When Google invited me to fly to Japan to be a champion for their Womenwill program, it was an easy ‘yes’. First up, I’d never been to Japan before. Second, I care a lot about helping women step into their power as change-makers. So like I say, it was an easy yes!
What I had no idea about at the time was what a powerful experience it would be to connect with other women from across the Asia-Pacific region who share my passion for supporting women and bringing down the barriers that still hold so many women back.
Of course, over the last year, we’ve seen a huge rally cry for the advancement – and against the harassment – of women. Yet the #metoo movement was more than just a global reckoning against harassment; it was a declaration to close the vast chasm that still exists for women the world over to feel as safe as men and as capable of achieving their ambitions and fulfilling their own potential.
While there’s been massive progress for women over the last fifty years, the most recent Global Gender Gap Report still predicts gender parity is 200 years away. Yes, 200, not 20. That’s a very long time!
It’s why we have to support collective activism with personal activism. This means having the courage to challenge our own thinking and by default, the actions we are taking to #press for progress – the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. So here are four ways to help you do just that:
Challenge how you see yourself
Born in rural Australia, neither of my two grandmothers ever owned property, drove a car or finished high school. No doubt they could hardly have imagined my life today and the freedom I enjoy to pursue a career while raising children. Needless to say, most western women enjoy more opportunity that their own mothers ever had.
Yet the disempowerment of the generations before us has been passed down into our collective psyche and many women unwittingly buy into the belief that we cannot be change-makers, at least not on the same scale as men, or a least not without making far greater trade-offs. Little wonder that by the age of six, girls are less likely to see themselves as future leaders than boys their same age.
Entrenched norms begin early and keep shaping how we perceive ourselves right into our adult lives. A study by KPMG found that where men often overvalue their strengths, women too frequently undervalue theirs. In line with this, while two-thirds of the professional and college-age women in the study expressed a desire to become a senior leader, only 40% could consistently envision themselves one. I could go on with more stats, but you get my point.
While this ‘belief gap’ cannot be closed overnight, it will never be bridged if women wait until they feel equally as confident as men before they start acting that way. My challenge to women: run a little experiment with yourself. Just for a day go about your work as a self-assured woman to be reckoned with; capable of adding extraordinary value and leading bold change. Notice what possibilities open up. Observe how it shifts your interactions. Then tomorrow, do the same.
Own what makes you different
If women were supposed to act like men, we’d have been created that way. Our greatest value lays in what makes us different. Too often though women buy into the misguided belief that they have to dial up their masculinity to be ‘more like the guys’ to get ahead in a man’s world. Not true.
You are at your most powerful when you are not trying to please or impress or win approval, but when you are 100% fully yourself!
Only when we authentically embrace all of who we are and bring the full quota of our feminine leadership strengths to the table – compassion, interpersonal sensitivity, collaboration – will the decisions made there produce optimal outcomes. Diversity is invaluable so don’t dial down what sets you apart; embrace it.
Be the cheerleader you’d love to have
At my recent Live Brave Day in Singapore, I asked attendees to do a little exercise where they had to ‘acknowledge’ another person. At the end of the day, many said it was one of the most powerful and moving parts of their day which just speaks to how hungry so many women (and men) are for a word words of encouragement and acknowledgement; to be recognized for who we are and how hard we try.
Achieving our full potential and bringing our ‘best selves’ to the game of life isn’t a solo endeavour. As I wrote in a recent blog post, we are at our best when we have others cheering us on – supporting us, connecting us, challenging us, believing in us and acknowledging the effort we’re putting in.
All around you right now there are women who are doubting if they have what it takes to stay the course toward their boldest goals… or just to keep their head above water.
Get behind them.
Make them feel heard. Point out their talents. Acknowledge their effort. Celebrate their wins, of every size. Encourage their dreams. Challenge their doubts. Reframe their failures. Most of all, let them know they’re not alone and that you’ve got their back.
We can do more and advance faster when we know there are people who believe in us even when we sometimes don’t believe in ourselves. So lift as you climb.
Work withmen, not against them.
Last but not least, let’s not sideline, exclude or vilify men for the same crime that has penalized women for so long: their gender. Many men I encounter truly want to support women, but often they’re simply unsure how.
So let’s practice true ‘inclusion’. Talk to the men in your world about what you care about. Confide your challenges. Seek their guidance. Enlist their support with specific requests. Share your daily wrestling match with self-doubt or mothers guilt. But don’t forget to ask them how they feel and try to see through their eyes.
It’s wrong to assume wrong that men have it all easy. They don’t. Research shows that men feel incredible pressure to conform to hyper-masculine norms and struggle in their own way with expressing themselves authentically, balancing priorities and revealing vulnerability. Creating meaningful change, at the societal level, will require a collaborative effort. So, we women must employ feminine strengths to build it.