THE BLOG

Why International Women's Day Must Become a Year-Round Campaign

20/03/2013 15:06 GMT | Updated 19/05/2013 10:12 BST

International Women's Day, held on March 8th, is an important annual marker that allows us both to celebrate some of the world's most inspirational women, and also the leadership women provide in economic, social and political spheres across the globe.

But what the day also highlights is the barriers that women continue to face in achieving success and recognition, particularly in the workplace. These are challenges that will need a concerted, year-round effort to overcome - International Women's Day has an important role to play in raising public awareness, but it must be a spur to greater action, not an end-point after which we stop campaigning for women's rights in the workplace and beyond.

One of the main issues we face even in a developed economy and society like the UK is the expectations that are implicitly set for girls. In my all-girls high school, there was no point at which any career was discussed - let alone a successful, prosperous one. When I left sixth form after three weeks, satisfied with a part-time retail job, I had no direction and no passion to seek a challenging career, something I now partly ascribe to the lack of expectations that had been set for me during my education.

Even taking my first proper step on the career ladder, with an apprenticeship at Telefónica, didn't immediately get me to value my own abilities and set myself the right challenges. It took at least six months to realise that there was nothing to stop me achieving as much as my male colleagues, and that no-one was going to put the opportunities on a plate - it was up to me to go and seize them.

The struggle I had to get started with my career has inspired me to try and help other young women who are being held back from the success they could have. I began to realise that my experiences were not uncommon at last year's One Young World summit in Pittsburgh, where I attended a breakout session debating the value of mandatory quotas for women on company boards.

2013-03-19-WomenUp.jpg

Natalia Vodianova speaks at the Women Up special session at One Young World Summit 2012 in Pittsburgh

One Young World brings together some extraordinary people from across the world, the founders and driving forces of influential social enterprises and community projects. At the session I attended, there was much discussion about the lack of opportunities for women in the workplace, the unattractiveness of the corporate environment for girls, and the insidious perception that women will ultimately prioritise family over the development of their career.

Hearing these difficulties voiced by the inspirational, successful young women at One Young World convinced me that the barriers we face are real and must be challenged. That is why, with Telefónica's support, I have established an outreach scheme called 'Inspiring You', aiming to support girls aged 14-15 with their career ambitions.

The programme will run workshops in employment skills including CV writing, interview technique, and how to find the right job. Sessions will also feature a tour of the Telefónica Leeds offices - demystifying the corporate environment and hopefully allaying the fears many girls have about entering the workplace - and talks from inspirational female role models.

With 'Inspiring You', I am aiming to support aspirational young women in their mid-teens, at precisely the age when many girls allow themselves to be convinced that they are somehow less capable than their male peers of having a successful career. Eventually, I hope the scheme will be able to support unemployed young women across a wider age range find a career that works for them.

These are the girls who need to be convinced of their ability, and shown the opportunities that are there for the taking. To reach them all, we need to turn International Women's Day into a year-round campaign that champions women's leadership, and shows girls that they can achieve any career if they want it enough.

Lucy Paine is an advanced apprentice at Telefónica, and an ambassador for One Young World, the charity which hosts a global forum for youth leaders