Wednesday 8th March. Today is International Women’s day. It’s a day to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the achievements of women and all they do and contribute. A day to be thankful for our mums, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, female coworkers and friends and all that they do for us and others. Why spend a day celebrating and admiring women on this scale? Because as women, living in a ‘mans world’, we’ve come pretty far, and this should be seen and heard.
When I sat back and thought to myself, ‘what am I going to write about this International Women’s Day?’, and reminisced over the last year, I couldn’t help but think about the shambles that was 2016 in terms of political movement (and Leicester winning the Premier League), and the impact that these events would have on women. I know there will be heaps of articles on on gender imbalance within society and the uncertainty for women in the future, or even just the fundamental impact now placed upon women as a result of the peoples inability to vote with sound knowledge and understanding- but to be honest, I didn’t want to write about that! This years theme for IWD is #BeBoldForChange and with constant media attention paying specific interest onto how historical events like Brexit and the Trump election have got us fearing for the future for women, I wanted to shed some light in another direction and celebrate an area where women are not only climbing up the ranks, but making historical footprints in the sand. Women around the world are being bold, setting a great example and are certainly inspiring others.
I want to talk about some of the milestones women have achieved that gives us that hope that they are able to achieve the top spots in a career or with their passions and also show that some of the largest organisations worldwide are leading the way in diversification. Last year, GlaxoSmithKline; one of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations in the world; a British-born company with worldwide presence, announced the retirement of CEO Sir Andrew Witty from his post after over 30 years with the organisation and 9 years at the top spot. Months later, GSK declared Emma Walmsley as his successor and the next CEO. Previously CEO of Consumer Healthcare at GSK, Emma was selected out of a few internal candidates to land the position and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from L’oreal and also GSK internal. A woman to run the show. What’s interesting about this appointment, is that investors seemed fairly negative about this move, and GSK’s share price actually dropped following the announcement. It leads me to think about what perceptions people may have of women in powerful positions.
Emma joins a list of a 29 female CEO’s of the S&P 500 list and one of 24 female chiefs in the Fortune 100, making her one of the most powerful woman in the FTSE 100 given the magnitude of the company. She joins a cultured group with the likes of Mary Barra (CEO General Motors), Indra Nooyi (CEO Pepsico), Meg Whitman (CEO Hewlett-Packard Enterprise) and Marissa Mayer (CEO Yahoo Inc) who run some of the worlds most influential businesses. The percentage of Fortune 500 companies led by women is currently at 5% given that women make up almost 45% of the workforce of this group of companies, demonstrating that actually very few women are making it to the top- nonetheless, the shift is there and we are seeing changes, with more women rising. We can argue about these discrepancies for days but I want to acknowledge this particular positive change, not only for this company but for the industry and for organisations worldwide.
And here’s why. Gender diversity is imperative to business. Women are important for the growth and evolution of business and economic growth. If women are to be over almost half of the talent resource then surely they should have equal opportunity as men to be part of the decision-making? Seems fair and obvious, but it is still questioned and researched. Ironically, research shows that organisations with women in their top positions are actually more profitable. Women make an important difference to the quality of the decisions made and often tend to have a more nurturing impact and vision on the development of a company, taking more thoughtful decisions with less risk. What’s interesting to me is that women aren’t just being promoted and hired just to allow balance in gender; women are genuinely being bold, are challenging the norms, are stepping forward with ground-breaking ideas, and actually really making a difference. Something that women have been fighting for for decades.
There are many arguments for this case, but the simplest of them all is that, if women make up almost 51% of the population, would you rather pick your top executives from the smaller pool or the larger? Women add value in business and that shouldn’t be questioned. Women that are often seen as the caregivers and the housewives, are taking business by storm- I just look to one of my favourite women; Victoria Beckham. 4 kids, a famous husband and a fashion empire, she is truly winning at HER life. It’s inspiring to see women chase their goals and dreams, still follow their passions, and also have a family, if thats what they want.
You might be wondering why this is relevant to me? I work for GSK and I have to say I’m proud to work for an organisation that accepts and allows equal running for the top spots in an organisation; not only that, but supports and nurtures the progression of all employees at all levels. I remember my first day at GSK back in 2015, someone asked me what my role was, and after responding, he said, ‘anything is possible- you could be CEO of this place one day’. When GSK appointed a female to run the business, I pretty much believed that was a possibility. I think she’ll be an outstanding leader and an inspiration to us all. I look around and I feel proud that women are able to have the opportunities to excel in careers that they want.
For all that women have fought for our freedom, are acceptance and our equality, I would like to think we are making huge strides in allowing women to stand for who they personally want to stand for, and gain the respect they deserve. The biggest challenges come from trying to fit into centralised norms, ways of thinking and perceived ways of living. They come from trying to follow suit and whats expected. But the real goal is to challenge the norms, believe in yourself and your abilities, stand strong and be your own person. Anything is then truly possible.
So ladies of the world, be bright, be brave, and be BOLD. Happy International Women’s Day.