By Mariane Fallon, Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG in the UK
When Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) first tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day in 1910 at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, she did so in front of a conference of 100 women from 17 countries.
Today, over a century later, International Women’s Day is celebrated by millions of women around the world who are given the opportunity to celebrate success, inspire young women and importantly, to push for changes to make ours a world where all women are allowed the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Not so very long ago it would have been highly unusual, even exceptional, to have seen a woman commanding a high position in the world of business or politics. I’m not sure that when I started my journey in finance that I ever believed that I would one day have a family, and a place on the Board of a global business like KPMG.
Last month, I was reminded in a speech given by Baroness Scotland, the UK’s first black female QC and Attorney General at a KPMG event, of the expectations that people had for women starting out in their careers in the UK just a few decades ago. She told the audience about her experiences as a black female forging her legal career in the 1970s, when very few people believed she could go on to achieve what she has. The Baroness commented : “there will always be obstacles for professionals to overcome; people have to work hard to get over them, but you need to find your own personal gifts and work with them in order to achieve your full potential“.
Of course we still live in a world in which much of the decision-making power lies with men. But this does not mean that women cannot strive to reach the top of their chosen professions. We have taken enormous strides in so many prominent areas, from politics to business and community affairs, and we are making an impact, getting our voices heard and making our influence felt.
Whilst it isn’t quite a level playing field yet; it is moving in the right direction, certainly in countries like the United States and the UK. But events in Pakistan at the end of last year serve as a reminder that there is still much to be done around the world to allow women the same rights and respect as their male counterparts.
For these reasons, it is absolutely essential that businesses, governments and communities support International Women’s Day.
And who knows, in hopefully less than a century from now, we will no longer be asking the question of whose world is it, because it will be a place where all those of ability, talent and dedication can thrive, regardless of their gender.