Recognizing the talent and contribution of all employees in the workplace, including women, should not be limited to one day a year. Organizations that successfully reward and appreciate the contribution and value that women in particular bring do so by embedding it into their culture. They take proactive measures to provide equal opportunities for growth, learning and promotion in the company. These elements should not be luxuries as they are imperative to our personal well-being and happiness at work. So, while days like International Women's Day are a great way to kick-start the conversations we should be having and to celebrate the impact women can make continually, they shouldn't be taken in isolation.
The biggest inspiration for me each year at International Women's Day is to see so many women and men being brave by telling their own personal stories. By nature of being personal, these stories are diverse, authentic, and there is a lesson in each one. These stories celebrate our differences. At the forefront of my mind tied to International Women's Day is how I can challenge myself to be a more inclusive leader, to embrace differences and provide opportunities for others that play to their strengths.
For gender equality, the most important thing we can do is to make a concerted effort to ensure we're understanding of the stages of people's careers and afford them the flexibility and opportunities that are aligned to that stage. Where women need flexibility, e.g. working from home, we can give them that flexibility. Where they need training and development, we can provide it through training budgets and mentorship. But most importantly, we can provide a work environment that is built on merit. That way, regardless of gender, we're giving people the recognition they deserve.
I've personally benefited from having a flexible working environment through things like maternity leave and flex arrangements. As we encourage these kinds of schemes in the workplace and make them the norm, there will be less need to see them as hindrances or enablers, but rather just opportunities for work-life balance to which everyone in the workplace is entitled.
The types of flexible work arrangements I have used have been different at different times in my career as my needs have changed. When I had my first child I returned to work part time and during a six month period increased my days gradually until I returned to full time work.
I was promoted two months before my second daughter was born. In that case, managing a large team on a part time basis was not practical. Instead, I returned to work with an arrangement where I worked from home part of the week. In addition, I took extra leave, which allowed me to balance the holiday needs of my eldest daughter but also gave me an opportunity to take a break when the sleepless nights had taken their toll.
More resources and support than ever
Thinking about women in the workforce today, I don't think there are any new revolutionary challenges that women are facing. Equal pay, balancing work and life and equal opportunities, these are all still present. However the difference is that today, there are more resources, sponsors and supporters of women in the workplace than ever before and these challenges are no longer insurmountable. At Accenture in Australia alone, approximately 50% of the leadership team is comprised of females. We may not be all the way there yet, but we're making a mark.
The biggest challenge women have to overcome is getting out of their own way. We need to learn to ask for the same opportunities, remuneration and recognition that men receive. We are more concerned than our male counterparts about asking for what we deserve, and this reluctance creates barriers to our own growth.