Take Up the Challenge

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I have always prided myself on being a  feminist. I taught my daughter to use her voice for good, stand up for what’s right, and never allow others to make her feel small. I watch her with joy as she steps into being an amazing adult who has found her voice. Today, I celebrate her, my nieces, sisters, mother, and female colleagues on International Women’s Day.

On International Women’s Day, we acknowledge how women are making advancements – while recognizing we still have more work to do to create a more equal workplace and society for all. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, gender parity will not be attained for another 99.5 years at the current rate of change.

That’s one of the reasons why the theme of International Women’s Day 2021 – “Choose to challenge” – resonates so profoundly:

“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.” 

Challenge Microaggressions 

Language continues to be a significant issue in organizations.  Think about it … how often do you hear women referred to as “’girls”?

HR expert Sarah Morgan defines microaggressions as instances of implicit, unintentional, or subtle discrimination against a member of a marginalized group. Microaggressions are often quiet and sometimes unconscious, which can make them tricky to deal with in the workplace. Leaders must be proactive when addressing microaggressions to promote an equal and inclusive space for everyone.

Microaggressions include:

  • Micro-assaults: Slurs and displays of symbols with problematic history
  • Micro-insults: Assumptions made based on stereotypes
  • Micro-invalidations: Discrediting the concerns of the oppressed

The first step in eradicating workplace discrimination is admitting that we all have bias that drives microaggressions. The challenge is to recognize, acknowledge, and call out microaggressions as they occur, without fear of consequence.

Challenge Self-Doubt 

The gender confidence gap is real. According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, “the statistics are well known: at the top especially, women are nearly absent, and our numbers are barely increasing. Half a century since women first forced open the boardroom doors, our career trajectories still look very different from men’s.”

They conclude that the continued failure to break the glass ceiling is due to women’s acute lack of confidence. Success correlates as closely with confidence as it does with competence.

Our challenge is to reduce the gap. The one thing we can all do to improve confidence is to stop overthinking and take action. Studies say that what often holds women back is the choice to not try, to not take action.

Challenge Perfectionism 

Perfectionism is “striving for flawlessness” – Hibbard, 2011.

Perfectionism is being unable to settle for anything that’s less than what one considers “perfect.” For such individuals, there’s no room for mistakes. Some examples of perfectionism in women include:

  • When something in a women’s career goes wrong, they are more likely to blame themselves. Yet when something goes right, they credit external circumstances for their success.
  • Women are more likely to hold themselves back from answering the difficult question or applying for a new job until they’re absolutely, 100% sure they can be assured of the outcome.

The moment we become comfortable making a mistake, the more we can learn and build our resilience and confidence. Getting to that place enables us to:

  • Overcome self-doubt and negative self-talk
  • Trust ourselves to make decisions and speak up
  • Feel empowered to step outside of our comfort zone

Challenge norms 

Why is it that women are called “bossy” when displaying the same assertiveness as men?

Why is the word “ambition” a negative term for women, but not for men?

Women must contend with labels that define and limit them more than men. Our challenge is to challenge others. If you see someone who uses antiquated terminology or an old-school narrative, politely take a stand and challenge them.  As an example, I would urge you to politely shut down a suggestion that a female cannot take the lead on a project since she has children.

Challenge Pay Equity 

According to a Payscale.com report, women who work full time in the U.S. are typically paid 81 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

This gender pay gap translates into $520,000 fewer earnings over a women’s lifetime – versus what her male counterpart would make. Our challenge is to advocate closing the pay gap. Whether it is raising the minimum wage, pushing for pay transparency, or supporting fair scheduling practices, the challenge for organizations is to support equal pay for equal work.

International Women’s Day is a landmark day that celebrates equality. It’s about choosing to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. The world is hungry for women to embrace their value, to overcome their doubts, and make a bet on themselves.