Post #IWD Reflection: One day of the year, but what happens tomorrow… and do we need a trip to Italy?

It may not be a popular sentiment, but I am sometimes frustrated by International Women’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, if you know me, you know seek to be a champion of my gender in every walk of life. Recognising the women who are inspirations to others is critical. We know that gender diversity across the workplace, especially in key leadership roles is better in so many ways.

My frustration emerges as I view the multiple #IWD social media images, all with noble intentions. Then compare this with the lived experience of many women I know. Perhaps, it’s a peculiar to education, many women, outstanding at what they do, with immense potential, leap-frogged by men.

It reminds me of the first time I ever tried to buy a coffee at a busy café bar along a motorway in Italy many years ago. No matter how long I waited for my turn, thinking I had been playing by the cultural rules, the noisy people behind me, those who had been raised in the culture, seemed to get served before me. Do I stick to my own cultural conventions, or learn the new rules, or something in between?

I work with mid-level leaders, often women, charged with enacting vision to their team and then advocating to their team back up the line. It’s the classic meat-in-the-sandwich role. In education, promotion to mid-level leadership can be based on curriculum knowledge and experience. But who equips the other skills — people, strategy and spatial — as they navigate the cultural context?

So, ‘what happens tomorrow’? The ‘tomorrow’ in question was literally the day after International Women’s Day. A session with a competent female leader, who felt like the meat-in-the-sandwich was wearing thin. Our conversation that day was a poignant reminder to me that the leadership road for women is not always an easy one.

Speaking of roads, have you ever tried to cross a road in Rome? On our first experience, we would step down and back a few times, feeling like we were taking our life in our hands by embarking on this seemingly everyday endeavour. On that first day, we noticed that at a corner, a group formed, then at some stage a person would take a step, and as a critical mass, we would follow, with the confidence of safety in numbers to successfully reach the other side. By day three, however, we had gained the confidence to be the one to take the first step as the group formed around us. We had learnt new rules, as we do in complex situations, we self.

Here’s my question: How might women in leadership self-organise and gain the confidence to take steps, from following others, to eventually leading? These examples represent steps, small-scale progress, not huge leaps.

And do we need a trip to Italy to test out the theory for ourselves?

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