Improving women representation across board
In this era of social media, globalization and hyper-connectivity, it is important that networks of women know how to access what they need, to become successful in the workplace and in life. This article is specifically about women supporting one another in the workplace.
When I was a Union scholar with Harvard University in the Labour and Worklife Rights department, I saw certain trends of women supporting each other in the workplace, similar to my time at the American Foreign Service Association – the only bargaining union and professional association for the American Foreign Service. Here are some knowledge points I gathered on best practices.
Supporting women in the workplace is, firstly, important in terms of representation. The U.S presidential election, for the first time, fielded a woman for a major party’s candidate. The outcome showed an outstanding number of white women who supported Clinton’s opponent, most of who later regretted their choice of vote too late. Now, we have the U.S president making major changes to laws that affect women everywhere- from Planned Parenthood, to contraception, maternity leave, penalties for sexual assault and harassment, and so on.
When women are adequately represented, not only in political positions and executive levels, but equally in office settings, norms are set that benefit the entire collective and aid in productive work environment. Representation is most necessary as it aids in the pursuit of equality, helping a generation’s ability to view all members as being equally capable.
As a woman, if you find yourself in an office where there are few women or are the only woman, it is your duty to lobby, if you will, for more opportunities for women. The value in numbers is what discourages acts of discrimination and you will be also better positioned to demand benefits that would aid your work-life balance. Work-life balance can be measured by the right type of work benefits that enable you to be your most productive, most efficient human being, employee or employer. These can include vacation time, paid maternity leave, allowances, paid trainings and courses, facilities like nursing rooms and day care at the job, student loan/ debt repayment and more.
When it comes to requesting benefits, the value in numbers can prove instrumental. For example, if you are requesting a change to policy (to, say, paid maternity leave duration, or day care in the worksite, higher salary, equal pay to male counterparts etc), if you are the only woman seeking it, you may be less likely to achieve this. But if there are a number of talented women banning together to demand better benefits in order to best manage their work-life balance, the benefits would roll out!
Everyone knows that mentors are vital to growth- professionally and personally. This isn’t Sunday service, but if we look at the story of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible, we can see the clear link between sticking to the side of an elder or more experienced person, and where it can lead your life. Even looking at Mordecai and Esther, he was her father and mother as she was orphaned, and he guided her with clear instructions on how to make moves in the palace, which led to her saving her people. A mentor is one key thing that every professional needs. If your supervisor or boss isn’t your mentor, find one who has been in the industry that you are pursuing your goals in. Be sure (s)he is successful at it. When you find a good one, reach out solely for advice. Tell him(her) your story, your ambitions, your dreams, your goals and your plans to reach those goals. Be clear with your intention to make her your mentor.
Because we are going against the poor statistics of women development, it is important for women to support one another now more than ever. According to the United Nations, throughout the world, women cannot claim to have the same right and equal opportunities as men in many areas, including: economy (women represent 66% of the world’s working hours, but earn only earn 10% of the world’s income and half of what men make); technology and information (200 million fewer women have access to the Internet than men); and education (there are approximately 960 million illiterate adults in the world, of whom two thirds are women). Also, women represent 70% of the world’s poor yet make up half the world’s population; and in developing countries, millions of women die each year as a result of gender-based violence which is listed as being a significant cause of disability and death among women worldwide. These are additional reasons we must support one another in our workplaces, places of worship, communities and beyond.
Networks are useful in supporting women to overcome the universal, cultural and structural barriers they face in building a career. Political networks are everywhere – women organizations such as the UmuAdas of the world, to the Women Ministry in our churches and mosques, to the mothers in the parent associations in schools. It is important to always keep these networks vibrant and active to promote not only more opportunities for women economically, educationally and professionally but also, for the next generation.