International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated on 8 March with the theme “Balance for Better”. Many Australian businesses participated in women’s leadership events and, overall, demonstrated an acknowledgement of how far we still have to go to achieve true gender equality.

While the movement has had more coverage in recent years, the motivation behind establishing IWD can be traced as far back as February 1908 in New York City where thousands of women, who were garment workers, went on strike and marched through the city to protest against poor working conditions. Following this were countless consequential IWD demonstrations including those in Russia and the suffragettes movement in the United Kingdom for the right to vote.

Fast-forward to today and there have been a number of achievements supporting and improving equal rights for women all over the world. But it’s apparent this work is far from being done.

Here are some key events that took place in Australia to highlight IWD 2019, and how women are driving a new, inclusive agenda at work and in their careers.

Ask your leaders

At the first Women in Leadership lunch for 2019, hosted by Michael Page, Stryker senior director of finance Lizzie Cannon shared what steps she took to be considered for the leadership team at the medical technologies firm.

“Before I went on maternity leave, I worked really hard to position myself for when I’d return so I made sure I had relationships with the division leaders. I also sought the answer to this question: What do the leaders in the business want to see from me in order to be on the leadership team and have me at their table?” Cannon said.

“I asked each of the members in the leadership team and at times it was a bit uncomfortable because I was booking in time but I received a number of different answers.

“It was well summed up by the president at the time. He said there were three things he wanted to see from me: if I could lead a large team, if I could lead through other managers and demonstrate my ability to be customer-facing. These were things I hadn’t had the opportunity to do in my role so far.”

RELATED: 5 reasons it pays to have women in the workplace

Cannon advised when thinking about career progression not to limit yourself to what the obvious next step is, or to only focus on a role or a title.

“If you focus on what you actually want to get out of a role, you might find you go down a different path, which will take you to where you want to get,” she said.

Advice for young entrepreneurs from young entrepreneurs

Held on Friday 8 March for IWD, pop-up event THE LOFT in partnership with HER Global Network presented a panel featuring female entrepreneurs. Guest speakers included ex-Vogue Australia deputy editor and founder of The Grace Tales, Georgie Abay, MTV Australia presenter Lisa Hamilton, and Dr Dharmica Mistry, a scientist behind ground-breaking research that could make it possible to detect breast cancer through a blood test.

Micro-investing, exchange and wallet app Amber co-founder Chantelle de la Rey shared her advice for young women looking to break out and turn their side-hustle into a legitimate career.

“Validate your ideas now – if you have an idea in mind, start to share it around and validate it before jumping in and quitting [your job],” de la Rey said.

“Keep everything at arm’s reach and start to build relationships around you that will one day potentially help you get to where you want to be. Also find mentors and surround yourself with the correct people.”

Abay adds what she’s learned in her journey so far: “Don’t be in such a rush. Things take longer than you think. I launched five years ago but it feels like I’m only getting started. We all want to launch a business and for it to be an overnight success but things do take [time to develop].”

Creating pathways for young girls

Michael Page also hosted an internal event in Sydney as part of IWD, with a presentation from The Smith Family’s ACT regional programs manager Olga Srbovski speaking about its successful Girls at the Centre program.

The school-based initiative was launched in the Northern Territory in 2008 and has since expanded its scope to areas such as Wagga Wagga. It aims to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls stay engaged with their education and to reach their potential at school and beyond.

“We’ve got a team of people who work with these girls and it’s their responsibility to support the girls, to set goals with them, to encourage, to inspire and to build resilience,” Srbovski said.

“We can show these girls they can be strong leaders in their community and that they have a voice – that’s what this program is achieving.”

She also revealed girls who entered the program showed improved school attendance, with many going on to complete Year 12 and now either at university or in the workforce.

Wins and what’s next

When it comes to countries paving the way, last year Iceland passed a new law enforcing equal pay between genders, meaning it’s now illegal to pay women less than men. Firms that employ more than 25 people are obligated to obtain a government certificate demonstrating pay equality, or face fines. This move is part of the nation’s plans to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022.

Further notable achievements for women in the United States include the appointment of Stacey Cunningham as New York Stock Exchange president – the first female leader in its 226 year history – and flourishing women-only co-working space collective and club, The Wing, last year securing $75 million to scale its network physically and digitally.

As a business, Michael Page Australia and New Zealand has a gender split of 49 per cent with 4 women sitting on its board. Its Women@Page committee was launched in 2012 and set out global targets around gender diversity and initiatives to create a more supporting working environment for women, as well as ensuring female talent is supported and retained within the business.

“IWD is an important moment to showcase our commitment to women’s equality, celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness and highlight gender parity gains,” Page Personnel Australia director Clare Johnson said.

“The future is exciting. Let’s build a gender-balanced world. Everyone has a part to play, all the time, everywhere – from grassroots activism to worldwide action. We’re entering an exciting time in history where the world expects balance.”

These are just a handful of examples of initiatives contributing to improved gender parity both here and around the world.

RELATED: Western Sydney story: Advocating for women in the region

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