has come an astounding distance when you look back at the turn of the last century. Progress has been slow, but the changes implemented have been monumental. Using a sporting analogy, in terms of women’s equality, I feel we are currently at medal potential. Many of the big, radical overhauls have been made, but to get to the next level – to achieve true equality for everybody – we need to start working on changing the fundamental perceptions of women and men.
And we have a very long road ahead of us.
That’s why International Women’s Day is so important. It’s recognition of the distance we have come and a call to action to propel us further ahead. We all have a responsibility to ensure that everybody’s voice gets heard and to challenge the perceptions we hold about all genders. The beautiful thing about the human race is the endless spectrum of differences that it has to offer. Inclusion and equality isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s a critical performance driver. Difference leads to creativity, innovation and better problem solving abilities.
For me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating success and initiating conversations about how we can start redefining perspectives and break through barriers that still exist. And it’s about bringing everybody together. The theme this year is #balanceforbetter, which I am super excited about. The future is not female, and it is not male. The future is people and we achieve more together. Men and women should be allies - collaborators not competitors, who, by working together, can work change gender expectations in a way that helps everybody.
So this year for International Women’s Day I’ve split the week between London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, using my voice to empower women to recognise their limitless potential and shed limiting stereotypes. Nobody’s dreams should be extinguished because of their gender, or any other factor for that matter. We are capable of redefining what is possible and making powerful strides forwards, breaking through barriers that are in our path. By their very nature barriers are tough, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be beaten with the right support and strategies.