By Catharine Devereux – Co-op IT – Retail

As both an inclusion pioneer and a member of Aspire (our colleague network who champion women at Co-op) I’ve celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) events over the past 3 years to give support and hear from the great speakers that attend.

This year was honestly the biggest and best event I’ve been to. It kick-started with the Co-op choir welcoming us into the auditorium followed by a jam-packed agenda with some of our exec female leaders sharing their career journeys, a panel talk and an update from our new partner, The Princes Trust who shared the amazing work they’re doing to support young girls in the community.

I felt really inspired hearing all the amazing speakers who opened up in an honest and at times raw way. Shirine Khoury-Haq, our CFO particularly moved me. She spoke about the gender bias she’s experienced throughout her career in often male dominated environments, and her determination and resilience to challenge others and promote equality despite the personal obstacles she faced.

For me the event also highlighted the importance of equality for all, both men and women. If we’re going to break down gender stereo-types, we need to address equality on both sides. One example being, around flexible working. I’ve personally been fortunate to have a really supportive manager who’s enabled me to work flexibly to suit my needs. It is however assumed only women need flexibility to support their families, but this affects men too.

The event also emphasised the need for solidarity. Claire Camara our Director of OE quoted Helen Keller:

“When women work together amazing things happen.”

This is so true! We all have to support each other’s careers and celebrate other women’s achievements. I’d encourage anyone who resonates with this to explore the opportunities already available such as our great mentoring program with our own in-house volunteers and trained coaches.

What also came across loud and clear was the need to have confidence to speak up and feedback when we see (or experience) behaviours that don’t fit with our Co-op values. This can be difficult and uncomfortable, but if we don’t, we risk losing talented colleagues. We all have a responsibility to enable an inclusive workplace.

I’d also like to say thanks to the brave men who attended the event! Next time it would be great to see even more male allies attend too.