Women Who Have Spoken Up
A gender-equal world – free from bias, stereotypes, and discrimination – is a diverse world, a world that is equitable and inclusive and where differences are valued and celebrated.
This month we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March with this year’s theme being Break The Bias. As much as a day is required to draw attention to gender equality issues, it should not be forgotten as soon as 8 March is over. The world has come a long way in the past couple of decades thanks to women who have stood their ground, women who have broken stereotypes and women who have spoken up. Yet, many times these powerful women and inspirational moments are relegated to sidenotes.
Sixty-six years ago, in the then racially segregated USA, a bus driver asked four passengers sitting in a row to stand so that another [white] man may be seated. Three did, but one did not; she held her ground; she was tired of giving in. Her name was Rosa Parks. She was arrested a little while later, but her subtle non-violent action inspired the community to stand up, too. They formed the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected a young, still unknown 26 year Reverend Dr Martin Luther King changing the course for civil rights in the United States forever.
The fact that many women the world over have the right to vote is again thanks to the inspirational Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughter Dame Christabel Pankhurst and all the others she inspired through forty years and as many arrests to end woman suffrage. It resulted in the Representation of People Act of 1928, establishing voting equality for men and women.
Dame Vera Stephanie “Steve” Shirley is another genuinely inspirational woman who broke the bias against all odds. Her motivations inspired by the marginalisation of women in mathematics and computing resulted in her founding the British software firm, which provided hundreds of opportunities for women just like her – with interests in mathematics and computer programming – which, amongst many other successful projects, programmed the Concorde’s Black Box flight recorder. Most notably, in the male-dominated technology and software world, she had adopted the name “Steve” to get her foot in the door simply.
She never stood back and has changed the technology industry for the better as a result.
Break The Bias
Yet, for all that has been done by Rosa Parks, Emaline Pankhurst, “Steve” Shirley and other inspirational women still, bias remains, which is often reflected in pay scales between men and women or senior leadership teams that are skewed towards males.
New York City, starting May 15 2022, will require job openings to list the maximum and minimum salary for every position ensuring that applicants, regardless of their gender, will earn within the same range. It’s a significant milestone for addressing the gender salary gap, and hopefully, similar practices will flow closer to home, too. Sadly, as straightforward as this might seem, it’s still far from reality.
Whistleblowers are still being victimised; worse still, many – especially women – are subject to gagging provisions, which is indicative of companies resistant to addressing concerns and breaking the bias around equal pay, discrimination and victimisation.
Use this month to take a stand and break the bias in your organisation. It can all start with something small. Women have inspired a great deal of change, and diversity is healthy for organisations. Inspiring change starts with having the confidence to speak up – no matter the issue. And the organisations that will truly inspire change are those that listen and provide a platform for dialogue, and only then can they move forward with an inspirational new strategy that is fully inclusive, considered and free from bias.
International Women’s Day has several resources to help you on your journey; you can access them here. Find out more about anonymous speak up and listen-up platforms that can transform your organisational health here.