March 8, 2021
University Centre Leeds Law Student sat in lesson in front of a laptop

On 8 March each year, people come together across the globe to celebrate International Women’s Day

This annual event encourages us to celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women, while also rallying for women’s equality through widespread activities. 

The history

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when 15,000 women protested for their rights in New York. 

Since then, the day has been widely celebrated through a variety of events and initiatives which aim to celebrate all women, while continuing to fight for equal rights.

Although the world has made significant advances, no country has yet achieved gender equality.

The United Nations states how legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. As of 2019, less than 25% of parliamentarians were women. In addition, one in three women experience gender-based violence.

This day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the progress made, raise awareness of women’s equality, and celebrate acts of courageous women who’ve made an imprint on our history and communities.


Choosing to challenge gender bias and inequality is the key theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. By doing so, we must take ownership of our thoughts and actions to help create an inclusive world. 

Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World

UN Women has selected a theme to celebrate the phenomenal efforts by women and girls across the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many women have been at the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis as health care workers, innovators and some of the most effective national leaders in combating the pandemic. The crisis has demonstrated their significant contributions alongside their skills, knowledge and networks in leading the Covid-19 response. 

Women in leadership

We heard from our women leaders on their thoughts on International Women’s Day.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Dr Jo Tyssen, Head of Widening Participation, Outreach and Projects at University Centre Leeds: “It’s an opportunity to take time to remember influential women and those who fought to give us the rights we have today.”

Dr Sarah Wilson, Associate Dean of Higher Education: “International Women’s Day provides an excellent opportunity to highlight and celebrate women’s successes while also reflecting on the progress made towards reducing the gender pay gap.”

What does the 2021 theme #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in your work life?

Jo: “To encourage young people to challenge gender bias and promote personal responsibility for your own actions. For example, pursuing a career they want, and not shy away because ‘girls don’t do that job’.”

Sarah: “Working within the educational sector provides us with the perfect opportunity to embrace the overarching theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. ‘Choose to Challenge’ is something that should be embedded into the curriculum at all levels if perceptions are to be challenged and changed in a positive way.”

Will you/your department be doing anything to celebrate?

Jo: “We will reflect on inspirational female role models and promote these with the young people we work with.”

Why did you choose the career that you are in?

Jo: “I originally chose a career in sport, and after some years working in different sport roles I was drawn to teaching sport. From there, I progressed into the role I am in now which I am passionate about as it is all about promoting inclusivity and working with underrepresented groups to make a change.”

Sarah: “I started my career in the private sector working in human resources within retail. I began to question some of the drivers and challenges relating to staff welfare and professional development. This led me to undertake teacher training, with a view to having a greater impact on the development of individuals in order to really make a difference to their lives. 

My career in education has been extensive and has included teaching and leading a number of curriculum areas, culminating in my current role as Associate Dean of Higher Education, where I have senior leadership responsibility for the higher education curriculum.”

Why did you decide to work within the education sector?

Jo: “I had worked in a number of roles within sport and found that teaching was something I seemed to be drawn to. I believed I had the skills that would suit the role. I also liked academia so working in education fulfilled those interests.”

What does University Centre Leeds/your department do to overcome gender stereotypes?

Jo: “I work with underrepresented groups. My department is very aware of challenging inequality and bias and part of that is to challenge gender stereotypes within many sectors and career roles.”

Sarah: “University Centre Leeds is extremely proud of its success in widening participation, with an impressive track record of offering opportunities for non-traditional students to engage in higher education, facilitating access to graduate employment opportunities and  improving their social mobility. 

Challenging stereotypes is something that is threaded through our everyday practice, whether that’s in relation to our teaching content or teaching strategies.”

In your opinion, why is it important that more women take up leadership roles?

Jo: “I think it depends on the sector. In some sectors there are more women than men in leadership roles. However, it is important to strike a balance and challenge gender bias and stereotyping; it should be a case of the right person being in the role regardless of gender.”

What more do you think can be done to encourage more women into leadership roles?

Jo: “Empowering women, and men, to challenge gender bias.”

Sarah: “Through our approaches we hope to encourage more of our female students to consider and aim for leadership roles within their specific occupational sector and thus raise aspirations among the next generation of leaders, while also challenging stereotypes.”

On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Jo: “That whatever choice they make about their career and their future, it should be their choice – not a choice made based on stereotypes.”

Sarah: “My message to all women on this day would be to aim high and not let others limit your aspirations.”

You can access a wide range of external International Women’s Day resources here.