On International Women’s Day I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about the importance of this day and this year’s theme #BeBoldForChange.

International Women’s Day is an important annual event to celebrate the achievements of women in all aspects of life.  How the day is recognised and the importance placed on it differs from country to country, as does the experience of women in society, but there is always a unifying theme designated by the United Nations.  This year that theme is #BeBoldForChange and is aimed at “forging a better working world – a more gender inclusive world”.

This is a powerful topic and encourages everyone across the globe to challenge bias and inequality; campaign against violence; forge women’s advancement; celebrate their achievements and champion education for all women.

In my role as Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces my team and I challenge bias and inequality when these issues arise within the Service complaints system. It is clear that the Armed Forces have taken steps to address these issues; the recent decision to open combat roles to female Service personnel is a notable example and I commend them for this. With respect to my role in providing impartial oversight of the complaints system, while there are observations I could make about the treatment of women I feel that my Annual Report (which is due to be laid in Parliament later this month) would be the appropriate means to do so.

But my role goes beyond this oversight and in the outreach work that I undertake to support my statutory functions I strive to champion the issues of diversity and inclusivity and women’s advancement wherever I can.

In 2016 I had the privilege and pleasure of being invited to speak to women’s networks, both military and civilian, about my personal journey as a woman in the workplace. I have spoken about some of the lessons I have learnt along the way – things that I felt were important to share with other women who were seeking advancement and empowerment, and I would like to share two of those lessons that I feel underpin this year’s theme.

  1. Embrace your difference

Charlotte Whitton famously said “whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good”.

It truly is a fabulous quote and I am sure many women have felt this way at some point, or many points, in some aspect of their life.  However, despite the seemingly persisting view that we need to work harder than men, we don’t need to be just like them.  Women are not men and that is okay, in fact it is more than okay.  Equal doesn’t mean exactly the same.

Not being male doesn’t mean that we have lesser ability, intelligence or value.  It simply means that we have differences – different characteristics, experiences and perspectives.  It is this difference that we need to embrace. Women do not need to model themselves on men or adopt traditionally male characteristics to be successful.  In fact, I believe that a greater and lasting success can be gained by being true to your authentic self rather than trying to fit a different mould and be something that you’re not – it isn’t sustainable.

  1. Know your worth

We have more control over how other people treat us than we often realise.  Know what you are worth and remember that you don’t have to put up with any unwanted behaviour or make unacceptable compromises.

We are not always in complete control of this – horrific stories can be seen in the media on a daily basis– and it can take a long time to effect change, but by and large, people will learn how to treat you based on what you accept from them.  Don’t accept less.

 While these were thoughts generated by my experiences, I hope that other people – both women and men – find some value in them.

International Women’s Day 2017 will come to a close at midnight tonight, but hopefully the action and thought that this year’s powerful theme generates will last until 2018 and get us many steps closer to the gender inclusive society we all deserve.