What began in 1908 as a march of 15,000 women through the streets of New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights has transformed into International Women's Day—a global celebration recognizing the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
This year, 570 men and women gathered for West Michigan's fifth annual International Women's Day organized by Inforum, Amway, Meijer and Wolverine Worldwide, to celebrate the community as a great place for women to work and be supported in their careers by local companies.
Lenora Billings-Harris, an international consultant on diversity and business issues, noted in her keynote address that we're on track to achieve gender equity.
We can pick up the pace, though, by engaging everyone—men and women alike—in the conversation and developing the skills essential for success.
We've made a lot of progress since 1908, but we still have a lot of firsts to accomplish.
In the Fortune 500 ranks, for instance, there are more men named John than there are women.
"Success does not come to you when you're underrepresented at the leadership levels," said Arin Reeves, president of Nextions, a research and advisory firm on leadership and inclusion. "If you're not designing what success looks like, you'll default into someone else's plan for you. And what does someone else have planned for you? Not much. Women do not default into leadership."
Women do not have to change, however, to become leaders.
In fact, Mike Cazer, Chief Operating Officer of Amway, noted that "the world needs women leaders."
Whereas men tend toward transactional leadership, women tend toward transformational leadership. Men prefer competitive interaction based on winning and losing. Women prefer collaboration.
Women do not have to lead like a man to bring success to a company, business or organization.
Women need to be empowered. They need to be strategic. They need to develop skills, use resources and build relationships. They need to take action.
Yesterday, we celebrated the international achievements of women. Hopefully—no matter where we were or what we were doing—we all walked away from the day with a bit of inspiration. A bit of empowerment. A bit of conviction. Because globally, there are women still fighting for the rights that women in the United States won decades ago. And the United States still has a lot of firsts to accomplish, too.
So, remember: "Every step you take isn't just about you," Reeves said.
"When you're taking that step, there are people taking that step with you."
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.