International Women’s Day is certainly a time of reflection for many and I am no exception. Those of us who have experienced discrimination, or worse, as we have heard recounted in the #MeToo movement, often use it as a time to examine facts such as those brought forward by the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which highlighted that gender parity might be more than 200 years away from reality. All of this is totally unacceptable, for sure, and we do need to continually press for progress and celebrate our victories along the way, until this is no longer a topic for discussion.
But I would like to suggest that this International Women’s Day shouldn’t only be about the progress we have or haven’t made, or about our collective efforts and commitment to do better. Instead, I would like to see all of us—men and women—look into the mirror and have an honest conversation with ourselves about our views; what actions we have taken to walk the walk; and what more can we do, not just for ourselves, but for others, both at home and abroad.
Maybe you don’t think you need to confront those questions. Maybe you’re a self-proclaimed feminist and you think you’re already part of the solution. Maybe you are a young woman who does not believe that discrimination or unconscious bias exists. Perhaps you are a male professional who thinks he has no bias. Maybe you’ve hit so many hurdles on your path to equality that you think even 200 years isn’t long enough to achieve our goals.
Simply put; you’re wrong. No one is faultless, and nobody should be without hope. Looking in the mirror and asking ourselves important questions about inclusion, at a time when it has become too easy to walk away from the tough conversation we all need to have, has never been more important.
Women’s History Month, highlighted by International Women’s Day, following on Black History Month, is a good time to reflect on the importance of the very principles of equality and mutual respect that underlie our society. It also provides an opportunity to determine if we are content with the status quo, pace of change and what we personally are doing about it every day. We cannot all be responsible for the acts or advocacy of others, but we certainly can be responsible for ourselves and those we influence.
So, when we look into that mirror what do we see? Are we honest about our own biases and the factors that contribute to them? They are not exclusive to men, they shape the thinking of even the most progressive women. It is hard to be an agent of change when our own actions are not without prejudice from time to time.
As the founder of a majority women-owned firm that believes very much in inclusion and gender parity, I have not always been happy with my look in the mirror. As a baby boomer, I was raised in a system that conditioned you to believe that men were better at a wide range of jobs. Even though I was in charge, my education and socialization colored decisions early in my career that left me in a position where I could have done more.
It is only as I got older (hopefully wiser) and more confident in my own abilities, that I recognized these prejudices and was free to value the often-unique skills women bring to the market and recognize that a diverse workforce was a strong one that best served the client or customer. But this was not intuitive at the time.
Today, I have the privilege of working with a lot of like-minded women who advocate and work hard for gender equality, yet sometimes I hear these same women say insensitive things about women from other parts of the world, particularly the Middle East. As I have worked more and more in that part of the world, I have also come to realize that I, too, probably held prejudice toward women who dressed differently and appeared to defer to the men in their society. It is only by exposure and working side by side did I realize how misguided I was and how women can be very judgmental toward others.
This experience of working side by side with the impressive women I have met personally has made me better understand my own biases and definitely made me a better advocate for parity for all women.
There is a lot of work to do throughout the world. We all need to do our part to ensure that we use the talents of all people in a way that respects their unique talents and global perspectives.
In the next year, we must continue to keep checking the mirror in front of us and keep challenging ourselves to not only do more, but to do it better.
We can do better by not only bringing more women into conference rooms, but by bringing more into boardrooms and giving them space to speak up and be heard.
We can do better by mentoring young women and instilling in them the confidence to go as far as their ability, not society’s expectations, allows them to go.
And we can do better by being more conscious of the often subtle and sometimes not so subtle discrimination that takes place every day—being honest with ourselves when we recognize it, calling others out and standing up for those who might have a difficulty standing up for themselves.
Tomorrow marks 364 days until the next International Women’s Day. Each one of those days is a chance to look in the mirror, take a personal pledge and confront the very things that stand in the way of progress, and, together, work towards the goal of celebrating true gender equality, one person at a time.