It is said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s 2021 and in a world where women constitute half of the population, it’s still a wonder that women are still underrepresented in significant sectors of the economy, particularly at ownership and decision making levels. We will probably still be talking about this in the years to come, but it does not have to stay this way.
Four years ago while raising funds to make our shoes on Kickstarter, we noticed an interesting pattern, and we’ve shared this before. We received countless emails from people who wanted to help in our supply chain. Of these, only one email was by a potential woman partner. Two years later, and after sharing our concerns, we ran our second crowdfunding campaign, and nothing had changed either. Today, as I work with different professionals, I am still aware of places and spaces where women are absent.
Women empowerment isn’t just a cliche for me. It is something I very much believe in and talk about all the time. By empowerment, I mean the ability to have choices. Amartya Sen, whose work I greatly admire, has written widely about the concept of development as freedom. My lightbulb moment was seeing development from an individual and contextual perspective, rather than from the typical developed vs developing schism common in the field of development. Simply, and in the context of women, you may be a woman in a developed country, but still with no choices. Just as you could be one in a developing country, also with no choices. The fact that the majority of women still have to navigate life without the full range of options available to men is something that we need to think about and actively solve everyday.
If you leave all the domestic work to your partner, give a helping hand, and as noted in an interesting Twitter thread on the same, set clear expectations on what needs to be done regarding taking care of your home. If your colleague’s work isn’t at par because of the burden of childcare during a pandemic, be graceful and patient because life happens, but things are made easier with support. If you constantly don’t see women in areas of your work, take a moment to really think of systemic challenges that are keeping one group of people out and speak up about addressing such challenges (quick note: to think that people are not present in a space or place because of laziness or lack of skills is inherently lazy by itself). These are just a few examples of things we can do.
In our world today, our lives have continued to be impacted by the pandemic. The push and fierce desire for women’s presence in decision-making positions must be more intense than ever. In the face COVID-19, the gains made so far may not amount to much if this report by McKinsey Global Institute is anything to go by. We must support women, not just by words, but also by actions.
My hope is that with the lessons I have learned and continue to come across, my leadership path and actions help other women advance. I also hope to inspire everyone to create places and spaces where people are able to thrive regardless of their gender and any ‘other’ thing that is unrelated to their ability to perform. Simply put, let’s all #ChooseToChallenge norms and systems that deny women, and everyone else, choices to be who they want to be.