International Women's Day 2021 and why we choose to challenge

International Women’s Day 2021 and why we choose to challenge

by | Feb 25, 2021

The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February 1909 and is also strongly linked to the women’s movements during the Russian Revolution in 1917. Now an international movement, IWD sees a number of MISSIONS to help forge a gender equal world. Celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key. That’s why, this year, IWD celebrate the day under the headline of: Choose to Challenge. The movement explains:

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.
So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world?
Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

Over the last couple of years we’ve written together with local business women from around Worcestershire to share the positive sentimentof International Women’s Day. This year, we hear from Liz Warner, DI in West Mercia Police and Chair of the women’s network called ‘WOW’ – Women of West Mercia, Sharon Smith, CEO of the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce and Charlotte Perry, Partner at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright and President of the Worcestershire Law Society.

Liz Warner, Detective Inspector in West Mercia Police and Chair of the women’s network called ‘WOW’ – Women of West Mercia writes passionately on the subject for us. She says:

challenge what doesn’t feel right.”

West Mercia Police’s women’s network, WoW (Women of West Mercia), are using the theme of International Women’s Day to encourage colleagues to challenge three aspects – the organisation, themselves and wider society.

WoW challenges the organisation by being involved in strategic decision making processes, ensuring the voices of the many women within the organisation are heard and represented, whether this be a discussion on recruitment, maternity leave, promotion, or specialisms such as firearms.  We act as a conduit between the experiences and opinions of our colleagues and the heads of departments. The idea of the network is not to take the responsibility on of large projects or work ideas but to encourage the organisation to take on these concepts and ingrain them in to every day thinking and processes with the support of the network.

By increasing female representation in all ranks and posts, and supporting female colleagues throughout their career, West Mercia can ultimately better support the public they serve by being a fairer representation of the community, understand the issues disproportionately facing women such as sexual assault and domestic abuse, and get involved in challenging perceptions of the public on their role, as can be seen in West Mercia’s 2019 education and social media project “Uncover Your Potential.” Liz confirms:

Challenging ourselves is a huge test for so many of us.  We doubt ourselves, listen to the devil on our shoulders telling us we’re not good enough, that we should be focusing on our family and other responsibilities, or experiencing that all too often heard about imposter syndrome!  I went to an all-girls grammar school in London.  There were no obvious barriers – we were encouraged to leave school and become career women.  I had a strong group of friends and we had all the opportunities I could wish for – at home and at school.  As an adult I joined the police and had three children.  Somehow, during this time, my focus shifted and confidence at work dwindled.

From birth, women are often brought up to care for others, follow the rules, be delicate, don’t feel angry, be compliant, move out the way, but, by joining West Mercia’s women’s network and finding other outside influences, I was hearing that it was OK not to want to do that but to rock the boat, challenge what doesn’t feel right.  So I set myself some challenges to improve my confidence –

  • Stop apologising before you want to say something
  • If you have something to say, say it!  What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Take compliments.

I have since been promoted to Detective Inspector, become the chair of the network and had some amazing experiences such as speaking on BBC Radio 4s Woman’s Hour.  But some of the most amazing experiences have been knowing that we have challenged ourselves and the organisation thus making a difference to a colleagues life, happiness and career. 

We have choices in life – to shut up and ignore or to stand up and be heard.  And if you’re not quite there with the confidence and the attitude then do what I live by – “Fake it ‘til you make it!”  Eventually you’ll persuade others, and more importantly yourself, that you can do it! 

Sharon Smith, CEO of the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, heads up the 8th largest Chamber in the UK, having joined as Director of Finance and Corporate Services in 2007, which supports over 4000 businesses a year across the two counties.

 “I’m pleased and proud to be asked to write a short piece for International Womens Day and #ChooseToChallenge. Diversity in any group brings many rewards. A combination of different styles, ideas and approaches can reap greater rewards and results. Using this collective energy can also drive change and this in turn can be a major contributor to new ideas, increased innovation and improved motivation for all those involved.”

The Chamber of Commerce itself is a great example of the vast strides women have made to change as a business society over the years. In 1832, only business men would have started the local Chamber, working together for the benefit of their businesses collectively. But now, they are a vibrant organisation, with many of their leadership team being female and their staff made up of many age and ethnic groups. Sharon continues:

We will continue to support all types of equality and encourage businesses and individuals to #ChooseToChallenge.”

Charlotte Perry is a Partner at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright and President of the Worcestershire Law Society. Charlotte says it’s important to:

Uplift one another. Other’s success is not your failure. We all have our own journeys – focus and believe in you!

Charlotte continues:

“There has been a big change towards the acceptance and equality of women in the work place; in particular we have come a long way in the legal sector.

It was not until the Sex Disqualification (Removal Act) 1919 (the Act) that meant not only men could become lawyers, barristers and magistrates.  In December 1922 Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales. At the age of 34, Carrie set a high standard of determination and dedication to her profession for the women who came after her.

Following the Act, Parliament have continued to enact legislation with the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 that made it unlawful for women or men to be treated less favourably because of their sex, the Employment Protection Act 1975 permitted maternity leave and prevention from discrimination for being pregnant, the Equality Act setting parameters in which women and men can seek judicial support if they are not being treated or paid sufficiently.  Finally, the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 (gender pay gap information regulations 2017) workforces that employ 250+ staff are to report salary figures of male and female employees.

It has been over 100 years since the Act and still only 25% of top tier law firms are made up of women.  However, recent statistics reported by the Law Society show that 63% of newly qualified lawyers are women.

With 15 out of 24 Partners at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright being women, we are able to talk openly with young people, about how women can not only enter the profession now, but can reach partnership level. I use my platform as President of Worcestershire Law Society to interact with members, school, college and university students to share my personal journey and to offer advice and support to those embarking on their journey into law.

Qualifying as a solicitor in my 30’s, after studying and training for 10 years, I know what it is to know what you want, have hurdles in front of you that need to be overcome but my advice is always to persevere, it may take some of us a little longer to know what we want in life but it is never too late to make that change!

Throughout my career (pre and post qualifying as a solicitor) I am grateful to have had and continue to have the support of strong, independent, determined and dedicated women in my life. They have taught me (and continue to teach me) to be strong, to know my own mind, not to focus on set backs, focus on now and the future,  always support, encourage and be kind to those around me (whether on your side or not) and to never stop believing in myself.

Personally, I am surrounded by the most amazing women in all manner of professions and at different stages of their journeys; motherhood, students,  care workers, dentistry, PR, physical trainers, big and small business owners, solicitors, barristers, employment, charity workers, marketing and those enjoying a well deserved retirement!

There is no limit to what we can all achieve when we believe in ourselves and be supportive and kind to those around us along the way!”

As seen in the Business Roundup and online at the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, The Pershore Times & BusinessWorks Magazine and featured in The Bromsgrove Standard, The Worcester Observer and The Evesham Observer.

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