Women and other gender minorities continue to be vastly underrepresented in leadership roles.
According to The Canadian Women’s foundation, women make up less than 20% of board members for Canada’s top 500 companies, and only 8.5% of the highest paid positions in Canada are held by women. Women make up 75% of the part-time positions in Canada. The stats on other gender minorities in leadership are nearly non-existent.
Unfortunately, this leads to many women doubting their potential to be leaders. There are very few examples of women leading in their life, directly or indirectly, and we subconsciously absorb what we see. Historically, culturally we have not been raising girls or those identifying as female, to be leaders; we are raising them to be kind to others, to put other people’s needs first, to keep the peace.
I was recently invited to speak to a group of Social Work students about my experiences as a female identifying social work leader. I noticed while I was preparing for my presentation that when we think of women, we can view it too narrowly and fail to expand our definition of gender to include all of those who connect with that identity.
This women's day, I ask you to reconsider “the future is female” and instead look to a future that is inclusive of all gender identities.
Here is the short version of my message for these aspiring social workers:
1. WE NEED MORE GENDER MINORITIES IN LEADERSHIP Women and other gender minorities deserve to be around every table to influence decision making and policies. We need more role models and mentors for every little person watching. Leaders become leaders by watching others challenge the status quo. It shows possibility.
We need to broaden the definition of what makes a good leader; gender minorities bring a different perspective that is more representative of diverse and marginalized voices, we are usually more open to nontraditional approaches and tend to be more collaborative, self-aware and person-centered.
2. YOUR VOICE IS A PRIVILEGE & AND A RESPONSIBILITY As children , we have an inherent sense of our right to speak up and share our opinions, believe in ourselves and take risks but something happens to silence women and girls. They learn through messaging in society that it isn’t OK if their point of view rocks the boat.
Your voice is important, honour it by using it and send it out into the world. Research tells us that those identifying as women are interrupted more than men and speak much less in film and TV. Society tells us to be small and quiet . Speaking up can be challenging and scary. Women learn to take up less space with their body and their voice.
Women are often silenced even when they don’t realize it, so establish a healthy relationship with your own voice. I still struggle to speak up when it feels deeply uncomfortable but once I started letting myself speak, I couldn’t turn back.
I practice recognizing the warning signs of internal confidence collapse within myself (aka anxiety, insecurity, discomfort) and I trust that my voice counts, and I deserve to be in this place. Trust the power in your voice and put it to good use for the next generation when it is safe to do so.
3. CHALLENGE THE GENDER STEREOTYPES FOR LEADERSHIP We want to advance gender equality but also the policing of all people into gender norms. Regardless of your gender identity, it's important to see your potential for leadership. This is beyond women's empowerment, but empowering all genders.
Believe that you deserve to use your voice, you have so much to offer despite not knowing many who have walked this road before you. It is only by challenging the current status of leadership that we make change. Get involved in leadership opportunities, practice using your voice among your friends to share knowledge and empower them.
I would like to acknowledge that it is not always safe or possible for all women or gender minorities to use their voice or try to lead and the need to prioritize physical and emotional safety is often at the root of this issue. I would ask you to challenge harassment and discrimination when you see it around you, at home at at work - it is often subtle. We all need to all work to create safer spaces to make leadership more inclusive.
The theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #breakthebias. This theme aims to inspire people - "imagine a gender equal world" that is diverse, inclusive, and free of discrimination. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women's equality.
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