Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a time to celebrate the achievements of women all around the globe and to preach this year’s IWD theme, “Balance for Better.”
The IWD team really nails the way most of us feel on its website where it says, “we are entering an exciting period of history where the world EXPECTS balance.” The part I especially love is the emphasis placed on the word “expect.” We don’t want balance. We are no longer at a point of simply hoping for balance.
We demand balance right now.
Women have made tremendous progress on this front to date. These efforts have not only opened the door to the brilliant and innovative minds of women all over the world, they have helped to foster a culture of inclusion, which according to a recent Harvard Business Review article can decrease workplace loneliness and lead to higher organizational performance.
So, I encourage all of us to pause and celebrate the work that’s been done. At the same time, we must also take a moment to recharge our batteries because, as with any great movement, the course ahead is filled with ebbs and flows and if we are not energized, the setbacks could dissuade many from pushing onward.
A recent Grant Thornton research paper titled, “Women in business: beyond policy to progress,” illustrates the types of ebbs and flows I am talking about.
- The Flow—The percentage of businesses around the world with at least one woman in senior management has increased significantly, rising from 66% in 2017 to 75% in 2018.
- The Ebb—The proportion of senior roles held by women has marginally declined—Women hold under a quarter (24%) of senior roles across the world in 2018, a decrease from 25% in 2017.
My goal here isn’t to cast gloom over this day. Quite the opposite. It’s to show everyone that we must continue to fight, to do whatever is necessary to open the doors of opportunity and create more flows by sharing our insights, offering our help and more.
Over the course of my career, I’ve always said that I have been very lucky. I’ve never had any less of an opportunity to do what I needed or wanted because I’m a woman. But I have come to learn that my accomplishments have nothing to do with good luck. I forged my own path.
Here are some philosophies that have helped me over the years as well as other suggestions that can open doors for women of all ages.
Lesson One: Reticence Is the Enemy
As we know the business world is far from perfect. Take Silicon Valley as an example—It’s one of the most diverse, anything-is-possible places in the world, a place where the technology industry should be the most inclusive, creative and open-minded. Yet despite this, we still have to battle archaic and narrow-minded views of women. Here are two great examples. According to the Elephant in the Valley survey:
- 88% of women have experienced clients/colleagues addressing questions to male peers that should have been addressed to them.
- 47% were asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues were not asked to do.
I’m happy to report that there is progress being made but we cannot sit idly by and wait until the climate has completely changed. I’ve never waited for opportunity to come to me. I raise my hand, ask difficult questions and dive in because I recognized early in my career one simple truth: reticence is the enemy. There are many women who share this view, but there are many other incredibly talented people who are not taking the leap for fear that old stereotypes and stigmas will prevent them from achieving success. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I encourage women not to let these factors deter us. As Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, said in a recent interview on the Good Morning America television show, “Bravery will bring us joy.”
Lesson Two: Don’t Be Afraid To Lead
Fear of leadership is something that pervades all of us regardless of gender. But did you know that women have unique leadership skills? It begins with Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Today EQ is considered one of the key capabilities in successful leaders and according to a study by the Hay Group division of Korn Ferry, women outperform men in 11 of 12 key emotional intelligence competencies. So, for all the women, young ladies and girls out there with big dreams, you were literally born to lead. Believe in yourself, your uniqueness and EQ. You have an inherent competitive advantage. Be brave and use it!
Lesson Three: Double Down on STEM, STEAM and STREAM
It’s never too early to embark on your career. For those just getting started, remember three terms, the first is STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Right now, there are programs all over that are amazing. In fact, STEM has even garnered the attention of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). That’s right, the organization best known for Thin Mint and Caramel deLite cookies recently announced it will be bringing millions of girls into STEM over the next eight years. Their goal is simple: reduce the gender gap!
The next term is STEAM which adds an A for arts. While the difference may seem negligible at the surface level, the A is part of an effort to expand beyond the stereotypical view of what an engineer should look like (picture the hard science thinker). STEAM recognizes that when we look at the future of technology, a big part of it will entail creative thinking. While still science-based, technology will need to incorporate artistic expression, something women can appreciate immediately. And taking things one step further, a newer niche trend that has recently shown up is STREAM programs. The “R” stands for Reading and wRiting which incorporates critical thinking as well as creativity in curriculums and successful leaders. Young women should be very encouraged by this trend.
It’s International Women’s Day. I encourage you all to take a moment to appreciate just how far we have come. I also call for everyone to continue forging ahead. And remember, we were born to lead!