The following piece is written by Christina Roeren, Director of Customer Experience Excellence.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I am working for free.
Gender inequality remains alive and well, with the Australian Government Working Gender Equality Agency announcing a current gender pay gap of 21.3%, equating to weekly wage-free Fridays.
Several readworthy articles, studies and resources are being shared all across the web this week, with a shared sentiment by many that whilst we can and should celebrate progress, we still have quite a way to go.
One of the areas I have personally reflected on the most, is the topic of both conscious, and particularly unconscious, gender bias. How do we move the dial on something that at times is seemingly invisible? One way I’ve found impactful, is stories. Sharing stories of personal impact, and stories of what or who have lifted us up.
My early experience has been far from hardship, but my starting point in a village of 2000 people as a mixed-race woman, was quite a distant world from where I find myself today. Here is some of my story.
The starting point
At the age of 17, I jumped on a plane from Thailand to Norway, becoming financially independent and leaving my family behind on the opposite side of the world. I juggled multiple jobs to support myself throughout my studies at high school and university, including 5am wake-ups to scrub the toilets of the local shopping centre, spilling coffees on customers with my appalling waitressing skills, whilst unconsciously humming the nursery rhymes that were mentally on repeat after the day-care shift. In those roles, I sadly considered being spoken to in a condescending manner part and parcel of the job. At my core, I knew it was wrong, and I vowed then to never accept unfair class-based or gender-based treatment of others, when I one day hoped to be in charge.
When later finding myself in the post-university workforce, stepping into Country and Regional Manager roles, I was naively surprised at remaining at the receiving end of condescending gender and age-targeted comments from external clients and customers, often being initially mistaken for the intern or a new junior staff member. In my subsequent roles there were countless stories of colleagues to ‘not take offence by’ if I came across a misogynistic comment. It wasn’t personal, after all.
The other side
That was only half of my story.
The other side was support. Challenges. Fun. Inspiring leaders. Empowering female leaders. Empowering male leaders. In reflecting on what enabled me to navigate the muddy waters and be able to have the experiences and opportunities I have had in my career, the common thread I found was allies. There were three kinds:
- Others for me – Or really, others for others. In times where gender-stereotypes are perpetuated, self-doubt and anxiety can begin to rear, and the brain gets on a roundabout of thinking. The way to get off that roundabout is intervention, and quite often, a new perspective. It was instrumental for me to have inspiring and strong leaders (all of which at the earlier stages in my career were male) who only saw my skills and talents, and who created a safe space by calling out and actively discouraging gender inequality. It was also important to have a strong network of inspirational female leaders and peers, who not only thrived as leaders, but who didn’t lose their sense of self in the process, staying true to being authentic and kind. Equality does not mean a loss of identity.
- Me for me – although also prevalent in men, particularly women often suffer from impostor syndrome – or feeling ‘secretly’ inadequate – and I was no exception. I was not my own ally, rather I was my own worst critic. It took me time to realise that my leaders and peers, at times, trusted my talent before I did. When offered opportunities, I was the only one who could make the decision to trust them and have a go. It was important that I take the responsibility for becoming my own advocate, for the moments when my story would not be told for me.
- Me for others – through opening up to receiving and accepting the reflections from my network, I understood the importance of also becoming an advocate for others. How could I be for others, what so many had very importantly been for me, and follow through on that promise I had made to myself. All leaders have the conscious responsibility to recognise our potential bias, our influence, and the need to call out and help others see and understand behaviour that is not acceptable. And if you see brilliance, call that out too.
More than ever, we need an ongoing discussion about how we help each other rise. On International Women’s Day, as we continue to support women to rise into their voices and power, I encourage you to consider how you are promoting empowering behaviours, reflecting the talent you see around you and, importantly, how are you listening to what others see in you.