DECEMBER is here and with it, the end-of-year retrospectives Milestones are reviewed, trends analysed, and listening habits ranked and wrapped. The latter has become an event in itself, albeit one which this year unfortunately coincided with Spotify’s announcement of a 17% cut to its workforce.
In a business landscape rife with challenge and change, ‘clamping down on costs’ has become the all-too-common trope throughout 2023’s litany of lay-offs, with global tech firms in particular hit hardest following their lockdown booms.
Familiar and fierce economic headwinds, cold and cutting as they are, will no doubt continue to weigh heavily on businesses in the year ahead, especially when viewed through the lens of a fraught geopolitical backdrop.
Yet among the challenge and the change, throughout 2023 we glimpsed the green shoots of hope. We witnessed world-leading summits on AI and inward investment to the UK and, in particular, Northern Ireland, not to forget a US presidential visit to Belfast from which to draw inspiration and resolve.
The year that was also marked the passing of path-breaking individuals such as Sandra Day O’Connor, the first women justice on the US Supreme Court, who died at the beginning of December. What O’Connor achieved in and out of the courtroom has inspired women in the legal sector and beyond.
Across her personal and professional life, O’Connor rose to meet challenge and change head-on, becoming a pragmatic deciding vote in many of the Supreme Court’s most consequential decisions, before ultimately giving up the role to care for her husband of 52 years as he deteriorated from dementia.
Her exceptional career and legacy encapsulate the changing gender roles across generations. To the extent that, when O’Connor was admitted to Standford Law School in 1950, only 1% of law students were female. Today that figure has closed in on gender parity at 50%, thanks in no small part to O’Connor’s own pioneering work in the field.
Here was a self-professed "cowgirl from the Arizona desert,” entering a domain once occupied exclusively by men, who blazed a trial for others to follow. Despite graduating near the top of her class in law school, O’Connor was offered only a secretarial position upon applying for major firms. While others outright refused to hire a woman. Discrimination based on sex. Even her appointment to the Supreme Court drew the ire of critics who were incredulous at how a female could possibly fare within the highest court in the land.
O’Connor, meanwhile, remained resolute throughout her 26-year term. Indeed, it is her intelligence and influence that will see her remembered as a role model. And a relatable one at that, given how she deftly balanced the competing demands of being a wife, a mother and a professional until the very end, when she had the confidence to give up her seat on the Supreme Court to look after her ailing husband who in an extraordinary twist of fate found romance with another woman – a fellow Alzheimer’s patient at his supported living facility. News which ‘thrilled’ Justice O’Connor who found solace in knowing her husband was comfortable and content after suffering from the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s for 14 years.
In terms of rising to meet challenge and change, few did it better and with more guile than Sandra Day O’Connor. Her unrelenting spirit and human approach in many ways embody the mindset we must collectively carry forward as we approach the precipice of another new year.
Economic turbulence and the climate emergency also sit high on the global agenda and will require unrelenting collaboration if we are to adequately mitigate and manage. So that, when the time comes to run the rule over another 12 months, we can recognise the challenges faced, yes, but also the efforts made to overcome them.
:: Claire Aiken is managing director of public relations and public affairs company Aiken