International Women’s Day (IWD) first took place in 1911 and was supported by over a million people. Today, it’s marked across the globe as a celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
The world has certainly changed a lot in the 110 years since IWD began. However, there is much more to be done to forge an equal world. That’s why this year’s IWD theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, because a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.
To mark the day, we asked some of our female leaders at Colt for their thoughts on IWD and the importance of representation, inspiration and challenging gender stereotypes in making positive change. Here, Dr Tanya Goldhaber, who holds a PhD in Engineering and is Global Strategy Manager in Colt’s CEO Office, shares her view.
Why do you think it’s still important to celebrate IWD?
Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg has one of my favourite quotes: ‘I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.’
We do not yet have equality for women. Women are paid less, women do more unpaid labour, women are still saddled with the majority of caring responsibilities, women are in far fewer positions of leadership, and are much more likely to be the victims of sexual harassment, assault, and violence from partners. Yet today, so many people still ask ‘Why have an International Women’s Day?’ Which to me says that there are still a whole lot of people out there who do not truly value women. So to channel Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we can stop celebrating International Women’s Day when there isn’t anyone left who actually has a problem with it.
What impact can women have in high profile roles in the tech sectors?
Think of a physicist. Ok, now think of a computer scientist. Did you think of a man? Probably, even though you didn’t mean to. Even the most ‘woke’ among us are stuck with strong preconceived notions, given to us by society, of what kinds of people do certain jobs. But that can change. Marketing and finance, for example, used to be very male-dominated industries, but there are now so many women working in those jobs that we now genuinely see it as a role that is not gender-specific. The same thing can and should happen with tech.
What one thing can we do to ‘challenge’ in 2021?
We need to challenge ourselves to confront our own biases. This can be tricky; we all hate to think we’d do, say or think something that is sexist, or racist, homophobic, or any other prejudiced attitude. It can also feel disempowering to realise how big an effect sexism in society has had on our own mentality. But progress can only come when we’re all willing to do the hard work to change. Step one to challenging your biases is admitting to yourself that you probably have some internalised sexism somewhere.
How can we inspire young woman and girls to get into the tech sector?
Firstly, it’s about role models and representation. Meeting one woman engineer on a school careers day isn’t going to undo 15 years of the media only showing men in technical roles. We need to make seeing women in technical roles seem normal, so that girls don’t feel they’re making a statement just by studying a certain subject. Then it’s also about relevance. Tech is still represented as something aligned to stereotypically male interests – cars, robots, etc. Helping girls and women understand how different kinds of problems can be solved by tech can really help broaden the appeal.
As a leader, how do you challenge gender stereotypes in your day to day work?
Every time I have a negative reaction to a woman, I ask myself if I would have had the same reaction to a man. I literally imagine a man doing the same thing and try to guess my reaction. More often than I’d like, I decide that it’s my own internalised misogyny that has given me the negative reaction, not the woman herself. I then try to realign how I approach that person going forward. It’s a process that has helped me form more positive relationships with the women around me, and also to advocate for them.
We all have a huge part to play in lifting the women around us up and helping make them visible. I go out of my way to give women public credit for their work, compliment them on a job well done, let their managers know how they’ve contributed, and push them to go for a promotion when the time is right. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.