The one where it has been a little unfair for a little too long...
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8th across the world. IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped pot...ential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
As I researched on women's rights, different social economic statuses, family and cultural backgrounds; I found some very interesting and somewhat disturbing statistics for our gender. I have collected and will be sharing them with you tomorrow throughout the day. In the meantime...
Statistics show that in the workforce 57% of men entering the workforce will negotiate their salary. Only 7% of women will do the same. In the corporate sector at a C level position (CEO, COO, CFO etc), statistics show that women hold 15-16% of these positions and the scariest part is that this data hasn't moved since 2002. Now, what do you think of that? Does it surprise you? Does it scare you? Is it fair?
Don't get me wrong, I believe that there are some things out there that are really unfair for the men as well. Just not in the business world I am afraid. And since it is IWD, it's time to talk about our side of the story. I promise, I will keep it fair. I will try anyway.
I don't think I am a feminist. I don't think I ever was or will be one, for the simple reason that, if it was an idea or movement that really worked, we wouldn't be having this discussion now. Would we? Don't get me wrong, I agree with the fundamentals of having equal rights and opportunities, I just don't think I should need anyone to establish, define or defend social rights for women. They should be a given. For everyone. Whether you are a woman or a man you should be equally respected, recognised and accepted in the community you are in.
If a woman is exceptional at her job, she should get promoted and rewarded accordingly. If she excels academically, she should be given the same opportunities as her male peers. If she is physically strong enough, she should be able to face the same challenges in the army or airforce for example. As for the little stuff, I am not concerned. Of course there are certain things that men are much better at and other things that women are better at respectively. Have you ever tried changing a tyre? In a dress? With high heels on? And that's not because we agree to say so and keep the peace, but because it is scientifically proven that our brains work differently, we have different genetic coding and if you ask me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's actually kind of fun.
In the corporate world though, the argument can go on forever. If you ask the men, they respectfully disagree. They don't see it. Or they choose not to. Some are clever enough to never admit it. Some probably think that we actually have it pretty good and somehow easier. The reason for that is either because the expectations for women to climb the corporate ladder are indeed lower, or due to the fact that, for some men, women are actually "lucky" to go off on a "baby holiday" for a few weeks, months or years. They get a break so why complain...Totally out of this world. I know!
The truth is that in modern societies, we are lucky. We don't have to live in the world that our grandmothers and mums lived in where career choices were very limited, if not, non existent. We grew up in a world where we more or less have the basic rights, yet it is scary to think that in some places in the world women still don't have them. They are the ones that need all the help in the world and all the movements to help them come nearer to everything we already take for granted.
But what's our excuse? If that's the case and statistics are failing us, how are we going to fix this? And what is it, that we are doing wrong? Facebook COO and one of the most inspirational women of our times, Sheryl Sandberg, seems to think that women might actually be more responsible for the situation they are in than they think. Unfortunately, I agree. According to Mrs. Sandberg, women systematically doubt themselves and their capabilities and don't believe that they deserve their success. They don't see it, they don't celebrate it and down deep they don't always think it is theirs to own. They put it down to other people's kind assistance, timing or even luck. Men on the other hand seem to think that success has purely got to do with how awesome they are! "Success and like-ability are positively co related for men and negatively co related for women", she adds. How sad.
As Sheila Murray Bethel said once "One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.” Do we do that? Do we actually take time out to really look at ourselves, assess our lives and make a plan on where we would like to go and what we want to achieve? Are we proactive enough or just reactive and more compromising as the years go by?
According to Sheryl Sandberg, there seems to be another problem adding to all this. Bigger if you ask me. Apparently women are dropping out. Literally. From the moment a woman decides to get married and have a family, she takes her foot off the pedal and concentrates on what's coming or might come in the near future. And by "leaning back", she stops looking for a promotion, she doesn't raise her hand when a good project comes up and starts building the guilt inside her already. She feels guilty towards her boss, she feels guilty towards her colleagues, she feels guilty towards her clients and she ultimately feels guilty towards herself. And the craziest part of all is that, she actually feels guilty about something that hasn't even happened yet. Do you feel guilty? I have..plenty of times. Women tell me every day. They feel guilty if they are caught up in a meeting and they are late for the school concert. They feel guilty if they don't put their baby to sleep before they catch a flight to another city for work. They feel awfully guilty if their baby gets sick and they need to take the day off. They feel even worse if they still have to go to work and leave the sick baby at home. No matter how you look at it, this powerful, unpleasant and totally annoying feeling creeps up. And my god, it is so painful and so unfair. And let me tell you this; no feminist in this world can make this woman feel any better about herself at that time.
So what are we doing and more importantly: What are we supposed to be doing in order to get out of this internal "guilt" state?
I believe that we need to show the world that we really are strong, independent women and we must all work together towards challenging old style government and business policies in order to enable women to more easily opt out of the workforce. We need to stop compromising and start challenging. We need to praise each other when a job is well done, never judge another woman's decisions, instead help out when we can, pat our female colleague on the shoulder and make a point of celebrating our success. TOGETHER. Ultimately, we have to OWN It! Because if we own it, thats when everyone will start to realise as well. Respect is not given freely. We need to fight for it and to quote Eleanor Roosevelt; "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Luckily I get the feeling that women are starting to realise. They are feeling the pain and seeing the reflection of their self doubt in their career and ultimately in their lives. We have options like coaching, further studying, mentoring programs, workshops and training but unless we shake off the guilt and "stay focused" until the end, nothing will change.
Whether a woman decides to have a family or not. Whether she returns back to the workforce or decides to take a break and raise her young family...there should really be no judgment. There is definitely no right or wrong. But if we don't try to be the best we can in whatever it is that we choose to do...if we don't raise our hand, ask for what we deserve and celebrate our wins, then what are we telling our daughters? And most importantly; what are we telling our sons?
My motto is that behind a successful woman is herself. I have had a few people challenge me over this quote lately. Yes, I believe that a woman can do everything herself. But it goes much deeper and it is quite more meaningful than what one might think. To me, a woman can only succeed when her entire self is present. Next to her; or behind her; cheering her along the way and encouraging her to keep striving for the best. Not in the selfish way that someone might think but in the genuine and constructive way that a woman needs. That's what I am talking about.
And yes, the truth is that I don't want it to be a man's world, anymore. But, I don't want it to be a woman's world either. I want everyone to have the same opportunities and the same resources at any given point in time, in any place around the world, regardless of their gender so that we can all be as successful as we can in whatever we choose to do. I want to play fair, be successful and have fun along the way.
I want my daughter to know that if you really really try with all you have, then you can reach for the stars. I want her to know that there is nothing she can't do. I tell her every single day. But I want her to also remember that true happiness doesn't solely come when you succeed. True happiness comes when you can be proud of your accomplishments and you are confident enough to celebrate your victories. I want my daughter to be strong, independent and successful and as she is growing up I want the little girl that she was to be proud of the woman she has become.
But at the same time I want my son to know that a real woman can do it all by herself, but a real man won't let her. Someone once said: A man who treats his woman like a princess, is proof that he was born and raised in the arms of a queen. I am happy with that.
Have a fabulous Women's Day tomorrow and remember to smile because we are women. And we are fabulous!
Note: The Australian National Committee for UN Women (formerly UNIFEM Australia) hosts several International Women's Day events each year. To find out about what's happening in your State, check out their website. See More