International Women’s Day 2023: Celebrating Women in Leadership

For International Women’s Day 2023, read exclusive insights from some of HotTopics’ female technology and marketing leaders.


Celebrated globally on March 8 every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) brings women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements to attention. The hashtag #EmbraceEquity is the theme for International Women’s Day 2023, with the United Nations’ theme being 'DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.


The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2022 stated that it will take more than 132 years to close the gender pay gap. While the gender parity score has undergone a 1.8 percent increase between 2021 and 2022, the WEF argued that giving women equal rights is simply not enough to close this gap. So, what can leaders and their organisations around the globe do to encourage and promote further gender equity and equality?


International Women’s Day 2023 Q&A

In honour of this year’s IWD, we asked the mentors of our TechGirl competition, in addition to fellow C-suite technology and marketing community leaders from across the HotTopics community, questions about this year’s theme: #EmbraceEquity and the UN theme, DigitALL, how organisations can embrace this year’s theme and what this means to them:


  • Ching-Har Wong, Independent Chief Digital Officer, CMO, Advisor, NED, DTC, Ecommerce, Retail, Consumer
  • Clare Ward, Worldwide Technical Leader Travel & Hospitality Solutions, AWS
  • Jarmila Yu, Founder, MD & Consulting CMO, YUnique Marketing Ltd
  • Anna Barsby, Chief Product and Technology Officer, William Hill
  • Georgina Owens, Chief Technologist, NED and Board Advisor
  • Nafy Diagne, Chief Digital & CX Officer, Free au Senegal
  • Zarina Stanford, CMO, Bazaarvoice
  • Dax Grant, CEO, Global Transform



  1. What solutions have you come up with to break the bias/embrace equity within the work environment?
  2. What challenges (if any) have you faced in the technology industry as a woman - how have you dealt with this?
  3. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity, what does this mean to you?
  4. What positive experiences have you had as a woman in leadership?
  5. What attracted you to the leadership role in the first place? And has it changed at all?
  6. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
  7. What’s your International Women’s Day 2023 message?
  8. Looking back on your career, what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?
  9. What advice would you give yourself just starting out in the industry?
  10. Where would you like to see specific progress made this year when it comes to equality in the workplace?


Question: What solutions have you come up with to break the bias/embrace equity within the work environment?


Clare Ward: Go out of your way to support people from other backgrounds that can be subject to bias. Show that you are a leader in inclusion, diversity and equity, and others will return that support.

Anna Barsby: One of the key solutions has been to tackle unconscious bias in the moment, ideally not embarrassing colleagues in front of others, but pulling them aside and pointing out their behaviour and the consequences. It is appreciated as colleagues often don’t realise they are doing it. Another is encouraging women to stop saying ‘sorry’ when they start speaking in meetings, it’s a habit and it makes them look like they are apologising for having a voice!

Zarina Stanford: For me, it all comes down to three things: having the right attitude, speaking up and building allies and champions. First and foremost, attitude is more than half the equation. To break biases and embrace equity or whatever stands one chooses to support, having a can-do attitude is a must. We make the choice, drive the agenda and follow the path to getting there. It is all about deliberate thinking, action and staying in power. 

As to speaking up, I can’t emphasise enough on the importance of making our voices heard. Speaking up not only makes your thoughts known, but it is also one sure way to iterate, collaborate and resolve biases and preconceived assumptions. Breaking bias and embracing equity requires points of view to be spoken, understood and accepted.

Lastly, we can’t and don’t have to do it alone. Earning allies and cohorts who share your equity and inclusion beliefs will be key. It does take a village, so it’s best to ensure that we identify with others or other communities to accelerate change. Often, these communities are work-based and hence making the bias breakdown and equity championship that much closer. 


Q: What challenges (if any) have you faced in the technology industry as a woman–how have you dealt with this?


Georgina Owens: One of the challenges has been feedback in performance reviews that have the message 'you haven't spent enough time getting xyz on board with your ideas' . I now realise that actually xyz hasn't been open minded enough to listen to a diverse opinion but my boss never recognised that.

Ching-Har Wong: Having worked across various industries, ranging finance to tech start-ups to fashion retail, I have encountered instances of “bro culture that” can be intimidating for women in the workplace. I have dealt with it in different ways – from calling out inappropriate behaviour to seeking support from allies within my peer group. My advice to women is to stay focused on their goals and not let the negativity of “bro culture” deter them from achieving success.


Q: This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity, what does this mean to you?


Ching-Har Wong: #EmbraceEquity acknowledges that while much progress has been made, there is still work to be done towards creating an inclusive society where everyone has equal access to opportunities regardless of their personal characteristics.

Clare Ward: To me this means two things. Be hungry to continue to learn and understand your own potential subconscious biases so that you can actively work through them. And lead with empathy in every situation and with every person you come across, #EmbracingEquity is about everyone, not just about women, and as a leader, we all have the ability to demonstrate that.

Nafy Diagne: In line with the UN’s theme for this year’s IWD (DigitALL) and as a woman working in ICT, I notice that the gender digital divide is significant but at the same time there are many initiatives and thoughts on the issue of gender and access to ICTs to promote the inclusion of women by connecting them to the world, opening up multiple opportunities for economic activities, thus promoting employment. Connectivity, mobile money and e-commerce are examples.


Q: What positive experiences have you had as a woman in leadership?


Dax Grant: I was fortunate to have some excellent organisations to work within. In one organisation, I was given the opportunity to take on an executive position and the organisation invested in my MBA. The whole experience demonstrated faith in my leadership and a confidence in my capability when I had recently become a mother. The experience was tough though extremely rewarding, as well as delivering the results for the organisation and completing the MBA I made lots of friends for life that I keep in touch with. From the perspective of a woman in leadership, I felt trusted and valued and the organisation benefited from the learning that I went through in the results that I delivered on the ground.

Jarmila Yu: Leadership is famously described as a lonely job. Being a female leader comes with additional challenges. Through the years developing my career, stepping into management then progressing into leadership and entering the world of entrepreneurship I experienced first-hand how empowering and at times magical the act of women supporting women can be - individually and as a group there’s phenomenal strength and resolve to help one another succeed. Combine that with male allyship and you have the support you need to drive significant positive change for gender equality and equity. Without support from my female peers and allies such as my husband and business associates and clients I would not have achieved what I’ve done or be able to lend the level of support to the initiatives I care about.

Zarina Stanford: I can go on for days on this topic. My first and most profound positive experience isn’t from myself being a woman in leadership, but rather witnessing how my mom intuitively became the best role model as a woman in leadership for my siblings and I throughout our childhood and into the final years of my mom’s life. As a single parent, she was the woman in leadership in my family. She did so flawlessly, tirelessly, and lovingly.

Throughout my career, I continue to have great female and male leaders who deliberately nurtured and pulled out the woman leader in me. That is priceless. Over the years, I found myself following the footsteps of my mom and other nurturing leaders. The joy of seeing those we supported, nurtured and encouraged become the next generation of women in leadership, excelling above and beyond what we could ourselves, is likely the most positive experience I had as a woman in leadership.


Q: What attracted you to the leadership role in the first place? And has it changed at all?


Georgina Owens: I have always been an idea generator and a bit of an entrepreneur and there is only so much you can achieve on your own. i discovered that by building high performing teams then as a unit we could achieve so much more and this is what drives me to leadership


Q: What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?


Georgina Owens: Never leave a discussion in an acrimonious way, always leave on a positive note.

Anna Barsby: Don’t forget to be selfish! If you can get the balance between adding value to our organisation, industry, colleagues and growing or learning yourself, then everyone wins and you’ll continue to be the best version of yourself. It's too easy to keep pleasing everyone else, make sure you are getting what you need too.


Zarina Stanford: When someone proactively comes to you and asks you to consider trying something different as part of your career, you should pay attention and seriously consider it. Early in my career I was in sales and doing very well when someone suggested I make a move to marketing. I said, “Why would I do that?”. But luckily, my mentor told me that if someone you respect encourages you to make a move, you should consider it and give it merit. That suggestion helped me get to where I am today.


Q: What's your International Women's Day 2023 message?


Ching-Har Wong: As a woman in a senior leadership position, I urge my peers to leverage their influence and platforms to promote gender equality. Our collective efforts can accelerate progress and break down barriers for other women, which is crucial in today’s remote work environment that has limited their visibility and access to opportunities. I am committed to doing even more this year towards this goal.


Dax Grant: To the women out there I would say, believe in yourselves, explore what you enjoy and go for the opportunities. Remember that investment in yourself is ultimately your responsibility to drive and if you have a learning mindset that’s the foundation of any job. To the organisations recruiting and retaining women, I encourage you to focus on proactive measures to drive culture, inclusivity and recruitment of women in the workplace. Encourage accountability within your functions to challenge unconscious bias in a proactive way if you are to retain the women that join the organisation.

Everyone welcomes a positive, supportive yet growth-centred environment. Kindness and respect are at the centre of all positive cultures. Ask yourself daily how you are contributing to that culture in all the teams and partnerships that you are fortunate to be part of – that way you grow inclusivity and create an excellent place of equality, performance and personal growth for all.


Nafy Diagne: Innovation enabled by ICT opens up economic opportunities for women and solves concrete problems such as health care and education. Thus closing the digital gender gap is beneficial for society as a whole (increases GDP and family income, increases inclusion).

Concerted action is needed to close the gender gap in ICT; the barriers women face are varied and complex and can only be overcome through joint actions by governments, international organisations, mobile operators and civil society.

I am an engineer in computer and industrial engineering from the Ecole Centrale de Lille in France and from my personal experience, at our graduation 24 years ago we were three girls in our class. This number has not evolved much and the same observation is valid in Africa. I therefore encourage girls to go into ICT studies in order to reduce the digital divide that starts in the academic world.

Furthermore, we should support women's digital entrepreneurship because these are business models that put women back at the centre of the economy placing them as players in the digital revolution. In companies, it is important to encourage initiatives that lead to gender equity in the leadership team, with equal competence for women and men.


Q: Looking back on your career, what one thing would you have changed in your working environment to break the bias?


Georgina Owens: This is a tough question but I think that unconscious bias training would have helped, really recognition of the imbalance by the senior/executive team and the impact it has on minorities.


Jarmila Yu: I entered the world of work in the mid 90’s. As you do at the start of your career, you start at the bottom and then work your way up. The work environment I was in was heavily male dominated and the topic of gender equality was still, relatively speaking, in its infancy. At the time I probably did not know any better, so when certain office social activities needed to be undertaken they typically fell to the women in the office to do them; things like doing the coffee run, organising the staff parties, and baking birthday cakes. With greater awareness and confidence I know I and other women in the office would have not jumped in so fast to take up those activities but instead found our voices to ask the whole group to participate and share in the activities.


Q: What advice would you give yourself just starting out in the industry?


Georgina Owens: Build a network right from day one, across your professional and personal contacts. As hard as it may seem when you are incredibly busy make sure you stay in touch with others and offer your support and help whenever you can. Never walk past behaviour that you don't want to see escalate, stick true to your values and true to yourself.


Q: Where would you like to see specific progress made this year when it comes to equality in the workplace?


Georgina Owens: Although I am not a big supporter of targets I believe that measurements are valuable. You can only change what you can see so let's get a standard and agreed method for globally measuring and reporting those measures.


Dax Grant: I would like to see progress in three key areas, driving equality at the leadership level of organisations, the CEO, board and extended leadership team building a proactive pipeline of talented women through the organisation. There is significant opportunity for equality in technology functions across industry. Equally I believe that entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy and equality in entrepreneurship and fair access to capital remains a priority at a national and global level. The Rose Review has made significant inroads into this key area. Nonetheless, there is more to be done in all three areas to both tackle unconscious bias and enable the right culture whilst encouraging women to explore the areas that interest them career-wise. Let’s make it happen!


Interested in reading more? Discover our thought leadership content and The Studio roundtable discussions on diversity and how HotTopics is adopting the DigitALL theme through our TechGirl 2023 competition.

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