Do you ever go to a conference and notice something odd? For example, when you see an all-male "high-level" panel on issues such as innovation, development, and human rights? What these instances represent is not only unfair bias (after all, women are almost 50% of the world population) but missed opportunities.
While I often find myself disappointed (and sad to instantly feel that way) any time I see a panel of experts or a group of representatives that fails to fairly represent gender balance, I'm also aware that there's much more than meets the eye. The number of female speakers in a conference, in itself, is not the problem. It's the fact that the underrepresentation of female professionals may, and often does, represent a much larger issue of gender inequality in many professions.
As my close friends and colleagues know, I'm often pretty vocal about how I feel about such situations. But I'm not about to write a long post complaining or pointing fingers. My hope, on the contrary, is to propose one (small but I believe powerful) way to address this issue, start taking action, and ask that you consider taking part as well.
Inspired by Leaders and Entrepreneurs
My idea is simply to highlight and share stories of role models. Not of "women leaders" or "women entrepreneurs", but of leaders and entrepreneurs who are women and who are also many other things - writers, teachers, mentors, speakers, consultants, artists, guides, designers, business owners. I consider this difference extremely important, because although it's true that we still live in the world where women in leadership positions are special (we never hear "men leaders" or "men entrepreneurs," do we?), if we want to change it, we should start living the change.
I want us to start thinking about our leaders and entrepreneurs - our role models - as people who inspire us. When it becomes so normal and commonplace to see women in leadership positions and when gender inequality is no longer an issue, we will probably stop saying "women leaders". Obviously that's not going to happen overnight, but why not start by taking small steps towards the world we want?
Sharing stories of role models for professional women is my way of taking those small steps. I've been fortunate to have numerous opportunities to live and work internationally, and have gotten to know many women from around the world who I consider to be my professional, as well as personal, role models. I want to learn from and share their stories, to inspire even more people to become leaders and to start changing the world.
Why Role Models Matter
We've made some progress, it's often said, but there's still a long way to go for our world to achieve gender equality, be it in the public sector or leadership positions in businesses. This kind of discussion is often accompanied by a clarification that women should not be made leaders just because they are women. Of course not. Just as men shouldn't be treated differently in the workplace just because they are men (which shouldn't but does happen, according to these data on gender pay gaps - e.g. 23% in the US, 15% in the UK, over 16% on average in Europe).
It should never be just about the number of women, or men for that matter, in a given group of people with certain titles. That's why the idea of implementing mandatory quotas in leadership positions is usually met with skepticism and criticism from both men and women. But when we consider the current reality of gender inequality in the world, and really take stock of the severity of it, we should also find value in having visible female role models in leadership positions, and the positive impact that their presence can have.
If we are genuinely serious about wanting change, shouldn't we be taking more proactive approaches to building conditions for positive change?
I believe that we should accept the reality that gender inequality still persists in many aspects of our lives, and accept our responsibility to make change happen (not just wait for it to happen). In some places, a "quota" approach may be a positive step in the right direction. In others, it may be stronger gender equality policies and regulations that are needed to bring about change. Or, it may be about changing the conversation to encourage women to think differently about their career goals and ambitions.
By making it a bit easier to learn about and learn from professional women who are making a difference in their companies, communities, and countries, I hope I'll be able to play a small part in challenging the status quo.
Interested? Have ideas or suggestions? Please let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org