International Women's Day: A 'Pink Wave' is coming as more women than ever step into leadership roles

In an ideal world where all men and women were treated equally and sex discrimination did not exist, there would be no need for International Women’s Day, which is being celebrated Thursday.

International Women’s Day would not exist if all societies treated women fairly and justly; if women were not legally classified as second-class citizens in some countries; if women were not economically and culturally discriminated against in all countries; if women and men received equal pay for equal work; and if violence against women was no longer deemed a “major public health problem” by the World Health Organization.

But until discrimination against women ends once and for all, I – and millions of other women and men around the world – will find time to celebrate International Women’s Day every March 8.

Also known as the United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace, the day is a celebration of women’s achievements and a platform to call for progress in areas where nations have fallen short on gender equality.

School districts use curriculum developed for International Women's Day to educate and inspire children about the role of women in society and to challenge gender stereotypes and bias holding us all back.

International Women’s Day 2018 feels tangibly different, as we witness the daily momentum around global activism for women's equality.

Global brands have embraced the day as an opportunity to highlight their commitment to diversity and inclusion. One McDonald’s franchisee even flipped the iconic arches over on his sign to read “W” in honor of the day. Around the world, celebrating International Women’s Day has successfully penetrated the global zeitgeist.

At the risk of being shunned by my friends and colleagues in the women’s leadership development space, I admit that International Women’s Day has been one of those “activist holidays” that at times I felt obligated to participate in. It was that rote participation that drove my attendance at events, participation on panels, leadership in developing advocacy campaigns, and even just sending out a barrage of tweets.

But International Women’s Day 2018 feels tangibly different, as we witness the daily momentum around global activism for women's equality.

The official hashtag of International Women’s Day 2018 is #PressforProgress. But it is the success of another hashtag that has me and many others convinced that in addition to increased conversation and accountability, we are on the cusp of monumental victories against the misogyny and patriarchy that has been entrenched in global cultures throughout history.

I have seen the global phenomena and success of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp campaign, everywhere I have traveled in the last six months. From California to Minnesota to Texas to Ukraine, the conversations and intentions being expressed by women have dramatically shifted, proving that bravery and accountability are truly contagious.

Women are stepping into positions of leadership more readily and unapologetically than ever before. They are speaking up and calling out the time-honored ascension of mediocre men at the expense of more qualified women.

And women are standing up to challenge men in chat rooms and conference rooms in Silicon Valley and surging to sign up to run for office against men for seats on school boards, city councils, state legislatures and Congress.

As a result, an unprecedented number of women across the country are running for office, in what is being touted as a Pink Wave: the year of the woman candidate. The number of women who have launched campaigns so far in 2018 is more than double the number of women on the ballot in 2016.

At VoteRunLead, where I serve as Board chair, the number of women seeking our signature #RunAsYouAre candidate training tripled last year. A proudly non-partisan organization, we trained almost 10,000 women to run for office and win.

This week, it has been reported widely that the real winners of the Texas primary were the women running for office. More than half of the nearly 50 women running for Congress in Texas won outright or advanced to runoffs.

In at least three Texas runoffs in May women will go head-to-head against each other. Before 2018, it was rare and even frowned upon for a woman to take on another woman in a primary. This year, it is increasingly the reality in crowded primaries across the country.

There is no question that we have miles to go before we achieve gender parity. Everyone deserves the freedom to work, play, and live without the threat of sexual harassment or assault.

And the most vulnerable women – those stuck in low-wage service jobs – deserve as much media attention as female professionals get when they are hit with discrimination and sexual harassment. No woman should have to fear she will lose her job or face other retaliation for complaining about being mistreated.

Unfortunately, we have taken some steps backwards. The U.S. ranked third in economic gender equality in 2006 but fell to 26th in 2018. That trend needs to be reversed.

It will certainly take more than one day or one month to right the wrongs of history against women, end discrimination, and increase the share of elected office positions women hold beyond the current 20 percent. But this year on International Women’s Day I am more eager and more authentically committed to contributing to the seismic shifts occurring to reset the gender equality landscape.