Inspiring Inclusion in Communities: Leaders Discuss International Womens Day 2024 Theme

This year, Soldiering On Awards (SOA) CEO Ren Kapur MBE has teamed up with our awards partner Adele Every at Cisco, and her colleague Sarah Walker, to kick-start an annual event seeking to shine a light on the incredible women and men in our Armed Forces community, and wider Forces-friendly individuals.

For International Women’s Day (IWD) our aim is to bring all the partners of SOA together at different cities across the UK, starting off small with Newcastle, Cardiff, and Manchester, with our own theme of ‘Inspirational Communities’ – incorporating IWD’s international theme with the wonderful stories of our inspiring community – including the unsung heroes in our own X-Forces Enterprise and Soldiering On Awards communities, and beyond!


To kick off this year’s IWD event, our Projects Assistant, Zoé, interviewed Ren, Adele, and Sarah about what this year’s theme means to them as a prelude to the events taking place on the 7th of March. Ahead of the event, here are the questions that were asked:

1. What do we mean by ‘Inspire Inclusion’?

2. How can we turbocharge inclusive communities?

3. What is the radical, new dynamism that will make a difference?


Ren, Adele, and Sarah, what does inclusion mean to you?

Ren: In its most raw and fundamental sense, I believe inclusion means accepting differences. Everyone, no matter their identity or background, is unique, and we all have different experiences. It’s so important to recognise this in others and try to understand outside our own paradigms. Inclusion involves constantly being in an openminded space in how we view the world. One of my favourite Stephen Covey habits from the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. If we are in environments that allow us to express our true selves without compromise, then we can build inclusive communities. By embracing this, and being comfortable to support, debate, and challenge each other (in a kind way), we can become more fulfilled as a society that is based on trust and understanding.

Adele: Inclusion starts with having access to a broad range of people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and life experiences – how can we be inclusive if our own definitions are narrowed? This comes with understanding what inclusive communities look like, whether that be in the workplace or in our personal lives. We believe that building environments based on trust starts with the inclusion of the self, in all its nuances and complex parts.

Sarah: In addition to what has been said, I feel fundamentally it is the culmination of acceptance, openness, and curiosity – excluding all bias and seeing the true value of difference. It means creating environments where all people can be themselves and see the value in their own uniqueness.


How can we turbocharge inclusive communities?

Adele: As it happens, we’ve already been doing this through our 40 ‘connected communities’ at Cisco. This commitment ensures that no one has to compromise on who they are. We all belong to multiple communities, and it’s so important to recognise this if we are to create spaces for authenticity, safety, and freedom – both at work and in our home lives. Like many other places, we’ve got all the communities you’d expect to see – Women, Diversity, LGBTQ+ – but we’ve gone further than that, and lots more smaller communities also exist that cater to people’s health, interests, family lives, and so much more, By way of illustration, there are professional communities and also personal ones, both of which I really enjoy, and just by being a mum there are loads of different communities I can be involved with. This access to ‘connected communities’ means we can embrace inclusion to the fullest.

Ren: I’m really inspired by what Adele has said and I’m not surprised that Cisco has this! It never fails to enthuse me when talking to big businesses to see the opportunities they have, and how effectively they can use these resources to embrace their people. This really inspires me to think about how we can take this to small and medium-sized businesses. No matter our size, we can powerfully incorporate inclusion in our personal and career spaces – we are an ecosystem within ecosystems, and we need to feed off each other’s ideas, values, and actions to grow!

Sarah: Ditto to the comments above! As leaders, it’s so important to actively demonstrate our beliefs, our support, and our drive to embrace and create these connected communities – and actively participate. If we continue to show up authentically, we foster safer environments for others to follow suit.


What radical, dynamic actions can we take that will make a difference?

Ren: ‘Connected communities’ offer us the freedom we need – and I’m stealing Adele’s word here – to “hatch” new, inclusive groups where everyone can feel safe enough to contribute. If we nourish the ecosystem to allow the sum of the parts to come together, then we can encourage the grit and determination that will influence a whole community – across nations and across the world. My takeaway is how we bring these parts together – I’m going to reach out to my friends at the Federation of Small Businesses to consider how SMEs can embrace communities, have a bigger presence with inclusion, and bring these amazing ideas to the next level.

Adele: Taking action also comes with viewing IWD not only as one day, but a wider framework for the attitudes and commitments we hold every day. It’s a time for us to come together and reflect on our achievements, but also consider what we must do to earn celebration and what more we can do. Are there communities you feel are not connected enough to others? What more needs to be done for individuals and communities to feel safe, seen, and valued?

Sarah: Couldn’t agree more with the comments already made – but in some way, it’s not only about radical and dynamic actions, but more about consistent and deliberate changes in the way we engage at all levels – personally and professionally. We create movements through daily and weekly changes in behaviours across our networks. Do the big stuff, but never forget that our daily behaviours and choices shape who we are and can make a huge difference too!


In short, ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ means firstly being open minded to the world around us and being motivated by others who are already igniting change. It is critical that we continue to spearhead the areas we’re already achieving in, but we must focus on how ideas can be transformed into action – as we all know, change doesn’t come about in an echo chamber. If we can be influenced by others, we can pass that on, and create a ripple effect that cascades down into a collective. It’s about sharing stories so others can find determination, nourish the inner grit to excel, and create an environment where everyone can flourish!


Here are our main takeaways for this year’s IWD theme, ‘Inspire Inclusion’:

· “Seek First to Understand, and then to Be Understood”.

· Include and Inspire – turn your stigmas into strengths.

· Keep hatching communities!

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