Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and it looks – and feels - very different to last year when I was stood in front of a room full of amazing women, talking about legacy and what we leave behind as leaders, and as human beings.  I am booked to attend a United Nations online event to celebrate  IWD this year, but as good as I am sure it will be, it just won’t be the same as sitting in a room full of women, enjoying good food, good company and capitalising on great partnership opportunities.  Because when women work together, amazing things happen.  Sure we spend time talking about our children, pets, and the daily challenges we face as working mums, or carers to dependent relatives, but once that is done, we get down to business and make things happen. 

I’ll be honest, I used to baulk a little at the thought of all women networking. Being a feminist I simply want what all people want, equality, so all women networks felt slightly uncomfortable at first.  However, my mind was soon changed when I joined a Unique Ladies group for the first time and met so many amazing colleagues and embarked on so many fantastic opportunities.  Maybe it’s because we do share a little more, we do open up about the trials and tribulations of home schooling during a pandemic, or the anxieties some of us may personally face or are witnessing within our teams – emotional intelligence front and centre in many of the conversations taking place.  Real solutions to many of the challenges we all face over a brew and a virtual catch up.

So I began to reflect on this of late as we approached this important date in the calendar.  I thought about the many people I have met, shared my life with and worked with over the last several decades.  Interestingly, each time I think about this, great women come to mind.  From my art teacher at school who said to me “you can’t really do art Justine, but my goodness you are a trier’, to the supervisor who firmly put a peer in his place by saying “don’t take Justine’s kindness as a form of weakness”, to my boss and friend Rosemary Clarke who said “family first Justine, always”, despite her absolute driven focus and passion to put books into the hands of families.  My mum of course, who to this day is the voice in my head telling me “there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it”.  All great women, building each other up, paving the way and cheering each other on from the side-lines. 

As a leader of an organisation whose workforce is primarily female, I am humbled everyday in how the team have “turned up” week after week during the pandemic.  Women who have had to learn how to work from their living rooms or bedroom.  Women who have had to supervise and motivate children to do their lessons and navigate online learning.  Women who have lost precious family members or friends, attended their funerals, and returned to work and their role as keyworkers.  Women I am proud and honoured to work alongside.

So whilst I sit and reflect on what it means to be a leader on IWD, it means remembering those that walked the path before me.  The women I looked up to, learned from, admired, and loved.  Of which there were, and are, too many to mention.  I grew up in a very different world to the one now.  I was told not to whistle, because little girls don’t do that.  I was told to be more ladylike and to wear dresses instead of jeans. I was told I was a chatterbox and wouldn’t amount to much of anything by more than one person!  Well just for the record, I do whistle (usually to round my dogs up), I wear jeans more than dresses to this day, and I am a Chief Executive of an amazing charity that is doing great things in the health and social care sector.  And I got there with the support, guidance, and love of many great women - and possibly by being a bit of a trier!

Happy International Women’s Day 2021, to women and girls everywhere.  Rise up and be the leaders you were born to be.  Your time is now.