For one month every year, we focus on inspirational women in history. But what happens when the month is out?
Each year, Women's History Month seems to attract more attention. This year, it has seemed especially energetic, with International Women's Day (March 8th) creating a huge buzz worldwide. Throughout March, media outlets have focused on issues facing women and girls, and have featured stories about inspirational women from the past and present who can serve as role models. Businesses have even started using WHM as a marketing hook for advertising campaigns. (Whether that's entirely a good thing is a discussion for another day.) Surely all this interest and activity must mean the messages about equal rights are hitting home.
There's no question that campaigns for women's rights are gaining more widespread support. But one look at the headlines over the past few months is a reminder that equality is still some way off for women worldwide.
Getting from B to A
One of the greatest things Women's History Month offers is a reminder of how individual women can, and have already, made an impact on society. We spend five weeks focusing on role models from the past and present. The question now is how we keep the momentum going.
What if we used those five weeks in March as the starting point or catalyst - and took the International Women's Day theme, Be Bold for Change, literally?
To me, boldness starts with accountability - something we seem to be lacking as a society. Maybe it's because people tend to associate accountability with blame and see it in a negative light. But it's more empowering than that - especially for women who have, historically, been forced or allowed (depending on how you see it) to shirk responsibility. In doing so, they have also abrogated the right to complain.
Accountability changes that dynamic. By being accountable for your decisions, you signal your strength, your confidence in your own judgement. You become the CEO of your own destiny. It also allows you to be part of something bigger than yourself.
You can see it in entrepreneurs such as Juliet Davenport of Good Energy, or Karen Lynch of Belu Water, or Divine Chocolate's Sophie Tranchell. They've created social enterprises whose financial success is inextricably linked to accountability - to local communities, to sustainability.
You don't have to be in a position of power to be accountable. Nor do you have to be especially courageous or outgoing. You just need to be willing to commit to something. And to take that first step:
- Stay sharp: Accountability is the habit you need to get into to start acting bold - but it may be an unused muscle, and it'll need stretching.
- Start small: Look at your own experiences as a starting point for change. What do you stand for - or want to stand up for? Maybe you're just trying to get your office to recycle. Whatever it is, define it as clearly as you can, set a vision for yourself.
- Hold yourself to account: Keep a journal, if this helps. This may give you the motivation you need to make the next leap, as Ruth Penfold of Shazam explains: "Women are terrible [about] undervaluing their experience... I caught myself doing that, then I held myself to account on it by writing out all of the brilliant attributes that enabled me to land my role, and all the great achievements I have made there that have enabled me to keep it."
- Start talking: Sharing and exchanging ideas can spark fresh solutions - plus, once you've told others what you want to do, they can help you stay on track. Don't underestimate solidarity or the impact networks can have, especially when you're trying to drum up support for something new.
- Feel the burn: Don't let fear of failure thwart you. It's not when things are lovely and joyful, bubbling along, that you make the biggest strides. It's what you learn in the fire. So instead of seeing mistakes as negatives, embrace the prospect of failure and what you'll learn from it.
- Take the mantle: Why should you step up? Well, why not. I worry that younger women don't try because they wonder what difference they can make. Every March, we're reminded of what we've achieved, and where we still need to make headway. That makes it incumbent upon us to step into the fray, to be resilient, to take responsibility. Instead of seeing it as a burden, see it as an opportunity to make a difference, to take Teddy Roosevelt's advice: "Do what you can with what you have, where you are."
Image from Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email email@example.com