Today is International Women’s Day, a day where we celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality. This day is a special day for me, as gender equality is a topic I am particularly passionate about.
As the Ottawa Chair of the Women in Leadership Foundation, I have made it my personal mission to reach out and support as many women as possible as they endeavour to level up in their careers.
While 2020 will forever be remembered as the year Covid-19 changed our lives, it has also marked an incredible year for women’s achievements and progress towards equality.
Here are a few events from the year that I am proud to say moved the needle in the right direction:
US elects first woman vice president
Kamala Harris became the first woman vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have seen men entrenched at the highest levels of office for generations.
A few other countries that have female vice presidents include Bulgaria, Nicaragua, Liberia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and the South Sudan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Women leaders shine in the face of Covid-19
Responses to the pandemic varied widely, with research suggesting that countries with women leaders responded faster and more effectively.
This was yet another compelling reason why we need to see more women in leadership. (Photo credit: Time Magazine)
Two women take home Nobel Prize in Chemistry
This also marked the first time two women have won the chemistry Nobel together. (Photo credit: New York Times)
Equal pay for women athletes in Brazil and Sierra Leone
Brazil and Sierra Leone have joined Australia, England, Norway and New Zealand in publicly committing to equal pay for women and men soccer (football) athletes.
This marked a historic decision aimed to address inequality and close the gender pay gap once and for all. (Photo credit: Olympic channel)
TIME’s first Kid of the Year celebrates girl power and women in science
This honour was given for the first time ever to 15-year-old scientist and inventor, Gitanjali Rao, who developed and app (Kindly) to drive social change and introduce positivity and community in the world around her. (Photo credit: Time Magazine)
Taking action for equality
“The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person” --Sheryl Sandberg
Women face not only institutional barriers but internal ones as well. Our shift to a more equal world can start with us, as we challenge our own internal barriers. Here are a few actions that we can take immediately:
Speak up and get visible: Speak up, voice your opinion and take credit for your work. Ask with confidence for that raise, promotion, opportunity, or anything you believe you have earned.
Keep building your skills: Whether it is getting additional education/training, seeking professional coaching, learning a new language. Whatever it takes to keep evolving and growing your skills.
Build a network and be part of a community: Support and celebrate other women. If you’re in the position to mentor another woman, do it. Or join a women’s group. There are countless ways to build a network and be part of a community of support. Remember that you aren’t alone and that there is strength in numbers.
Normalize parenthood: Until we start pushing back and redefining corporate culture to normalize being a parent, mothers will continue to fall behind in climbing the corporate ladder. Instead of apologizing for your absence due to a family conflict, insist that meetings be scheduled during work hours.
Growing the He for She movement
The He for She movement is growing and it’s not surprising since, according to the International Monetary Fund, supporting women doesn’t just make sense, it’s smart economics.
While the world is waking up to the fact that gender equality isn’t just a women’s issue, more men are being proactive in the pursuit of equality. Here are some best practices for men who want to take action towards a more equal world:
Just listen: Listen in a way that inspires trust and respect. This is a fundamental relationship promise you must make, and then keep, with women who invite you to participate around equity.
Respect the space: Women’s conferences and events are often platforms where women share painful experiences of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination. Tread respectfully into these spaces and before you utter a word, revisit the recommendation above.
Remember, it’s not about you: Avoid mansplaining. Ask women how you can amplify, not replace or usurp existing gender parity efforts. A large dose of gender humility will help here.
Support and be a champion for women: The best cross-gender ally relationships are reciprocal and mutually growth-enhancing. Share your social capital, influence, information, knowledge, and organizational resources.
Women’s economic empowerment
According to the UN Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment, when women work, economies grow. Incorporating women into your workforce not only boosts productivity while increasing revenues, but also leads to better decision making.
If companies want to attract and retain more women in their organizations, they need to build an inclusive organization where women can thrive. Most women are looking for more than just a job: we are looking for meaning in our work, mentorship, flexibility, opportunities to grow, recognition for achievements, and a culture that supports family life.
Gender parity isn’t just good economics, it is a moral imperative. And if you truly want your business to prosper, you’d better make women a part of your strategy.
Change can start now
So, I hope that today you will join me in celebrating all of the incredible things that women have done and would like to leave you with this final message:
Women, we need to dismantle our own mental barriers. Men, we need you to step up and champion us. Companies, please start normalizing family life into your corporate culture.
We don't have to wait. Change can start now, at this very moment. Let’s take these steps together towards a better future. An equal world for all of us.
Happy Women’s Day!
--Susie Ho is the Senior Advisor at NII's Bruce Power Centre for Next Generation Nuclear.