International Women’s Day: The barriers to equality start within

- March 7, 2024 4 MIN READ

We will never know what women thought of their lot in life 200 years ago, as the history books didn’t record their achievements, contributions, and footprints in their communities. On the eve of International Women’s Day, Annette Densham shares her thoughts on tall poppies, imposter syndrome and the myth of sisterhood.

If you studied history, the contributions of women were rarely spoken about. Women were hidden for centuries by historians who shared the stories of the “victors”. Their mentions were limited to their stereotypical roles, wives, mothers, daughters, and mistresses, or their infamy, historically unimportant and incapable, contributing little to society outside of domesticity. Yet, for thousands of years, women have pioneered movements, championed social change, and made invaluable contributions to society. However, recent research estimates that women are only 0.5 per cent of recorded history. Women are all too easily excluded, and their contributions are easily forgotten.

As a young journalist in the 1980s and 90s, newsrooms bulged with maleness. Few women were in senior news roles, and if they were, they did fluffy stories, the weather, or the TV guide. How can you be what you can’t see? The men mostly did hard-hitting stories. In the newsrooms I worked in, many of my female colleagues, including me, were low-paid ‘work wives’ picking up dry cleaning, delivering food to senior journalists, or being told to smile more.

Why the history lesson?

It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow (there’s an International Men’s Day in November, just FYI).  Once a year, we don our pearls and pink, to chat over bubbles and tasty treats, talking about what more men and society can do to make the plight of women better, more equitable, more equal. We have serious conversations about how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go.

With the release of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s report on the gender pay gap, we still have a ways to go.

Gender equality isn’t about who is better. It’s about equality. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Women’s and girls’ empowerment is essential to expanding economic growth and promoting social development. It’s hard to fathom why some people do not get this.

I could list a heap of stats that show the social and economic imperatives for moving faster but does it really change anything?

After working with mostly women in business, I have a different take on how we can speed up the process. It doesn’t involve bashing men to do more.  How do we change the conversation from lack to abundance?

IWD’s theme this year, “Count Her In: Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress”, got me thinking about how women can do more. I know, why do we need to do more? Haven’t we sacrificed enough and done enough?

I say no. If we’re to drive meaningful change, there’s a few things women need to do.

Stop playing small. Stop making excuses for our success. Ask for pay raises and contracts. Make noise during elections, run for seats and be vocal about changes to our health needs and financial futures.

Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Imagine if women stopped making excuses about why they can’t or shouldn’t enter awards or share their story with the media or be onstage talking about their journeys or be on podcasts sharing their insights and wisdom. We need more female role models – not celebrities or influencers but everyday people like you and me to step up and show other women that you will not die if you enter an award.

Unless we, as women, start to believe we’re good enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, and deserving enough, the fight will drag on. We cannot sit back and let the big voices do all the heavy lifting. Each of us has a responsibility as women to believe in ourselves. As women, we can be our own worst enemies. Self-doubt, imposter syndrome, backstabbing, gossiping, and not asking for what we want put barriers up in our heads and stop us.

While male allies play a crucial role in this journey, women themselves have a pivotal role to play in achieving this goal. Find out why that internalised inner voice of doubt and self-criticism, often referred to as imposter syndrome, undermines confidence, hinders progress, and perpetuates self-limiting beliefs. How many times have you heard a woman say ‘This old thing…’  ‘I’m just a….’  ‘It was nothing special…’  ‘I haven’t done enough…’

Add to the mix the phenomenon of women tearing down other women, whether consciously or unconsciously, further impeding our collective advancement. Instead of competing, we should be supporting and lifting each other. The notion of sisterhood becomes questioned in light of these challenges. Are women truly supporting each other, or are they inadvertently perpetuating the same oppressive systems by conforming to societal expectations? The struggle to balance societal pressures while maintaining authenticity and self-worth is a daunting task that requires collective action and systemic change. You can’t be what you can’t see. How do we instil these beliefs in the next generation if we can’t uplift one another, recognising that our success is not mutually exclusive? What internal baggage are we burdening our daughters with?

We need to be more adept at advocating for our own needs and ambitions. Not wait for someone to do something. We need to get better at articulating what we want and deserve in the workplace, our health, in relationships, and in society. By speaking up, asking for opportunities, and demanding equal treatment, we can assert our value and contribute to our own empowerment.

Society’s contradictory expectations, coupled with the pressure to conform to unrealistic standards, create a constant struggle for women to navigate their identities and achievements. It’s no secret that the challenges we face are steeped in societal norms, gender bias, and historical expectations. But we have to own imposter syndrome, tall poppy syndrome, and a lack of confidence that prevents us from pursuing opportunities such as job applications, awards, and promotions.

To quote one of the great philosophers, Rocky, change happens when we decide not to let the barriers stop us …

“…it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

We are better than that.

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