International Women’s Day: 5 Things You Can Do to Keep the Momentum Alive

On March 8, International Women’s Day sparked events around the world, celebrations of women’s achievements, and inspiring posts on social media.

At the historic Carolina Theatre in Durham, I joined other women leaders on a panel about empowering women as part of “Durham Women Take No Bull,” a half-day conference hosted by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

The collective energy of women across ages and backgrounds in Fletcher Hall on March 8 was electric.

Fletcher Hall inside the historic Carolina Theatre
Fletcher Hall inside the historic Carolina Theatre. Photo credit: Huth Photography & Durham Chamber of Commerce.

We connected over music, dancing, panel discussions and a keynote by Travel Noire founder Zim Ugochukwu (a Forbes 30 Under 30 awardee and Oprah SuperSoul Top 100 Entrepreneur). I left feeling even more charged up, with a sense of responsibility to keep the momentum going, and I want to share some of my takeaways and resources with you.

We need more than a day of focus to accelerate change.

At our current pace, the World Economic Forum projects in the latest Global Gender Gap Report that it could take up to 200 more years — the year 2200 or longer — for societies around the world to close the gender gap and achieve equal representation of women at the decision-making tables in politics, business, education, health and other life and leadership arenas. If more people get engaged in working for change, I believe we can achieve equality faster. But we can’t wait until next International Women’s Day to continue conversations and take action.

There are systemic barriers to gender equality, and those need our attention. But perhaps even more important, there are internal barriers we, as women, can address within ourselves now.

On stage with my fellow panelists and moderator. Behind me, from left: partial view of Jes Averhart, Dr. Nicole Swiner, Empower Dance owner Nicole Oxendine, Bee Downtown founder Leigh-Kathryn Bonner. Photo credit: Huth Photography and Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Here are 5 things you can do before International Women’s Day in 2019.

These suggestions are especially for any woman who ever:

  • doubts herself and her abilities
  • holds herself back from going after bigger challenges and opportunities because she’s afraid she isn’t ready
  • has questions and ideas but is too shy or afraid to show up and speak up
  • has advice and wisdom to share, but isn’t actively mentoring any other women
  • knows she can do more with her life or career, but isn’t sure how to create or pursue new opportunities.

If you connect with any of these realities, here are my top five suggestions.

  1. Deepen your understanding of issues that might be holding you or other women back.

    It’s hard to fix a problem that you don’t fully understand. So learn about the underlying root causes and possible solutions to strengthen your confidence, tackle self doubt, and drive change within yourself and others. A helpful place to start is to read the books Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. I read them and keep copies of both books on my desk at work. These books offer a solid foundation for the next steps.

  2. Do an honest assessment of yourself and your organization.

    Reflect on your experiences and the current state of your organization. How can you do better, personally? How do your organization’s policies and practices (for issues like maternity and paternity leave, flexible hours, mentorship, pay equity, promotion opportunities, etc.) stack up to companies that are recognized as best workplaces for women? Chances are there’s a lot you and your organization are doing that’s positive already, but doing some things right doesn’t mean we should ignore areas that need improvement. Get together with others to discuss take-aways and brainstorm changes to recommend to senior leaders. If you don’t insist on gender equity becoming a top priority at your company, who will?

  3. Confront bias within yourself and others.

    Often when we hear terms like unconscious bias, we think it’s something other people need to work on. But if you’re breathing right now, you more than likely have unconscious biases lurking behind many of your decisions and judgments. The question is, are you aware of your biases and can you override them so they don’t influence your thoughts and actions? Here are some helpful videos on how Facebook is addressing unconscious bias to promote a more inclusive workplace. And here are tools Google has made available (for free) to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias at work.

  4. Dream bigger.

    When we’re growing up, people ask all the time “what do you want to be when you grow up?” That question prompts us to dream of new possibilities and create big, bold goals and declarations. And then we become adults and sometimes the dreaming stops. We settle. What do you want to do with your life and career? Is it what you’re doing now? If not, why not? Do you have a dream inside? If not, when did you stop dreaming? It’s time to start again (and never stop). Need some inspiration? Check out this incredible documentary film Dream, Girl about ambitious female entrepreneurs — and find or host a screening and discussion forum about the film for women in your community.

  5. Be brave, take more risks, and encourage other women to do the same.

    As you’ll read in The Confidence Code (see #1 above), the way to develop more confidence is by taking action, even if you don’t think you’re ready. It’s normal to feel nervous when you’re stepping outside your comfort zone, but don’t let that stop you from showing up and speaking up. When you confront fears, they lose their power to hold you back. One of the panelists during “Durham Women Take No Bull” said the scariest decision she made was leaving her job and starting her own media company. She was afraid, but she did it anyway. And she said it turned out to be the best decision of her life. For inspiration, watch this 12-minute TED talk by Reshma Saujani, who went from behind-the-scenes political organizer, to running for office at age 33, and then starting a company teaching girls to code. Or check out the 600+ other empowering TED talks by and for women. What action are you afraid of taking? Go tell someone, and commit to doing it. And then: do it as soon as possible and stay open to learning as you go.

    Bonus: Get connected and join the movement.

    There are millions of people who are passionate about empowering women and breaking down the barriers to gender equality. The International Women’s Day campaign theme for 2018 is #PressforProgress, and their website offers resources and inspiration, including videos, articles, information about grants you can apply for to help fund your own International Women’s Day event next year, selfie cards, and more. Explore and share these resources with your friends and colleagues. Find a conference to attend (here are a few to consider). If you need help finding people to connect with, you can get plugged into an instant community by signing up for one of the 35,000 Lean In Circles that have formed in cities around the world.


Which of these tips could you commit to doing this year?

What other tips, advice or encouraging words would you share with other women, or men? I’d love to hear them in the comments below — we can all help each other.

PS — If you’re interested this topic and other topics related to leadership, learning and productivity, feel free to subscribe here to receive an email when I make new posts (typically once every two weeks).

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