It's International Women's Day and I'm reminded of the presence and personal impact I've been doing with women-only groups, as well as one-to-one female leadership coaching, so I thought I'd post my thoughts.
Whenever I introduce myself to a group on such courses I start off by saying three things:
1. I was the only male in my family growing up, so I have a lot of female influences.
2. I was brought up believing that we are all equal.
3. If you take away gender, skin tone, faith, body mass etc, we are all the same underneath.
And it is this last point which forms the backbone of what I then cover in the session.
Yes, there are typically more men in senior positions in organisations, and yes there are prejudices against women making it to the top; but it does not mean we should accept or believe that this will always be the way. There has been significant progress over the past decade in addressing the gender imbalance in board-level roles, but there is work yet to be done. I believe that some of that work can come from within.
There are differences to the male and female body, but beneath our skin the skeletal structure is essentially the same, the organs for life are the same, the components which comprise the vocal instrument are the same, the brain capacity and what we are able to achieve with our brain is the same.
We can choose to differentiate according to male and female traits if we wish, but the essential elements which make us human are the same. How we work with those elements makes the difference to how we react to and approach situations and people we encounter, and what we're able to achieve. We no longer live in a world where it is universally expected that male physical strength needs to dominate, or where female warmth and sensitivity is required to make a home. While there are times when the male and female differences can be brought to bear, and to great effect, they are no longer the norm; the lines are, thankfully, blurred. The majority of jobs these days are no longer male or female specific, they are ability and attitude specific; and given that we all have the essential elements as humans available to us, there is no need to differentiate on gender; or race or faith for that matter.
Being 'at the table' and having a 'voice of influence' are skills which can be acquired regardless of gender. Believing in yourself and your abilities are mindsets which can be adopted regardless of gender. Having strength of conviction or interacting with charm and wit are traits we can all access regardless of gender. These are the areas I work on during the women leadership sessions I deliver, because I believe in them and want everyone to step into being able to achieve what they are capable of, regardless of gender. We are, ourselves, often the one thing that gets in the way of us being able to achieve. Being able to achieve isn't about gender, it's about knowing how to use your greatest assets, your mind and physical presence, more effectively. If we can overcome self-limitation, communicate more persuasively and enhance our personal presence, we make it far harder for the prejudices and preconceptions of others to hold us back.
I celebrate International Women's Day and look forward to a time when true equality is achieved and there is no longer the need to celebrate a gender-specific day.