International Women’s Day 2022
Imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
Filed under: Blog Articles
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.
IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.
To mark the day, we are celebrating the success of two incredible businesswomen whom we have had the pleasure of supporting in their career journeys, as well as that of Millar Cameron’s very own Head of Research, Victoria Bowden and invited them to join us for a Q&A about IWD and their own experiences as women in business.
Gathoni is a talent expert with over 8 years’ of distinct expertise in the areas of Executive Recruitment, Talent Sourcing and managing talent projects. She is currently working with Pula Advisors, an organization supporting progressive governments to de-risk their agricultural investments and build their citizens' resilience.
Prior to this role, she worked with Cross boundary, a mission-driven investment firm that unlocks capital for sustainable growth in underserved markets and Global Management Consultancy Firm - McKinsey & Company where she lead senior recruitment efforts in East Africa and Diversity and Inclusion recruiting efforts focused on Women.
Salina Sanou, Deputy Director for the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD)
Salina Sanou is a renowned pan African policy and advocacy expert with many years of experience in strategic partnership development, research and programme work. Over the years Sanou has led programming processes that have resulted in building effective linkages between grassroots realities and national, regional and global policies and vice versa.
Currently Sanou is the Deputy Director for the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD), a public-private Global Development Alliance implemented by the FSC Indigenous Foundation (FSC IF), an organization governed, led, and managed by Indigenous Peoples that seeks to deliver long-term and resilient solutions for Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
Around the world, Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women and girls, face an immense range of challenges. From infrastructural development and human rights abuses to poverty and marginalization, Indigenous Peoples have limited technical, managerial, and organizational capabilities to respond to these challenges. IPARD aims to change that.
Prior to working for FSC-IF, Sanou was the Head of Programmes at PACJA, overseeing a programme mirroring three thematic areas namely Resilient People, Societies and Economises; Just Transition and Energy Access and Climate Finance.
Sanou has worked across the African continent for various organizations including the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), Forum of African Women’s Educationalists (FAWE), CARE International, Oxfam International and the UN Millennium Project.
Sanou has a strong Gender and Women’s Rights background and has developed several models including the Animatrice Model for getting girls enrol in school and an agri-business model of shared value to economically empower women. Through her work, Sanou has learned that community-owned responses exist and work, what communities need is support and facilitation for more effective and holistic responses.
She has authored many publications and position papers including “Pastoralist Education in Mali and Niger”; “Pastoralist schools in Mali: Gendered Roles and Curriculum Realities” and “Beyond Access: Transforming Policy and Practice for Gender Equality in Education.”
Sanou is a graduate of both University of Nairobi, Kenya and McGill University, Canada.
Victoria Bowden, Head of Research at Millar Cameron
Victoria specialises in professional search across the Global South with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. She holds a MA, Cantab from the University of Cambridge in Human, Social and Political Sciences and has a keen interest and expertise in diversity and inclusion strategies along with policy and economic development areas across Sub-Saharan Africa.
1. Why do you think it's important to celebrate IWD?
"Gathoni Mwangi: Aside from IWD being a 100-year-old tradition, it’s important to continue to celebrate and uplift women’s achievements in the political, social and economic arena. It serves as a bold reminder to the world that we still have some way to go in bridging the gap in gender parity.
2. As we celebrate women's achievements today, in your mind what is your greatest achievement to date?
"Gathoni Mwangi: Initially, I thought this would be a difficult one because of having to dig through memories but call it a Freudian slip, my greatest achievement has been using my passion to develop my purpose in the form of coaching. Mentorship and sponsorship are also important to me but I believe I’ve had more impact coaching women and youth from topics around professional development and career paths. I enjoy connecting with individual women, women groups and youth development groups such as The Asian Foundation, Uniport, Global Give Back Circle to name a few. Where and when I can, I share my story and the resources I have to give them a stepping stone to their pursuit of excellence in whatever space (industry or field).
"Salina Sanou: My greatest achievement is to be able to have self-consciousness and to understand the structural nature of women’s oppression. This has given me an understanding of the need to tackle the root causes of the multiple challenges faced by women and girls in Africa and worldwide including marginalization, discrimination, and such structural injustices.
With deep commitment to this cause, my greatest achievement in the last 20 years, working with key international and pan African organizations such as CARE International, Oxfam International, FAWE, ACORD and PACJA, have been a strong dedication to addressing the root causes of these multiple challenges. For instance, working for Oxfam GB girls Education Programme in Northern Mali, I developed an ‘animtrice model’ which helped increase the number of girls in schools among the Touareg Indigenous Peoples, in Gao Region, from 749 in 1999-2001 to 1260 in 2001-02 and 1423 in 2002-03 .This is a Region in Mali inhabited by nomadic peoples with very few schools in deplorable conditions, no trained teachers, and no access to textbooks and teaching materials. These nomadic groups also favoured boys more than girls when it came to enrolling children in school.
"Victoria Bowden: I think my greatest achievement to date is the day to day impact the work I does has on advancing equality and breaking bias. I studied Gender as part of my Human, Social and Political Sciences degree at the University of Cambridge, and whilst it was thoroughly interesting coming out of University, I had no idea how to put these learnings into action. Working in the recruitment and executive search space there is a true ability to influence gender inequality, to speak with leaders (male and female), to employers, and to institutions about policies, actions or even thoughts that can be put in place to break down gender based bias’. Leading Millar Cameron’s first International Development Webinar on ‘Increasing Women in Investing and Investing in Women’ was an incredible achievement in bringing together thought leaders across Africa to look at inequality in a sector and space and how it could be addressed. Anyone, in any position and any workplace, has the ability to contribute to breaking the bias, however working in an environment where it as the forefront of what I do each day is something I’m grateful and proud of.
3. What are some major problems female leaders face in the workplace?
"Gathoni Mwangi: Mansplaining is one I’d like to touch on because it illuminates a much deeper issue in social and professional interactions that many know. What is it in the workplace? Simply put, it’s when a man explains something to a female colleague in a condescending manner, talking over her or repeating what she has already explained back to her or a public forum using synonyms at best.
What it does? It trains women to be experts in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it enhances men’s overconfidence not allowing the room to recognize a woman’s expertise or opinion on the matter. In the long run, it can also cloud a client or supervisor's engagement with female team members in your organization to realize hurting women’s professional development or upwards career progression due to a perceived “lack of knowledge or confidence”.
"Salina Sanou: Most workplaces and institutional settings, including public and private spaces, are not designed to be inclusive of women, especially when considering the layers of governance, decision-making, and strategic planning. In these spaces, both physical and policy frameworks do not address women’s practical needs, contribution, as well as strategic needs. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for women to break the glass ceiling. Women who break the glass ceiling often have to choose between focusing on their personal advancement as opposed to the invisible, unpaid and undervalued carework. However, this carework tends to be fulfilling, life-giving work that women would like to focus on but it has to be given value and compensated for, as well as be redistributed. The following are minimal recommendations for lobby and advocacy:
- Government Investment in technology and social services that reduce the burden of care from women, that redistribute the care responsibities to other actors within the households and at community level and create time for women to engage in economic empowerment initiatives and formal or informal work. For instance-investment in early childhood care centers in the markets, in schools, in workplaces etc.
- A policy or regulation to be put in place that establishes a minimum monitory value for the domestic work that is done mostly by women.
"Victoria Bowden: I believe that the majority of problems female leaders face in the workplace link to inequality outside of the workplace. It’s not a hidden fact that in most cultures women tend to be expected to carry out the majority of work in the home – whether this is caring for children or housework - this is often referred to as ‘the second shift’. This limits their time availability in employment when compared to their male counterparts. Unfortunately, it’s a perpetuating circle: the less women earn, the more it makes sense from a resource and economic perspective for them to be the primary caregivers, and thus in turn they occupy fewer senior positions and the less women earn.
There are of course many other problems women face in the workplace, from gendered stereotypes regarding personality traits, or gendered jobs (the long outdated stereotype of a woman as a nurse, or a secretary etc). However a major problem female leaders face is that society is not set up in a way that makes it easy to succeed in the workplace and in the home, in the same way it is for a man. So until workplaces acknowledge this, create flexible working, acknowledge the second shift women are expected to perform and can work around this, these problems aren’t going to disappear.
4. What makes your workplace one where women can thrive and how do you ensure bias is eliminated?
"Salina Sanou: The protection and enforcement of rights of Indigenous Peoples is a core principle of the organization that I joined. Empowerment of Indigenous Women and Girls is a key component of actions of my present organization. I am committed and connected to this principle and actions. However, it is important to recognize that women thrive because there are deliberate efforts to centre women’s needs and addressing barriers that prevent women from advancing toward participating effectively in inclusive management of the organization. Biases can be eliminated through empowering women to sit at spaces of strategic decision-making and governances as well as providing them with knowledge of the various systems of each other which are mutually reinforcing to oppress women while arming them with new tools, frameworks, and approach to empower women. Women must have self-awareness through empowerment programmes that make them be able to identify and question barriers with the intention of dealing with them and developing alternatives such as:
- Workplace policies that provide women with flexible working conditions-such as virtual working, nursing or breastfeeding time and spaces,
- Workplaces that allow women to have regular peer-to-peer meeting spaces for women to share experiences, discuss challenges and develop solutions based on their needs.
- Workplaces that allow women leaders to be heard through their representatives participating in key decision-making processes, policies that facilitate work life balance and allow working women to thrive,
- Women leading initiatives and processes that allow women to lead in developing solutions and address sexual harassment and exploitation of women.
- Initiatives that facilitate women to achieve career growth and lifelong learning.
"Victoria Bowden: As a workplace Millar Cameron really cares about ensuring bias is eliminated – recruitment has been a predominantly male lead industry, and there is a real force to change this. Not every organisation can get things right all the time, but as a workplace Millar Cameron is receptive to ideas, to changes and actively listens and tries to ensure that bias is eliminated. In addition Millar Cameron focuses on working with companies and organisations that are committed to breaking bias and advancing equality, which really demonstrates the commitment across the business, and as a woman in the workplace helps assure me that women thriving in positions is a core focus of the company. Working somewhere with such an outlook is refreshing and the drive to increase female senior leadership across the business will only ensure that these changes continue.
5. What are the most effective ways to counteract the gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping that women face, especially in the workplace?
"Gathoni Mwangi: Have strong women representation in senior roles who will act as decision-makers and key influencers and train all employees on unconscious bias. It’s not just client-facing colleagues and senior colleagues who need to be aware of the biases that exist or those they personally have, it’s equally important for every colleague to be an ambassador for the organization in this regard.
Storytelling is a powerful tool. Share sanitized examples of bias in the workplace, it’s one of the best ways to drive the message home that gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping against women is a foreign concept. It happens in our own backyards, and we must be able to recognize it from different angles that have been localized to our environment.
Men need to understand their privilege. It’s simple science, where privilege exists, oppression exists too and the existence of each continues to facilitate the existence of the other. A man is in a position of power to influence when he understands where he can exert said influence for the better.
"Salina Sanou: Organizations should develop and enforce an inclusive management culture driven by gender policies and with full empowerment of women senior staff. Use of gender-sensitive language and having culture change managers who should include women and men so that the workplace is an emotionally and physically safe space for women to thrive. Cases of discrimination and stereotyping should be named and called out in ways that respect women’s human dignity. We should strive to prevent risks of ‘boys clubs’ culture to fragment efforts and undermine the advancement of women leadership in their workplaces. Similarly, we must avoid the creation of women queen bees at the workplace who play the role of ‘patriarchy gatekeepers’.
Practical steps must be taken to ensure that all employees uphold the code of ethics they have signed and must be held accountable.
- Political will at the organization level by all staff
- Organizational culture change
- Organizational leadership that champions women’s cause.
"Victoria Bowden: Speaking as someone within recruitment, an early way to counteract gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping is within the first exposure women have to your company/workplace. Ensuring job descriptions are gender neutral, ensuring women are encouraged to apply and ensuring that women make up part of the interview panel are all ways to begin to address gender inequality. There’s the adage of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and having entire interview panels, or entire senior leadership teams, made of up men can oftentimes dissuade female candidates or give a certain view (whether accurate or not) of a workplace that perpetuates inequality.
Once in the workplace there are many tools companies can implement, including flexible working hours to account for family and personal commitments, support for women and no tolerance policies when it comes to discrimination or harassment. Having women in senior leadership positions isn’t a fool proof way of beginning to implement these tools, but arguably women are more aware of issues other women face in the workplace. Thus ensuring women are hired in these positions can help counteract gender bias and discrimination.
6. How can we all work together to 'break the bias' to help advance women's equality in Africa?
"Gathoni Mwangi: Based on the McKinsey Power of Parity report, women’s equality in Africa particularly remains low and it’s predicted it will take well over 100 years to achieve gender parity on the continent. All hands on deck are required if we want to reap the benefits of women equality such as increases in GDP which of course will have a domino effect on other socio-economic factors.
Do your part to accelerate women equality. There are many options as to how once can contribute and the lowest hanging fruit for those who have no clue where to integrate your everyday space/ what comes naturally to you into advancing the cause. For instance, I work in a people centred role and can exert my influence in this space, I choose to focus on changing attitudes and pushing boundaries (as healthily as possible!). What do you choose to do?
Here are some options you can consider:
- Contribute to enforcing laws, policies & regulations
- Create economic opportunities– Africa is one of the fastest growing start up and scale up markets globally but Africa’s female startup founders are among the most underfunded and over-mentored groups of entrepreneurs. Did you know African e-commerce is losing over $14.5 billion by not having the same number of women as men selling online? We need more than mentorship.
- Enlist Male Champions– YES I said it! This needs to be a combined effort. We need those who already have access and seats on the table (largely men and some women) to be advocates for those that do not i.e. women.
"Salina Sanou: Barriers should be addressed through addressing the core roots of multiple faces of challenges faced by women worldwide from local to global levels including cultures, religious values, patriarchal norms, that tend to reproduce inequality and non-inclusion of women in spaces to convert them into change-makers to develop and implement solutions based on their visions. A new perspective and vision of institutional settings will be required at public and private spaces. Empowerment and efforts to put women in the seat to drive the journey will be the essential step to achieving that mission.
"Victoria Bowden: There are many ways we can work together to ‘break the bias’ but a key one that I try to implement every day is just the awareness of a bias. Constantly evaluating one’s own thought process: ‘am I being bias?’ ‘is this thought based on a stereotype?’ ‘is this a gendered assumption?’ really helps to ensure that you’re eradicating bias from your own thinking and thus your actions.
The more you become aware of this the easier it becomes to call out others on their behaviour and stereotypes – whilst challenging others is difficult it is also a necessary and required step in breaking any societal bias. No one is perfect and no one gets things right 100% of the time but creating a culture where we can challenge ourselves, and one another, on our actions and thoughts is a step in the right direction to advance women’s equality.
We’d like to extend a huge thanks to both Gathoni and Salina for their time and their insights and as an organization, we join them in inviting you to #breakthebias.
 Sanou Salina and Aikman Sheila, ‘Pastoralist Schools in Mali: Gendered Roles and Curriculum Realities, page 181
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