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Inspiring Inclusion for International Women's Day

Updated: Mar 8

mosaic glass ceilings
media by Wix

I am surrounded by so many inspiring, hard-working, talented and brilliant women. I read and soak up the inspiring and trailblazing stories of women everyday, which motivate and encourage me. I have been reading these stories and surrounded by women like this my entire life and for that I am extremely fortunate.

Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s as a cis-gendered millennial woman of colour I was also reminded of ‘how far we have come’ in women’s equality. Women can climb the corporate ladder! Women can lead and own a business! Oh look, there’s a Pakistani on The Apprentice! I also remember the importance placed on education and my ‘route to success’: go to university, get a 2:1 (at least), get a job and be successful.

Looking back though, my memory is a little hazy as I find it difficult to locate the lessons about the choices women have to make. Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, is an inspirational woman in business. However, we also need to acknowledge her comments on the ‘sacrifices’ and choices she had to make too; sadly, it seems career and motherhood remain 'mutually exclusive'. 

It was not until my mid 20s that I realised ‘equality for women’ translates into ‘equality for women in a 'man-made world'’. I don’t say this lightly. Whilst the gender pay gap is declining (very) slowly, a report by the Government Equalities Office recognises the structural inequalities and impact of part-time work and unpaid care work on women, which widens the gap for women over the age of 40. Globally, women are also paid less than men, likely to take on more unpaid work and women’s pensions are 25-30% lower than men’s. 

According to the Trade Union Congress, 3 in 5 women have experienced harassment at work. After the tragic murder of Sarah Everard I organised a conference on overcoming toxic masculinity in schools and working towards positive change and safe environments for all students in schools. Yet, every year, for the past nine years, Jess Phillips reads out the names of women killed by men in Parliament. Whilst inclusion is necessary and inspiration is what we need, women are also surrounded by a very exhausting reality too. 

Of course there are so many inspiring, inclusive and brilliant stories to tell too. However, are we applauding and celebrating (sometimes capitalising) on one of a few success stories of women in the workplace, women in education, women with intersectional identities, as if successful women are ‘rare’? This is not to say their stories should not be celebrated; however, we must question why only a few? 

Whether it be on International Women's Day, or during Women's History Month, the stories are sometimes framed and benchmarked against the ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ metaphor, yet we must question the ever-present nature of the ceiling to begin with.  

We must question: what do we classify as worthy of inspiration when women succeed? Why do we still live in a world (or work in a world) where a woman has to ‘break through’ structural and systemic ceilings? Why can we not just remove them? Why is women’s success synonymous (and applauded) with sacrifice? 

Whilst I know things have ‘improved’ I can’t help but think they have only improved because it is me who keeps smashing through ceilings that should not exist in the first place. We know inclusion and equality for women is better for everyone and yet we spend a significant amount of time convincing others of this as opposed to making the necessary changes.

We need to flip inclusion on its head: instead of chipping away, or even 'smashing' ceilings, we need to question and remove the barriers and obstacles in the way. It is from comfortable to challenge and ‘rock the boat’, but it is what’s needed for sustainable inclusion. 

Whether it be changing school uniform, flexible working, pay, curriculum changes, behaviour policies, inspiring female and male role models: everything from school to the workplace, are interlinked and can work towards inspiring change and inclusion for women everywhere.

In order to successfully inspire inclusion, we can make long lasting changes by starting at the school gates and carrying on in the (home) office too. 

(Not the best ending, I know, but it’s been a while since I blogged, so just warming up again!). 



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