Last week, as part of Women’s History Month, I participated in AVENIR GLOBAL’s Women in Leadership panel discussion with my colleagues, Tina Shepley of Cherry, Tina Charpentier of Padilla and our fabulous moderator Stephanie Chan of SHIFT Communications, who is a member of our global network’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.
The conversation was inspiring, to say the least. It made me stop and think of the progress women have made and reminded me how important it is to share stories and advice to support the momentum underway to achieve equality.
There are many steps we can all make—small and large—to advocate for equality at work. Here are six that I’m thinking about:
Courage and confidence
If you are new to your career, trust your voice and have the confidence to use it. You’ve done the work to get the job. Know that you were hired for a reason; work hard and if you run into barriers, know that raising your voice is a strength not a weakness. Practice using your voice out loud—whether it is with a trusted colleague, a mirror or in a meeting— and your confidence will build from there.
If you are a couple of decades into your career like me, check your blinders. The work world I entered in 1994 has evolved: more women entering the workforce, subsidized parental leave, a leadership shift from “act like a man“ to ”inclusive leadership”. As women, make sure you are not leaving the barriers you overcame for the next generation of women. Help them navigate them, or simply clear them out of the way. As men, ask more questions and make space for voices to influence direction. Ask the individual before making assumptions on if they can take on an initiative. Check the examples you use in your work world—and ask the question, are they inclusive?
We are so fortunate to have countless examples of stellar women leaders. They should be celebrated for their intelligence, hard work, passion, vision, and accomplishments—not for being all of that and a woman. I say we shift the celebration away from the fact they are a certain age, a mom, a wife/partner, a woman and focus on their business accomplishments. and what makes them an amazing leader.
Everyone should be advocating for equality in parental leave. Full stop. I shared with the team that I changed my view to being a parent first and a mom second after the birth of my second child. This shift in perspective allowed me to see parenting as a partnership rather than having the pressure of being a “do it all” mom. It also gave me permission to share more responsibilities and parental leave with my husband and balanced our responsibilities, allowing me the space to pursue other things that are important to me.
As Tammy Schirle, Professor of Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University has shared, “Men don’t experience the same negative consequences for becoming fathers.” To remove the real or perceived “motherhood penalty” and level the playing field for parents, we will see fewer women feel the need to leave the workforce. We will see balance of responsibilities at home and at work. Men should be encouraged to take leave, and we should focus on calling it parental leave rather than maternity leave. A small shift, but words and labels matter.
As we consider how we structure our organizations and teams; it is time to think of new processes and innovations we can make to be more inclusive and evolve our thinking on the “right model for success”. Through COVID-19 we have learned we can be agile and flexible—and still deliver well. How do we take this learning to make our work environments more inclusive and family-friendly? Let’s not make assumptions that a change in how people work will not be profitable or successful. Try making changes, be patient and work through some of the hurdles and build trust amongst your team .
Having benefited from strong mentors in my career, I would encourage seeking out and becoming a mentor either in formal or informal formats. Like many realities of giving back, you gain so much more than you give, and you have the unique opportunity to help someone shape their future. I’ve learned so much from my younger colleagues throughout my career.
I continue to be inspired by great leaders who are advocating for great talent and making space for different perspectives at the table. We need more of it at all levels of organizations.
My hope on this last day of Women’s History Month is that in the very near future we stop asking why it is important to have women in leadership. Instead, we focus on seeing the benefit and richness of different perspectives in the growth and success of our organizations and communities.