#ChooseToChallenge: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021

International Women’s Day is held every 8 March, and this year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. To celebrate, krow East decided to launch a group-wide initiative to encourage their colleagues across the UK to tell us about a woman whose challenge inspires them – and all this week, we’ve been sharing their stories on Instagram. And here they all are: from famous figures to personal role models, these are the women who remind us that choosing to challenge ourselves and others can create a more inclusive world.

Challengers in our own lives

Some of us are fortunate to not have to look too far afield for inspiration. Many krow colleagues spoke of the family members, friends and colleagues who challenge and motivate them every day.

 

Insaf Abbas

Daisy nominated her friend and broadcast journalist Insaf Abbas, who was recently awarded Rising Star of the Year at the BBC News Awards 2020. For Daisy, Insaf’s achievement is a reminder of what we can do when we challenge ourselves to follow our passion. “She’s always had a passion for journalism and challenged herself to seek out opportunities and develop her skills.”

 

Nadia Moeil

Sammy chose her friend and former colleague Nadia Moeil, who juggled parenthood, full-time work, studying for a degree and volunteering for charity – before securing her dream job as a Learning and Development Manager.

 

Carole Thompson

For many of us, our mums are our heroes, overcoming countless challenges to be there for us no matter what. Caroline shared a heartfelt tribute to her mum, who was a powerful role model in her life. “I nominate my mother Carole Thompson, for being herself: strong, caring, holding the family together and leaving me with some lovely memories,” says Caroline.

 

Michelle Playford

Ange told us about her friend Michelle Playford, who took a unique approach to the challenges of lockdown: writing a blog about each day. She then opened her blog to family and friends, giving them the opportunity to talk about how their lives had changed. Michelle has since published the blog as a book, with all proceeds going towards NHS charities – showing us all that even in challenging times, we can do our bit to help one another.

 

Ellie Mason

Vic chose Ellie Mason, who used to work on the social media team at krow East. Although everyone was sad to see Ellie leave in January this year, they were excited and proud of her for following her dream of joining the fire service. Less than 7% of firefighters in the UK are women, but Ellie is challenging stereotypes, undeterred.

 

Dr Clare Bailey

Kate shared how her sister-in-law Dr Clare Bailey is an inspiration to her every day. After working as a GP and running the parenting coaching website Parenting Matters, Clare has written several best-selling recipe books, helping people to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes – all while being a mum to four. “She encouraged me to keep to a lower-sugar Mediterranean diet and helped my husband and I navigate the crazy toddler years – and the even crazier home schooling!” Kate says.

 

Mojisola Green

Lydia wanted to highlight the achievements of her mother-in-law Mojisola Green. After a long career as the owner of multiple successful catering businesses, Moji, who is Nigerian, chose to work for the police as a Positive Action Officer, helping to recruit ethnic minorities into the force.

Challengers who pushed themselves to the limit

Many of the women who have challenged our minds have been those who pushed their bodies to – and, in some cases, beyond – their limits to achieve quite remarkable things.

 

Karen Darke

Both Vicki and Jon nominated Paralympic cyclist Karen Darke, who gave a talk at krow that made Vicki “reassess my priorities and the way I view life” and led Jon to realise “that success is a state of mind, not a state of body”. Karen spoke about how she challenged herself to win a Paralympic medal after becoming paralysed from the chest down in a climbing accident – and she achieved her dream by winning silver in the London 2012 Games.

 

Serena Williams

Julie draws inspiration from tennis legend Serena Williams. Serena has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles – the most of any player since 1968 – and four Olympic gold medals in both singles and doubles tennis. But it’s not just her wins on the court that inspire Julie. “She’s overcome many hurdles: a lot of sexism and racism, together with constant scrutiny of her physical strength and appearance,” Julie says.

 

Jasmin Paris

Laura is inspired by British ultramarathon runner Jasmine Paris, who became the first woman to win the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, smashing the course record by 12 hours. Winning one of the hardest races in the country is badass enough, but Paris also stopped at an aid station to pump breast milk for her baby.

 

Kathrine Switzer

Both Dylan and Mike picked Kathrine Switzer, who made history in 1967 when she challenged beliefs about what women could achieve in sport. Race officials tried to tear off her number, but she defiantly became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. She finished the race again 50 years later, wearing the same number: 261. “She paved the way for women after her,” said Mike.

Challengers who have left a legacy

Boudicca

Tom wanted to recognise a local legend: Boudicca, the warrior queen who led a revolt against the Romans. As leader of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe who lived in what is now modern East Anglia, Boudicca sacked the towns of Colchester, London and St Albans in AD 60 or 61 – defending ancient Britain against Roman invaders. Although Boudicca was ultimately defeated, her name has echoed down the centuries, inspiring others to take action and challenge injustice.

 

Corrie ten Boom

Colin is inspired by the faith and bravery of Corrie ten Boom. Throughout World War II, she and her family took in and hid hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by Nazi authorities. Eventually caught and sent to a concentration camp, Corrie survived to tell her story in the book ‘The Hiding Place’.

 

Maryam Mirzakhani

Benjamin’s choice is Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the first (and so far, only) woman to win the Fields Medal. “She kept working hard to find her own way to understand, enjoy and succeed. Her determination and relentless questioning helped her push the boundaries of knowledge,” Ben says. Sadly, Maryam passed away in 2017 at the age of 40 – but her legacy lives on, challenging perceptions of who can succeed in maths, science and technology.

 

Andrea Levy

Caroline cites Andrea Levy as a big inspiration; by learning to write and then becoming an author herself, she created what she couldn’t see. “I recently reread Small Island and experienced again this exceptional piece of work,” says Caroline. “It’s heartwarming, heartbreaking and humorous, rolled into one compelling novel that won the Orange Prize for Fiction.”

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Lucy named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who chose to challenge laws that unfairly discriminated against women throughout her legal career. In 1956, she was one of only nine women accepted to Harvard Law School in a class of around 500 men. In 1993 she was appointed Supreme Court Justice, a position she held until her death just last year.

 

Mary McLeod Bethune

Sushi’s nomination is Mary McLeod Bethune, an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist and civil rights activist who sought better educational opportunities for African American girls. She started a private school for African American students in Daytona Beach, Florida which later became Bethune-Cookman University.

 

Dorothy Thompson

Stephen has chosen Dorothy Thompson, who worked at the New York Woman Suffrage Party in 1920 before going on to use her fearless, eloquent journalism to highlight the plight of Jews (Hitler expelled her from Germany in 1934) and Spanish Civil War refugees, and the value of immigrants to the US.

 

Young challengers

Several of our colleagues were inspired by the next generation of challengers: the young women who are already making a difference in the world.

 

Greta Thunberg

Daniel nominated environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who started challenging world leaders to take action on climate change as a teenager. “Her passion started out with small steps, such as getting her family to make alternative lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint,” Daniel says. Greta’s activism has made her a well-known figure worldwide – and challenges us all to think about what we can do for our world.

 

Alyssa Carson

Molly told us about Alyssa Carson, a young woman challenging herself to fulfil her lifelong ambition of becoming an astronaut. Aged 19, she’s the only person to attend every NASA space camp and was the youngest person to graduate from the Advanced Space Academy. “She has challenged astronaut stereotypes and her own childhood dreams, working hard to turn her passion into a reality,” Molly says. Today, Alyssa is aiming to be one of the first people to walk on Mars – reminding us that when we challenge ourselves, we can reach the stars.

 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ruth and Mike were both keen to talk about New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “for being what a politician should be” according to Ruth. In 2020 she raised money to assist those suffering economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has recently raised $5 million for relief in Texas after it was hit by winter storms. “My three daughters are all inspired by her too,” says Mike. “She refuses to be bowed by political thuggery and strives undaunted for what she believes in.”

 

Evelina Cabrera

Jenny’s nomination is Evelina Cabrera, who founded the Argentinian Women’s Football Association at the age of just 27. She formed several teams, including one for blind women. “Our gender and origin should not determine our future,” Cabrera once said, “but with the collective struggle of a united world, we will be able to achieve equality.”

 

Tori West

Sophie is inspired by Tori West, a 27-year-old publisher who is the creator of BRICKS magazine. Whether she’s challenging the stigma around working-class creatives, calling out London Fashion Week for its lack of focus of sustainability or championing young queer creative talent, West wants to change creative industries for the better.

Challengers who make us think

At krow, we care about communicating thoughts and ideas, and making the complex human. Many of our colleagues talked about women who have challenged them with their words and ideas.

 

Susan Faludi

Jack named Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi as both a personal and professional inspiration – challenging him to rethink his approach to communicating big ideas. “Her works opened my eyes to new ways of seeing the world,” Jack says, “And reminded me all ideas need to engage and connect with people’s actual lives to have any real impact.”

 

Glennon Doyle

Jemma’s choice is American author and activist Glennon Doyle, whose New York Times bestselling memoirs reflect on her own experiences while challenging readers to live their best lives. “I find her points of view on life, worth, women, culture, and white privilege inspiring,” Jemma says, “I feel that she has challenged my way of thinking and has encouraged me to hold myself continually accountable for the voice I have and the role I am playing in people’s lives.”

 

Stacey Abrams

Davy’s pick is political activist Stacey Abrams, who chose to challenge inequality and stand up for democracy. “Abrams’ run for governor of Georgia in 2018 was blocked by an unprecedented barrage of voter suppression tactics,” Davy says, “Rather than give up, this injustice fuelled her to found a voting rights initiative that dramatically changed the course of the 2020 US election.” She was also the first African American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address.

 

Temple Grandin

Emma’s pick is scientist and activist Temple Grandin. When Temple was young, doctors told her parents she should be placed in an institution – but she challenged beliefs about what she could achieve and became an expert in animal behaviour. Today she speaks up for autism rights, and Emma finds her words “inspirational”.

 

Vandana Shiva

Becky’s nomination is Dr Vandana Shiva. Dr Shiva supports the concept of seed freedom: the rejection of corporate patents on seeds. She calls it ‘biopiracy’ and has fought and won against many attempts to patent indigenous life forms. As an ecofeminist she believes the relationship between Third World woman and the environment are fundamentally entwined through their oppression.

Challengers who uplift us

Choosing to challenge can be fun, uplifting and joyful. Some of our colleagues shared stories of women who truly make them smile.

 

Lizzo

Matt’s pick is Lizzo, an icon whose music he describes as “a riotous celebration of diversity, inclusion and empowerment”. He’s inspired by the way she challenges society’s stereotypes head-on, speaking out on issues like body positivity, mental health and LGBTQ+ rights. “She’s hands-down one of the coolest human beings on the planet!” Matt adds.

 

Aisling Bea

Lisa cites Irish comedian, screenwriter and actor Aisling Bea as her inspiration. As well as making us laugh, Aisling’s work has opened up conversations around difficult topics, showing us all that we can take an unconventional, light-hearted approach to challenge social norms. “She wrote and starred in This Way Up, which I thought was great at confronting some of the stigma around mental health,” Lisa says.

 

Katharine Hamnett

Rebecca’s role model is Katharine Hamnett, a British fashion designer best known for her iconic slogan t-shirts. Katharine chose to challenge convention by championing sustainable and ethical production, as well as political and charitable causes. Today, Rebecca’s inspired by her ongoing fight for change.

 

Bessie, Dinah and Rachel

A three-in-one from Gemma! Bessie was a farmer in the early 1900s when farmers’ wives were usually housewives. Her daughter Dinah took charge of the farm in the 1950s, moving towards organic farming techniques by rejecting pesticides. Then, in the 1980s, Dinah’s daughter Rachel started creating organic yoghurt using her grandmother Bessie’s original recipes.

 

Arundhati Roy

Bishan’s inspiration is Arundhati Roy, the author of Booker Prize-winning novel The God Of Small Things, who challenged India’s caste system and campaigns passionately for human rights.

 

Meera Sodha

Ashika has been inspired by journalist Meera Sodha, whose tasty vegan and vegetarian recipes in The Guardian have helped to redefine preconceptions around what South Asian women should be writing about. “I hope she’ll pave the way for more women to break the mould and redefine stereotypes,” said Ashika.

 

At krow group, we’ve been inspired by so many stories this International Women’s Day. It’s an important reminder of how choosing to challenge can create a huge difference, and something we’ll be thinking about as we work to create Big Positive Impacts of our own.

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