ZEITLINES | 03.08.19
Still: G(irls)20, 2019.
Balance for Better Means Giving Women a Voice
Not Just on Main Street, But on Bay Street Too!
Beverley Hammond, Founder & CEO
Recently, I was asked what piece of advice I would give my younger self. It’s an interesting question and one I recommend everybody consider. After much contemplation, I landed on a quote I discovered a long time ago and while I have no recollection of the source, I’ve never forgotten the saying. My advice to my younger self goes like this:
“Find your voice, then use it. Even if it shakes. Especially then.”
Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve witnessed the recent wave of remarkable young women who have found their voices – positively harnessing outrage and disappointment to shape public policy and make the world a better, fairer place. We’ve even talked about a few in Zeitlines, like Greta Thunberg: the 16-year-old Swedish activist who catalyzed thousands of teen girls across Europe and beyond to walk out of school en masse in protest of the lack of action on climate change; and the girls of Parklands high school who have been so vocal as part of the #NeverAgain movement. Of course, the women’s marches across North America and the #MeToo moment of reckoning are incredible examples of voices united.
But despite statistics about the appalling lack of women’s voices in Canadian business, there are no marches or movement making on Bay Street, Howe Street or Rue St Jacques. Corporate Canada, it seems, is a place where we love to talk about opening doors for women, yet still expect them to tiptoe through quietly.
Even well-meaning companies struggle to “practice what they preach”. Women in management are still fighting to own being a ‘boss’ without being labelled ‘bossy’. Hell, they’re fighting to get into those positions at all in some cases – held back by the need to balance family obligations and career among other gender-specific challenges. It’s almost unthinkable that in 2019, Pay Equity is still a ‘thing’, and female board members remain a novelty.
Despite all the evidence that this lack of parity is holding companies back, it’s like the entire business community is still hailing a cab while the rest of the world has downloaded the Uber app.
So how can we move the world forward so that the voices we are seeing in the streets are heard just as loudly in the boardroom?
Ten years ago, I had the privilege of sitting around a table of really amazing, successful women to discuss how to make the voices of girls and women heard in the global political arena. From that came G(irls)20. Launched at the Clinton Global Initiative just prior to the G20 in Canada where we held our first G(irls)20 summit, this international organization believes there are 3.5 billion ways to change the world and brings young women together from the G20 countries and the African union to do just that - learning how to influence decision-making at all levels. The Global summit of girls that feeds into the G20 every year is the signature event but programs like Girls on Boards, and strategic investments in young women through education and training, are helping young women from around the world build networks, and access to unparalleled opportunities to make change and make room for girls and women.
Given the Balance for Better theme of International Women’s Day 2019, we asked Heather Barnabe, CEO of G(irls)20 to share with us how business can create an environment that includes the voices of women in decision making. Heather wrote a terrific piece setting out five ways to bring young women into the decision-making process in impactful ways. You can find the blog on the G(irls)20 site, but we would like to share it below as well, so this can live on in Zeitlines International Women’s Day history.
As I reflect on the advice I would give my younger self, and the positive impact so many female voices are having in the world today, I think there is something business leaders who really want gender parity; and who want to build their businesses for better can do. So, if I was asked what piece of advice I would give those leaders, it would go something like this:
“Hire young women. Give them a voice and then listen to it.
Even when it shakes you. Especially then.”
Now introducing our guest blogger, Heather Barnabe CEO G(irls)20.
Balance for Better? 5 Ways to Bring Young Women into Decision-Making Spaces
Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20
This International Women’s Day, G(irls)20 is thrilled to add our voices to the theme: Balance for Better. We have long believed that in order to tip the scale toward balance, we must start by ensuring #youngfemaleleaders are in the room with decision-makers.
Last November, G(irls)20 brought a delegation of young women from around the world to the Women’s Forum in Paris. Funded by Johnson & Johnson, G(irls)20 conducted a workshop that asked participants: what are the best strategies to equip young women to make an impact on the decision-making spaces they enter? This is what we heard:
1 Build networks through women-centered events: We heard loud and clear from participants that the most valuable tool they want is a network. Events that remove the barriers for young women to participate (by waiving costs or providing them a special role) help young women see themselves reflected in the sectors they want to make an impact on. Programs such as the Diverse Voices for Change Project — which increases female participation in politics — can be scaled to include other sectors such as business, technology, education and healthcare.
2 Invest in training: Rather than hope young women pick up these skills on their own, invest in programs to teach transferrable leadership and communication skills. Ultimately, programming must promote confidence so that young women are comfortable using their voice, when given a platform. This is why we love our Canadian-based program, Girls on Boards, which teaches young female leaders both the “hard skills” (governance or financials) and the “essential skills” (negotiation or selling your idea) to have influence in their role as a board member on non-profit boards across Canada.
3 Recognise barriers: When working with young women, recognize and acknowledge the ways in which institutionalised racism, misogyny and ageism shape conversations and decisions. Use an equity lens when building programs to gain valuable diverse perspectives.
4 Trust their decision-making process: When we value one type of experience over another, it can lead those in powerful positions to not take young women seriously. Young women bring lived experience and, often, the best understanding of their communities. When young women’s opinions are not fairly considered, it can affect their willingness to participate. Encourage young women in the room to speak up, to share their experience and expertise – ensure their perspectives are valued!
5 Let them have skin in the game: Whether it’s a vote at your non-profit table or a page in your committee’s report, provide young women a stake in the decision. This is a great way for an organization to give its young leaders a vote of confidence. An example of this is the “shadow comex” (shadow executive committees) programmes which brings young employees together based on their skills and diversity- which means they must represent various professions within their company. These shadow comex committees meet in parallel of the classic executive committee, with the same agenda. This allows young people to bring up new ideas and challenge old paradigms in those companies. Additionally, it allows companies to recognise the participation of youth in practice, not just in theory.
Happy International Women’s Day from Republic! #BalanceforBetter
If you have a story of your own to share, reach out to Fiona at firstname.lastname@example.org! #FreeYourStory