All over the world, women have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Make up for lost ground, much less definitely level the playing field, will take time.
Yet waiting for time alone to dismantle the systemic barriers that make women more vulnerable in times of crisis and their leadership climbing steeper is hardly an option. Not when the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take at least 250 years to achieve parity and not when we know that when more women are seated at decision-making tables, better decisions are made for the good of all. Men included.
Obviously, it will take a lot more than time. This will require a concentrated effort on the part of policy makers and business leaders. And it will take courage … on the part of women and the men who defend them.
The good news is that each of us can play our part.
Since the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, here are three ways to do it.
-1- Challenge doubts that fuel a feeling of inadequacy
The often cited study from Hewlett-Packard who found that where men are comfortable applying for a job with only 6 or all 10 attributes of “ideal candidate” compared to women who want to have a big tick in the ten boxes, this testifies to how women judge themselves more harshly and are more reluctant to put themselves “out”.
There are many factors that explain why women tend to doubt themselves more and support themselves less. These include:
· Risk the “reaction effect” by acting outside the traditional prescriptions of the role of guardian of women
Add to that the unconscious internalization of the misogynist ‘think manager, think man’ gender norms and it is hardly surprising that many women struggle to embrace their unique strengths of female leadership and underestimate the value they bring. No wonder so many amazingly accomplished and talented women struggle with impostor syndrome.
Yet it is only when we women dare to challenge the negative noises in our heads, those critical voices urging us to think small and play safe, that we can discover how little reason we had to. believe them.
As I wrote before, don’t wait for trust!
-2- Challenge the limits and labels that others put on you
Growing up on a small farm in rural Australia, my father – who left school at 16 and milked dairy cows for 50 years – told me he saw big things for me… like one day becoming a sister Margaret Mary responsible for a convent. . Back when I was in my early teens, he clearly looked up because I still remember him saying to me, with great pride, “Actually, I think you could be a mother.” Margaret Mary, responsible for a whole order of convents. ”
Alas, I never felt the call.
However, I share this story, fun though it is, because my parents’ limited view of me was confined by the limited horizons of their own lives.
We all know that women can be called bossy because they act as confidently as men around them. Or that the word “ambition” is negatively correlated for women (but not for men). Or that women who are seen as too nice, too nice or too community may be seen as less leadership than men. Yet when they behave competitively, they are considered less likable.
Obviously, women face many double constraints and face more restrictive labels and lower expectations than men. Even well-meaning parents like mine can limit how their daughters see themselves. For example, parents of boys are more likely to see their sons succeed tech entrepreneurs than their daughters. Gender biases start early and run deep, permeating our psyche in deep but invisible ways.
Power has no gender, yet our mental model of power is inherently masculine. So it stands to reason that the only way to reconstruct the gendered mind maps that restrict what we see as possible for ourselves is to question them. As Vice President Harris said last November:
Dream with ambition. Lead with conviction. And see yourself in a way that others might not see you, just because they’ve never seen it before.
-3- Challenge more women to support each other more often
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women. Here here. But I think we need to raise the bar higher. We need to proactively strive to uplift other women – to question how they see themselves, how they speak for themselves, and what they see as possible for themselves.
After comparing my own media platform negatively with Oprah’s after following a podcast interview I did this with presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, she looked me straight in the eye and said something that is stuck:
There is nothing holy in diminishing oneself.
Words hold the power. What we say about ourselves and about others is as much generative as it is descriptive.
So the next time you hear a woman talking to each other, focusing on what she hasn’t done, downplaying everything she has, or just deflecting a compliment, even sarcastically, draw her attention to it. (It probably won’t take long since most women I know have a hard time accepting a compliment.)
Alice Walker once said:
The most common way for people to let go of their power is to think that they don’t have it.
Own your power and challenge other women when they deprive themselves of their power.
As I wrote before, when women stand up, we all stand up. It is not a zero sum game. Advancing more women to the top positions will require valuing caregiving as an essential part and breadwinner and embracing the strengths of female leadership – empathy, compassion and affiliative use of power – just as valuable as male strengths. traditional. It starts by challenging us to better own our value, challenge our doubts more often and dare to make a difference through our difference.
How will you choose to challenge?
Be brave! Make a bet on yourself.
Dr Margie Warrell is a bestseller author, speaker and advocate for women’s leadership. She is also the creator of Courageous women rise up leadership program. Listen to her talk to Simmons Conference on Women’s Leadership.