International Women’s Day

By Gemma McCann,

Written by Carolina Salinas (Head of Student and Graduate Employability, Career Connect, Staffordshire University)

Time to celebrate!

Happy International Women’s Day, celebrating the incredible achievements and contributions of women around the world. From the trailblazers who have broken through glass ceilings to the everyday women who have made a difference in their communities, this day is about recognising and honouring the hard work of all women.

An opportunity for all of us -women and men- to celebrate how far we have come collectively in the equality struggle. We’ve seen a rise in women’s rights and a shift in gender norms that allow women to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

It fills my heart the normality with which my twin nieces are exposed to women in professions traditionally ‘reserved’ for men – the police, bus and taxi drivers, astronauts and in sports, like our Lionesses.

However, there is still much work to be done. Women still face inequality and discrimination in many parts of the world. Women are still underrepresented in decision-making positions and in the workplace. They are still denied basic rights and opportunities that men have.

Role models:

In my experience role models are important, even if they are not enough, we need more policy, a louder voice and to continue to support each other in all spheres. Role models don’t have to be famous, perfect or put on a pedestal. The best role models are regular women, being their authentic selves every day, and standing for what they believe in.

Think of the amazing women you have around you, my grandma, Margarita, is one of my role models. She will be 103 in July, sweet but tenacious and always grounded and calm. She opened the first ever Cinema in her small village in Spain, in the 50s, with a little help from my grandad. They cleared a big garage and converted it into a cinema to entertain the village people with new colours, images and dreams. Against all predictions, the cinema became a success, so she opened a Bar next to it, again, with a little help from my grandad, so people in the cinema could get a snack and a cerveza in the break. Margarita hopefully influenced other women in her village to work, take action and explore their ideas. The best lessons I learnt from her are to treasure family, dream big, work hard and not care about what others think. I am still working on that last one!

Dreaming big even if you are scared:

This brings me into women’s careers and journeys. Like many in the Employability field, I am passionate about supporting others to grow and achieve their potential regardless of background. But most importantly I have a deep conviction that everything is possible with the right support.

I graduated from Law in University Autonoma in Madrid, years ago, I was a commuter student and lived at home, following the Spanish tradition. I wanted to be independent and come to the UK to work and improve my English (still polishing that one!). I was fortunate to get a European grant for a year placement in Reading, and let me tell you, I was scared, I didn’t know Reading, I didn’t know anyone, but I did it anyway.

This international placement, as scary and challenging as it was, it would go to shape the rest of my life. I found friends, my partner, a profession, and a country I love. But most important, it helped me to grow, to learn and to do things even if it felt scary, even if I felt different. It helped me to appreciate the importance of equality and inclusion, through policy and collective commitment, a concept that is less developed in other countries.

Seeking help:

I think this is critical. No matter what your dreams are and what obstacles you are facing, you have the power to change your life and, by doing so, you’ll change the world. But can’t do it alone.

So get a Mentor! Sorry to be boring and predictable here, but it works, formal or informal, someone you trust, who inspires you. Mentoring has been shown to be one of the most effective tools in helping women achieve professional and personal success. Mentoring can provide invaluable advice and help women break through the glass ceiling and reach their goals. I found that mentors can provide emotional support and guidance too, help with setting career goals, building confidence, and overcoming any gender-based discrimination. Mentors can also provide advice on work life balance.

I got an amazing mentor and coach few years ago, Fernanda, she offered me a different perspective and some principles and tools which I am still using today, the essence of which I will share with you. Basically you can chose thoughts that keep you stuck or thoughts that move you forward. You choose.

To close, just to say that most important thing for women is to show up in everything we do, bringing our whole selves to the table. We don’t need to be like men to succeed, we can be ourselves.

That includes your unique female set of gifts, your personality, your sense of humour and most importantly, your heart.

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