International Women’s Day (IWD) is held annually on 08 March, to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality. It aims to promote the specific social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, none of us will see gender equality in our lifetime, so projects like IWD are very much current, necessary, and relevant.

The first IWD was held in 1911 and has roots in the campaigning work that the Women’s Social and Political Union carried out in the UK in the early twentieth century, with the main aim of securing universal suffrage, allowing all women a political vote. Since then, it has expanded to a global event to acknowledge the collective efforts of all people who are committed to achieving gender equality.

The theme for this years’ event is ‘challenge’ and asks people to reflect upon how they choose to challenge stereotypes, prejudice, unconscious bias, and more overt discrimination. It could also be seen as an opportunity to challenge yourself, your friends and family, and your colleagues to make more of an effort to achieve gender parity.

Many people believe that there is gender equality in the RAF, and although there are many positive developments towards a fully inclusive workplace, the RAF as a whole (as of 01 Oct 20) is still comprised of only 15% females. Despite this being the highest percentage across all of the Armed Forces, it still severely lags behind other sectors and is not representative of the society which it serves. This is why IWD is so important to our organisation. We need to celebrate our women, showcase their achievements, and as a result encourage more women to consider it as a serious career choice that they can identify with.

Here at RAF Halton, we are lucky to have such an inspiring collective of women across our community who have showcased their roles and achievements as part of an International Women’s Day project. Just some of those women include Sqn Ldr K Steed, Officer Commanding Recruit Training Squadron, who is in command of the largest Squadron in the RAF. In such a high-profile position, Sqn Ldr Steed has talked about how important it is for her to be a visible role model to the next generation of women joining the RAF and how crucial it is for leaders to promote equality. Sqn Ldr Steed’s catchphrase is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and she demonstrates this perfectly by confidently leading the Squadron through challenging times, and proudly acknowledging her gender identity as she does so.

Another woman who the project showcases is the Station Warrant Officer, Mrs Culley. As the most senior female Non-Commissioned Officer on Station, Mrs Culley is another visible role model for everyone at Halton. With 30 years’ service, Mrs Culley doesn’t feel that her gender has made any difference to her career, however she has seen many milestones in the RAF’s journey towards greater gender equality. From the first female operational pilot (Flt Lt Jo Slater) in 1994, to the RAF being the first of the three Services to open up all roles to women in 2017, Mrs Culley has witnessed a significant part of the RAF’s gender history. From seeing what has come before, she can help to shape the way forwards towards even greater gender parity.

Aside from our inspiring array of female role models, we can’t overlook the fantastic work that our male and gender non-binary colleagues do to support our women, promote their success, and champion equality. Without an environment of inclusion and mutual support for all, RAF Halton wouldn’t have these role models to highlight, and that is thanks to everyone in the community. There is still work to be done, but Halton is certainly leading the way.