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International Women’s Day: We all need to choose to challenge

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Nthabiseng Makgatho

Mar 9, 2021

This week marks International Women’s Day (IWD) – a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. 

The theme for this year is ‘Choose to Challenge’. I joined a Xero IWD panel last week with some of my colleagues from across the world to reflect on this year’s theme. To me, I think about the role we all need to play in ‘choosing to challenge’ the norm and work towards greater diversity in every aspect of our lives. Part of this is choosing to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.

In South Africa, it’s good to see conversations about gender equality happening more regularly. But much more needs to be done to create true equality and deal with the various social ills that stifle the growth and contribution of women in our society. 

Throughout my life, the support of other women has been really important as I was raised by a village of strong and steadfast women that shaped my outlook on life. We all learn from those around us. With that in mind, I would like to share a few things I’ve learned from others and from my own journey so far, that have helped me to tackle some of the challenges I’ve faced.   

Tackling imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a very real thing and happens to the best of us, no matter how qualified or knowledgeable you may be. I’ve had times in my career where I’ve questioned my place …Do I know enough? Why am I the only woman in the room?

What I’ve learned is that you need to remember that you are there for a reason. Play to your strengths, think about what skills set you apart, and be part of the change in that organisation. Perfection is an illusion, and as they say, the enemy of progress – don’t let it steal your joy or take away from you accomplishments. 

I’m glad to now work in an environment that champions and encourages diversity. It’s important to remember that our differences make for greater success in a workplace – bringing together different ideas, energies and skills to a room is what makes us all win.

Exercising self-love and care

It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves – especially if things aren’t going the way we want or expect them to. And with everything that is going on at the moment with restrictions and lockdowns, those feelings will be heightened for many of us.

It’s important to remember that nothing is perfect and we all make mistakes, all you can do is learn from them. We’re all human and it’s OK to be vulnerable and feel disappointment. Take things one day at a time and be your own cheerleader. Taking time out to reflect is important.  Step back and think about all the positive things you’ve done, give yourself a pat on the back and try again. 

The importance of mentorship

I’ve learnt so much from others – whether it’s through formal mentorship or taking inspiration from those around me. My mother was my first mentor – watching her raise a family, support the local community, all whilst working taught me so much. Since then, I’ve had some great mentors to lean on throughout my career.  Some knew and some didn’t, but they all made an impact on my life. 

It’s also important to pay it forward. Everyone has something they can share. Whether it’s lessons from life experiences, specific work-related guidance or just generally being a sounding board for someone. If you’ve ever benefited from a mentor, why not consider paying it forward to your community this year. 

Keep pushing things forward

When I think about some of my previous experiences in work and other situations, there is still a long way to go for women. International Women’s Day is a good moment to reflect, but we all need to have the courage to keep moving things forward where we can – to choose to challenge ourselves and each other. 

I like the phrase: Leave something better than when you found or experienced it. If we all take a little of that attitude, and continue to strive to make a difference, hopefully things will continue to improve in the future.

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