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Supporting women to thrive in the workplace, international women's day 2023

Victoria MacLennan. 08 March 2023, 10:12 pm

This is not another International Women’s Day blog I promise. This is a post on how I am going to support women to thrive, and how you can join me too. 

Flicking through radio stations on the drive home last night (trying to find one with music not adverts) I stumbled on 2 male radio hosts discussing their plans for International Women’s day - today - wearing womens underwear to work. They thought this was hilarious, I thought it was sad, and as I thought about it overnight, it made me angry, the “typical kiwi bloke” attitude these 2 hosts were trying to project, their core message - celebrating women is a joke.  

An argument could be had that here in Aotearoa NZ we don’t need to celebrate this day - until recently we had a female prime minister, we have a wāhine Māori Governor General, women have equal rights to men in law, blah blah. 

The harsh reality is women don’t have universal pay parity, are poorly represented in many industries (like our own digital technology) and then we need to talk about domestic violence.  We are the worst ranked country in the OECD for domestic violence. How our wāhine are treated behind closed doors tells a very different story of our nation. 

“Research suggests that one in three (33%) of New Zealand women have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. When psychological abuse is added (where economic harm sits), it increases to one in two (55%).”

It is hard to feel like you can make a difference, impact a broken, systemic culture, hard to effect change. Here is what I am vowing to do differently and below are my suggestions everyone can take into their own workplace. 

How am I going to play my part for change? 

In 2022 I stepped down from a board after experiencing systematic bullying from a male colleague, he bullied me as well as men he considered to be “weaker” than himself. In my emotional resignation to the board I described it as death by a thousand cuts the way he bullied us through undermining, threatening, emotional blackmail behaviour - never direct attacks, always sneaky. It rocked my confidence as a director, resulted in me second guessing every decision I made, had me abstaining from votes. The worst part was the tolerance of the behaviour by some (not all) of the other men on the board. 

In recent years I have heard from other women who suffered from bullying at the board table. At the board table for goodness sake!!! Where men have reached the top of their pyramids and should be evolved, emotionally aware human beings - so many are not. Most of the complaints were about “tech bros” but some were in other industries as well sadly. 

I've also heard from women in the workplace asking for advice on how to work harmoniously with male colleagues, managers, staff who were bullies or undermining them or marginalising them.

Advice, support and sympathy is the one thing I did achieve in this last year, but below is what I didn’t. 

I have been in the ITP CEO role a year this March. My pitch to the ITP board was my mission to change the face of this industry and that face needs to include women of all nationalities, at all levels of organisations, earning the same as their male counterparts, succeeding without barriers and thriving. I have failed to make progress on this which I regret. 3 specific things include: 

  1. Not creating a group for the women who are members of ITP to kōrero (talk) and network - I am changing this today 
  2. Not refactoring the ITP mentoring programme to provide mentoring circles for women in our membership - creating this model will start today (as a framework mentoring circles can be useful for other groups within our community)
  3. Not mentoring anyone one-on-one this year, being too busy to do something that has always been core to my ethos as a women in leadership and a women in tech - I am changing this today 

This blog is to hold me to account for putting these frameworks in place. But I also need help. Change takes a movement, a coalition of the willing.

What you can do?

First up check your own bias, I wrote about how to confront your unconscious bias last year. 

This article is also fascinating and full of data. 

“Many women experience bias not only because of their gender but also because of their race, sexual orientation, a disability, or other aspects of their identity—and the compounded discrimination can be much greater than the sum of its parts.“

Here are 3 further things we can all do in our workplaces:

1. Listen

  • Listen to your female colleagues stories, if they need to share experiences like my own then being there in support is key
  • Listen for both casual and overt discriminatory, sexist or misogynistic language 
  • Listen for mansplaining

2. Call it out

  • Find the courage to call out when you hear casual or overt language
  • Report incidents and back up your female colleagues if they are making a complaint you witnessed
  • Last international women’s day I wrote up some tactics for calling out bad actors, without making yourself a target as well you can read here

3. Become a Champion 

  • If we are all to become champions of women (and people we don’t usually see in our workplaces) then imagine what an empowering environment it will become
  • Madeline Albright once said “there is a cold place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, becoming a champion applies to all of us
  • Help your female colleagues find their voices, help their voices be heard, encourage and celebrate their achievements, provide them with feedback, support and encourage success.

Need convincing? 

Over the years a number of men have commented to me about the "female takeover" (and in recent times the "Māori takeover") how they are struggling to feel supportive of women who are promoted above or alongside them. I’ve even been told that men are now an endangered species resulting in ever growing chips on their shoulders. When I ask them what is the worst that can happen? Or what are they scared of? The answers are pretty shallow - don’t know how to form connections like they do with male colleagues, scared women are creating a glass ceiling for men. If you want to read more on this here is an article on the power struggle between men and women in the workplace. 

Companies with women in leadership are more successful is a well documented fact.

“Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30…”

Besides, we are half of the population so we should be half of the workplace in every industry.

Final thoughts

Tikanga, Māori customary practices or behaviours involve some beautiful practices we should all embrace. 

Manaaki is to support, take care of, give hospitality to, protect, look out for, show respect, generosity and care for others. Mana manaaki has been described to me as upholding the dignity of others while providing them with support and care. I have also seen it expressed as a positive experience every time. 

Imagine how awesome every workplace would be in we all focused on building trust and mutual respect, positive communications, supporting and elevating our colleagues no matter their gender, role or experience. It would be awesome. 

I hope you had a fabulous international women’s day. That’s all for now, Heoi anō tāku mō nāianei, Vic. 

PS: My beautiful Nana turned 97 last week, I am so proud of her and aspire to live a healthy active life as she has done. This photo taken on her birthday. 



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