September 20, 2018
I used to run from women’s networking events as fast as my legs could take me. A lunchtime seminar for women to talk about how to balance work and motherhood? Count me out. I had worked incredibly hard to try and hope no one noticed I was a woman at work at all, let alone bring attention to the fact! In my conversations with women at events today, I get the sense that many have often felt the same way.
I have spent most of my career in male dominated industries, including joining the military when I was just 17, working in the legal profession, mining and resources and now sitting on company boards; I learnt to succeed by fitting into a working environment primarily made up of men as best I could.
I only ever wanted to be recognised for my leadership and expertise, not my gender. Yet increasingly it became impossible not to notice the inequalities so many women face, regardless of how hard they might try to fit in.
If anyone had told me that I would find myself writing a book called Women Kind, with corporate commentator Catherine Fox, on the back of having spent a year loudly and proudly celebrating women I would have told them they had the wrong person. Yet here I am. I realised how wrong I had been after seeing first hand the incredible power that follows from women supporting women. These days I can only describe myself as an “accidental activist” and it’s one of the most rewarding positions I have ever had.
My tipping point was a small thread of abusive tweets directed at a high profile Australian woman in media. I can’t even remember what the tweets said now but I recall thinking enough is enough. Anyone who uses social media knows you can’t help noticing the level of online denigration aimed at women. Those tweets made me determined to find a way to see more celebration and less denigration of women.
Without any clear plan or idea of what a campaign might look like, I made a public commitment last year. I was going to see if I could celebrate two women, from all walks of life and from anywhere in the world, every single day of 2017. The #CelebratingWomen campaign had begun.
I have always believed every woman is a role model to someone else, whether they realise it or not, and I wanted to find a way to make these role models visible by sharing women’s stories and celebrating all they achieve.
Starting with my mum, I asked her four questions which were to form the basis of the campaign. I shared her answers on Twitter, without telling anyone she was my mum, and people were interested. She was celebrated, I felt good and my newsfeed was just that bit more positive.
Any women could be involved and all women who nominated themselves were included. I celebrated women at home with their children, teachers, scientists, a professional BBQ cook, farmers, military officers and Olympians.
I ended the campaign on the final day of the year by celebrating my eldest daughter. By the end of last year I had celebrated 757 women from 37 countries around the world.
While #CelebratingWomen may have begun as a way to drown out the noise of denigration of women online, it very quickly morphed into a movement of women supporting women around the world. It challenged the view that only high-achieving or well-known women should be celebrated. Every single woman’s story I shared was inspiring. Every one of the 757 women were extraordinary and role models to others.
The campaign also showed me the power of and the incredible value in those women’s networks I used to avoid. Whether it is women getting together at a local mother’s group, a formal network based around an industry, workplace or community group or whether it is just catching up with your girlfriends for lunch – there are many practical outcomes at home, at work and in the community from from women galvanising together.
That’s because, as #CelebratingWomen showed, networks give women the chance to highlight and show the value of what they contribute by amplifying each other. The Amplification Effect is something we can all take part in, without needed to start to social media campaign, but through liking, sharing, commenting on other women’s posts on social media. Through recommending women for jobs, scholarships, awards, promotions and opportunities. By passing on hard won advice.
I firmly believe we need to forget the old saying that if we achieve our own goals, we should lower the ladder down to help the next person coming behind us. We need to forget about the idea of a ladder – it is only ever designed for one person at a time and in fact we hold on for dear life so we don’t fall off. What #CelebratingWomen has taught me is that we need to throw down a fishing net so we can bring up many, many people together.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson and Catherine Fox’s book, Women Kind is out now.