International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. Every March 8 is a great opportunity for us women to look back at past struggles and accomplishments, celebrate how far we have come but most importantly look ahead at the untapped potential and opportunities that present themselves.
Although that’s all well and good in theory, as I research women’s rights, different social economic statuses, family and cultural backgrounds, I come across some very interesting, and somewhat disturbing statistics regarding our gender, which I couldn’t help but share with you on this ‘special’ day.
According to statistics, 57 per cent of men entering the workforce will negotiate their salary, while only 7 per cent of women will do the same. In the corporate sector at a C level position (CEO, COO and CFO), statistics also show that women hold around 16 per cent of those positions and the scariest part is that this data hasn’t moved since 2002. I can’t help but wonder; if feminism was an idea or movement that really worked in women’s favour, would we be having this discussion now?
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the fundamentals of women having equal rights and opportunities with men, I just feel as though I don’t need anyone to establish, define or defend social rights for women in the year of 2017. They should be a given. For everyone. To me, whether you are a woman or a man, you should be equally respected, recognised and accepted in the community.
If a woman is exceptionally good at her job, she should get promoted and rewarded accordingly. If she excels academically, she should be given the same opportunities as her male peers. If she is physically strong, she should be able to face the same challenges in the army or air force for example. As for the little stuff, I am not concerned. Of course there are certain things that men are better at than women and other things that women are better at than men. After all, it is scientifically proven that men’s and women’s brains work differently. We have different genetic coding and if you ask me there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s actually kind of fun and so much more exciting to watch and experience in our everyday lives.
In the corporate world however, the argument can go on forever. If you ask around, some men respectfully disagree. They don’t see it. Or they choose not to acknowledge it. Some are clever enough to never admit it. Some probably think that we actually have it pretty good and somehow easier, mainly because their expectations for women to climb the corporate ladder are indeed lower.
The truth is that in most modern societies, we are lucky. We don’t have to live in the world that our grandmothers and mothers lived in, where career choices were very limited, if non-existent. We grew up in a world where we – more or less – have the basic rights, yet it is scary to think that in some places in the world women still don’t have them. They are the ones that need all the help in the world and various movements to help them experience everything we already take for granted.
In a world where we have access to almost everything, what’s really our excuse? If statistics are failing us, what is it that we are doing wrong? Facebook COO and one of the most inspirational women of our times, Sheryl Sandberg, seems to think that women might actually be more responsible for the situation they are in than they think, mainly because they tend to systematically doubt themselves and their capabilities since they don’t believe that they deserve their success. They don’t see it, they don’t celebrate it and deep down they don’t always think it is theirs to own. They put it down to other people’s kind assistance, timing or even luck. Men on the other hand seem to think that success has purely got to do with how awesome they are.
“Success and like-ability are positively co-related for men and negatively co-related for women,” Sandberg says, revealing that there seems to be another problem adding to all this which, if true, is much bigger and concerning.
Apparently women are dropping out. Literally! From the moment a woman decides to get married and have a family, she takes her foot off the pedal and concentrates on what’s coming or might come in the near future. And by ‘leaning back’, she stops looking for a promotion, she doesn’t raise her hand when a good project comes up and the feeling of guilt starts creeping up. A woman feels guilty towards her boss, towards her colleagues, towards her clients and she ultimately feels guilty towards herself. And the craziest part of all is that, she is actually feeling guilty about something that hasn’t even happened yet. Do you ever feel guilty? I have plenty of times. I have other women tell me the same. They feel guilty if they are caught up in a meeting and they are late for the school concert. They feel guilty if they don’t put their baby to sleep before they catch a flight to another city for work. They feel awfully guilty if their baby gets sick and they need to take the day off. They feel even worse if they still have to go to work and leave the sick baby at home. No matter how you look at it, this powerful, unpleasant and utterly annoying feeling creeps up. It is painful and unfair. And let me tell you this; right at that moment, no feminist movement in this world can make a woman feel any better about herself.
So, what are we doing, and more importantly, how are we supposed to shake off the monster of guilt when it starts creeping up? I believe that we need to show the world that we really are strong, independent women and we must all work together towards challenging old style government and business policies. We need to stop compromising and start challenging. We need to praise each other when a job is well done, help out when we can, encourage our female colleagues and make a point of celebrating our success. TOGETHER! Ultimately, we have to own it! Because if we own it, that’s when everyone else will also start to realise it. Respect is not given freely. We need to fight for it and earn it.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said.
Luckily, I get the feeling that women are starting to realise. They are feeling the pain and seeing the reflection of their own self-doubt in their career and ultimately in their lives. We have options like coaching, further study, mentoring programs, workshops and training, but unless we shake off the guilt and stay focused till the end, nothing will change.
Whether a woman decides to have a family or not, whether she returns to the workforce or decides to take a break and raise her young family, no judgement should be passed as there is no right or wrong. If we don’t try to be the best we can be in whatever it is that we so choose to do; if we don’t raise our hand, ask for what we deserve and celebrate our wins, then what are we telling our daughters? And more importantly, what are we telling our sons?
I don’t want it to be a man’s world, anymore. But, I don’t want it to be a woman’s world either. All I want is for everyone to have the same opportunities and the same resources at any given point in time, in any place in the world, regardless of their gender, so that we can all be as successful as we can, in whatever we choose to do. I want to play fair, be successful and have fun along the way.
I want my daughter to know that if she really tries with all she has then she can reach for the stars. I want her to know that there is nothing she can’t do. I tell her every day. But I also want her to remember that true happiness doesn’t solely come from when you succeed. Real happiness comes when you can be truly proud of your accomplishments and you are confident enough to celebrate your wins. I want my daughter to be strong, independent and successful and as she grows up, I want that little girl to have the courage to look back, reflect and be proud of the woman she has become. Then, and only then, will she realise that there is so much more to celebrate than International Women’s Day.
In the meantime, let’s be honest; not much has changed for tomorrow, but one thing is certain; we don’t need one day a year to celebrate what we are – real incredible women.