On Monday we celebrated International Women’s Day. Each year I come across one or two provocative people who ask the question – do we still need this day?
The answer is yes. We must continue to spark conversation and recommitment to action, not only on March 8, but every single day, because there is much more to be done on a global scale to achieve gender equality.
Only 20% of tech jobs in the US are held by women; in 2020 there were still only five women CEOs on the FTSE 100 in the UK; globally, women continue to shoulder the domestic burden. Added to that, we still have not achieved pay equity on a global scale. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn for work of equal value. Let that sink in before you say, ‘done and dusted’ and move on.
International Women’s Day is about recognizing our progress while being honest about where we are and reaching for more.
I love this years’ theme #choosetochallenge. Challenge brings change and we certainly need to make many shifts in removing the barriers that prevent women from enjoying fulfilling lives, free from bias and deprivation.
Here are a five things we can #choosetochallenge for change.
#Choosetochallenge gender-coded norms
I still remember the day we went shopping as a family. My husband and my son wandered off together while Lauren stuck with me. She was about eight at the time. My eyes landed on a stack of boxes with shiny drone helicopters and I almost squealed.
“Lauren, don’t you think this would be perfect for your brother?” I wasn’t really asking so I didn’t expect her to answer.
She hesitated before responding, “Yes Mommy, but I want toys like these too, and no one ever buys them for me.”
I bought two drone helicopters (one for each child) and went home feeling sick with guilt.
As women, we like to think that we are at the forefront of the struggle for equality, but the truth is that we exist within a web of oppressive structures. We play into them and perpetuate them without even thinking.
Look at the clothing, toys and books that you buy for your children. How do these reinforce gender-coded norms? Listen to the language that you use daily in your interactions. Where are you perpetuating stereotypes? Examine where and how you are reinforcing biased ways of thinking that don’t serve the journey towards progress.
#Choosetochallenge men to share the domestic burden
Women don’t make better cleaners and carers. It’s a myth that we created. It’s time for us to change it.
One morning I could not make it to my son’s school for a meeting with his teacher. She was holding an orientation session to introduce parents to the curriculum and answer questions. My husband said not to worry, he would attend before heading into office.
Afterwards, he told me that he was the only man in a room of 30 people and the teacher was quite apologetic to him. She said that she could have sent the information home, he need not have come.
I don’t believe she said that to any of the women present. I don’t think she would have said that to me. Is a man’s time more important than a woman’s?
Why are women working fulltime jobs and still almost exclusively responsible for parenting, caring for aging parents, and managing domestic chores? With Covid they have also become de facto teachers and short-order cooks working round the clock to prepare meals and clean up.
Can we just say STOP!
Men – we need you to step up and support. You can’t say you are our biggest cheerleaders if you aren’t also doing your fair share at home. Please, relieve women of this tremendous burden so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.
#Choosetochallenge negative behaviors towards women in the workplace
Often, in corporate environments, when a woman leans in and asks tough questions she is branded as aggressive, hostile, intense, angry. Unfortunately, it’s happened to me and to many other women I know. We need a concerted effort to end this practice of shaming women into being silent.
Start by listening and observing what’s going on in your environment.
- Did someone mansplain when your female colleague made her point?
- Did someone ignore her point and then repeat it as if it were their original idea?
- Did someone say she was aggressive and emotional, so she isn’t ready for a promotion?
- When presenting, was she given less time on the floor and frequently interrupted?
- Is the salary you are about to offer her equal to or more than what you paid the last man who was in the role?
You can break these negative patterns by interrupting bias. Speak up and challenge it when you see it in action.
#Choosetochallenge by sponsoring women
My first job after graduating from University was at JAMPRO in Jamaica. All the way up the chain of command I worked with strong women – my colleague in the adjoining cubicle, my manager, the assistant vice president, and the president. All exceptionally talented women who guided me, coached me, mentored me, and sponsored me.
In its 2018 report entitled Women in business and management: Gaining momentum in the Caribbean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed that Jamaica had the highest proportion of women managers in the world at 59 per cent. This is an impressive track record.
I can tell you that the impact of being surrounded by strong female leaders is phenomenal. It is hard to be what we cannot see. Looking back on my early career, the stage was set for me to believe that no doors would be closed to me because I was a woman. But I also had the benefit of great sponsors, both male and female.
I firmly believe that women are over-mentored and under sponsored. Mentoring is great but women also need coaching and active sponsors to nominate them for bigger roles.
Where can you sponsor a woman today so that she can stretch into new opportunities? Is it in the workplace, or in the sporting arena, or in an extra-curricular activity? Become more intentional about using your power to make a difference.
#Choosetochallenge yourself to think differently and uncover new dimensions
By stereotyping women, we also stereotype men. Be honest – when you think of a nursery schoolteacher does the image of a man come to mind? I bet there are men who wanted to pursue that career but were discouraged or ridiculed.
When you think of someone staying home to take care of their baby, you think of the mother. Why not the father? Why aren’t more companies offering paternity leave so that fathers can lean in and share the bonding experience instead of sleeping in a separate room so they can be fresh for work in the morning?
In shifting the paradigm that has existed for many years, men might temporarily feel displaced, but they can choose to think and operate in new ways which benefit everyone.
I believe that if we work together, we can open the door to create greater balance in many professions – rebalancing where there are too few men and rebalancing where we don’t see women. It’s an exciting opportunity to build a society that works for all.
What will you #choosetochallenge today?
Leave a comment below. Let’s talk about it together and make change happen.
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© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.