Marked annually on March 8, this day encourages us to reflect on gender parity, equality, progress and opportunity. In over a century since the first International Women’s Day, things have changed considerably for women, with rights and opportunities in many parts of the world having improved.
There is still work to be done, and under this year’s theme of ‘Choose To Challenge’, International Women’s Day places continued emphasis on the need to call out gender bias and inequality and help create a more inclusive world.
Here we put the spotlight on women across our region who have worked hard, risen high and through their own achievements are helping to both further this cause and provide inspiration to others.
Headteacher Krissi Carter
Krissi Carter is now in her fifth year as principal of Burton Borough School in Newport. Upon taking the post at the high school, she became one of the youngest secondary school headteachers in the country. Her success has come as a result of hard work and self belief.
“It’s really flown by,” she said, “I absolutely love this role. I always wanted to be a headteacher and managed to get to headship level much sooner than I thought I would.
“I got here by working really, really hard and just having that belief that I can do it. I’ve had some really good role models in my life who have given me the confidence that even though I’m female, you can do things as long as you believe in yourself, stick up for yourself, stand up for yourself and just make sure that you work incredibly hard and show that you are capable.”
For Krissi, the spirit of International Women’s Day is all the more pertinent this year after the last 12 months.
“Over the last year or so we’ve been thrown into this really bizarre and strange situation with Covid, and I think if you look internationally, woman leaders have dealt with the pandemic very well.
“New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for example. In my opinion she’s been absolutely brilliant in her handling of the pandemic. – she acted quick and she acted fast.
“Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of Taiwan, has also handled it very well. If you think about how close these countries are to China, it could have been a disaster for them.
"And then Hong Kong. I know there’s lots of trouble in Hong Kong at the moment but actually their handling of the pandemic itself – again with a female leader, Carrie Lam – that’s one thing they have got right over there and again it was acting quick, acting fast, making really decisive decisions.”
“There’s a lot we can learn from these international women in the UK.”
Severn Trent's Steph Cawley
Head of water networks at Severn Trent, Steph Cawley, also recognises the importance of the spotlight that International Women’s Day.
Having progressed through a strong career into a leadership role, she understands the value of diversity to any work environment and to the world as a whole. For her, today is about focussing on the positivity of people’s differences – not just differences of gender. – and the important part of work and life that these should always play.
“What International Women’s Day is to me is an opportunity to talk about embracing individuals and welcoming differences,” she said.
“It is about focussing on all of the wonderful things that women do but also recognising that there are a lot of other underrepresented groups who have have got great skills, different experiences, and different opinions that we can really benefit from.
“Whilst it’s only one day, and it’s got the word ‘women’s’ in it, I think it’s about all of those groups of people and really talking about trying to understand our differences a little bit more and the importance that they play. And I think that’s very important after the year we’ve had.”
While International Women’s Day is officially a 24-hour celebration, many organisations embrace its values daily. as part of their core culture and vision for growth.
WHG's Alison Fisher and Emma Humphries
At The Wrekin Housing Group, more than half of the seats around the board table are currently occupied by women.
Alison Fisher, one of the top 20 women in housing leaders for 2020, sits in one of them and alongside colleagues sets the tone for the organisation, by providing leadership and direction and laying a path so that other women can flourish.
“I have a real interest in the role of women in housing and actively champion women in all roles across Wrekin,” she said.
Head of operational services Emma Humphries, who has recently joined the organisation’s leadership team, is also passionate about opportunities for women. and the importance of everybody, regardless of gender, being allowed to fulfil their full potential.
“I feel fortunate to work for an organisation where opportunities to develop and progress are available and there are no limits to what we, as women, can accomplish,” she said. “The success and achievements I’ve shared, both personally and in the workplace, have and continue to be the outcome of a joint venture where I have challenged my own thoughts and actions, combined with both female and male colleagues, who’ve inspired, empowered and challenged me, to be the best I can be.”
Challenge is a word at the centre of International Women’s Day 2021 and the message it seeks to communicate is clear: “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.
"It is also a word at the heart of the advice that inspirational women from our region would impart. and a cornerstone of the message they would have us all take from today.
“Be yourself. But also, challenge,” said Steph. “Because something has always been done a certain way it doesn’t mean that you can’t change it.”
“Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” or you’re not allowed to do something,” added Krissi. “Break down barriers.”