IWF: the women's network that's so much more about the net than the work.

As leaders, we know that when things are sailing along smoothly, when life is busy but bright, women's groups like IWF are a 'nice-to-have' but maybe not a 'need-to-have'. It's when life throws us those curve balls, gives us an unexpected kick in the guts or when we simply can't solve our challenges alone, that an ecosystem like the IWFA sistahood really shows its power.

This International Women's Day #IWD19, the theme is particularly pertinent to us as members of IWF globally: #morepowerfultogether. Women are ambitious, and the challenges that hold us back are ambiguous.

Throughout our lives we rely on different people to nurture, support and guide us. From parents to peers and partners to colleagues, and kids to kindreds. But there is a special brand of woman that becomes a constant source of strength. One that holds us to account personally and professionally. One that can be brutally honest but unwaveringly kind. One who will keep our words in confidence while endowing us with confidence. And one that remains searingly relevant through all stages of life. IWF is comprised of women such as these. In Australia, we almost begrudgingly call ourselves a network because we are so much more about the net than the work. We call ourselves a sistahood (Kate Mason, 2016).

A recent report by @WomensAgenda and AGSM at the University of NSW tells us that the leading inhibitor to women’s ambition is confidence. When we think about the shape of a woman’s career, the trajectory is often more stop-start (and peak-trough), than that of our male counterparts. Amongst our collective, we have the mandate to support the shape of a woman’s career in its entirety. You don’t lose your place in IWFA when you lose your professional role. Rather, the sistahood rallies around you, understanding the unique pressure applied to high profile women in our society, and places you firmly back on your feet. Because we know the ‘net worth’ of women in leadership.

The report also detailed that ambitious women are feeling heightened levels of angst and frustration arising from challenges that are widely out of their control, ‘including difficulties getting ahead while working part-time, little to no help on the domestic front, ageism, gender discrimination and more’ (Priestley, 2019). Women are more likely to suffer from mental or behavioural conditions, with young women having twice the rate of reported anxiety compared to young men (ABS, 2018).

We know these challenges tangibly, they are with us everyday- men take home an average $260 a week more than women, women are often perceived negatively when we negotiate, we retire on average with just half of men’s superannuation, Australian women graduate from university in equal numbers to men, but don’t progress through the workforce at the same rate, just one in four key management personnel and one in eight CEOs are women (KPMG, 2016). We know. We are still fighting for our net worth.

Amongst our members we have women who cure heart disease, who fly to the moon, who stand in parliament, who design fabulous garments, who steer multi-million dollar corporations, who fight to end period poverty, who make award winning wine, who start girl bands in Burma, who advocate for fairer legislation, who stand for inclusive technology, who design better business systems, who press for Indigenous empowerment and who are passionate about evolving workplaces to embrace the whole of self and society. The one thing we have in common is a commitment to each other and being there to listen, to learn and to love.

There, we’ve said it. A women’s networking group that is actually about love. What an audacious thing!

The net worth of IWF Australia is bound not in our individual careers, achievements and impact, not in our titles and awards, but in the way we are able to bring each other along with us. Each time one of us moves forward, the net hoists all of us along. When one woman falls, there is strength enough to catch her.

As we shape women’s leadership for future generations, we must push for systemic, cultural and behavioural change. But we must also stop and sit together, weave for them a net so they may feel their worth.

Wishing every woman a net within her network this International Women’s Day 2019.