iwd_squareInternational Women’s Day (8 March) is a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In 27 countries International Women’s Day is a national holiday. In Russia, Vietnam and Uganda everyone participates; in China, Madagascar and Nepal it’s just for women. Everywhere else, including most of Europe and the Americas it’s mostly an e-mail. But not entirely – in the UK there are 315 events being planned at local levels.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 19.44.07Emerging from the socialist movement at the beginning of the 20th century, International Women’s Day has shifted from campaign rallies for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and so end gender inequality to one of recognition and celebration of all that has been achieved. This day celebrates women at their best – supporting one another and seeking collaboration. What we must guard against is letting the day slip into self-congratulatory festivities or, like most large-scale change, it will go off the boil long before the real goals have been met. Women in the workplace are still not sufficiently represented in high office and positions of leadership. Even when they are, the unfair pay differentials relative to equally qualified men stick with women like a bad smell. Ending gender discrimination must always be on the agenda of cool leaders and that means being vigilant to the real value that women bring to leadership roles – qualities that are increasingly in demand by an ever complex working environment. I’m not a feminist in the exclusivist sense of that term. I like working with men just as much as I like working with women. I also believe in justice and the dignity of the individual – that’s what the colour purple represents and why the early suffragettes chose it. So this International Women’s Day let’s all ‘go purple’ and insist on a genuinely fair deal for women at work and women across the globe. Education and opportunity are vital and both are in the gift of the cool leader.

One such cool leader is Ann Pickering, HR Director and member of the O2 board, who recognises the need to support women’s careers at every level in the organisation in order to create a pipeline of female talent – otherwise we’ll be forever scrabbling around to find suitable women who hScreen Shot 2015-03-07 at 19.52.19ave somehow made it through. Pickering has conducted research within O2 to reinvent their Women in Leadership programme and now, in collaboration with the CIPD, has provided an invaluable guide to designing and delivering a sustainable programme that meets real needs and gets broad-based line management and board buy-in.  Eight high-flying women, from a wide sweep of blue-chip organisations, add their perspectives and ground it in hard-earned experience. http://cdn.news.o2.co.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Breaking-the-Boardroom.pdf                     

Read this and then consider setting up a similar programme in your organisation.