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An open letter to female leaders of the past, present and future

May 31, 2017
Diversity & Inclusion

Today’s business landscape is constantly evolving. Despite this rapid evolution, however, it can still sometimes feel as though the changes we desire are not happening fast enough. These feelings are especially true when considering topics like career progression and, most recently, women’s leadership.

Paving a path for women in leadership roles is not an easy journey. According to the United Nations, 62 million girls are denied an education globally, while women with full-time jobs still earn only about 77 per cent of what men earn, and only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians are female.

These statistics highlight some of the challenges that women professionals still encounter in the workforce. For more than 100 years, women have been marching for equal rights.

After all of this time, should we not have achieved our goals by now? Why haven’t government and economic leaders taken action to bridge the gender gap?

These are just some of the questions and frustrations I hear from women’s leadership groups. Working sessions designed to create new action plans and policy recommendations often circle back to discussions on lack of progress and the same calls to action for leaders to step up and push reforms forward. The collective exasperation — for the needed repetition of the same calls to action — is clear, particularly among those who have say at these very tables many times before.

While it is daunting to see how much work is still needed to bridge the gap, we must not forget to reflect on the progress we have made along the way.

As a Youth Mobilizer, I spend a large portion of my time working to create opportunities for our future leaders. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to 900 elementary school students, ranging in age from nine to thirteen, as a special keynote speaker for their career day.

I started my talk with a simple-yet-familiar question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The first answer came from a 9-year-old in the crowd: “Orthopedic surgeon.”

Next, a young girl shouted out, “Biochemist!”. At one point, an 11-year-old put my vocabulary skills to the test when they said they want to be a “periodontist or endocrinologist.” Other answers included: anesthesiologist, pediatrician, basketball player, and engineer.

To conclude this segment of my talk, I asked for one more answer from another 10-year-old girl, and little did I know she would give me the perfect finale to what was an impressive list of career ambitions from today’s youngest leaders.

Her answer: Prime Minister of Canada.

When I first started in business, I did not anticipate that I would have to face a gender gap.

What these children want to accomplish is inspirational, to say the least. To all of the advocates for women in leadership, all of the mentors that are working to pave a path for the next generation of women leaders, and for everyone feeling frustrated or stuck, let these answers remind you that your work matters.

Policy change and workplace shifts are not the only way to see the effects of our efforts. Seemingly small and insignificant choices, such as pursuing your career ambitions on your own terms, continue to open the doors for the next generation of young women to pursue career paths that were once closed off to them. Your work has helped young girls see their own potential and encouraged them to strive to be scientists, doctors, and the most powerful people in our country.

When I first started in business, I did not anticipate that I would have to face a gender gap. I had heard about the glass ceiling from my mother’s generation but, having grown up seeing women in leadership roles, I believed the ceiling had already been shattered. It quickly became apparent that it was not.

Luckily, I was privileged to be raised by parents who empowered my voice and supported my goals. This upbringing, combined with the positive women role models in media and career roles I was exposed to as a girl, encouraged me to pursue my leadership ambitions.

To the women leaders of the present: the journey may be long, you may be tired, and you may be discouraged by the road still left to travel, but I would like to remind you that we are making progress because of your dedication to change.

With every step you take and new path you pursue, it is one less hurdle your daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters will have to endure on their own journey.

So, on behalf of all young women, I would like to say thank you to all of the women leaders who came before us and made our jobs possible.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of dads and brothers. I attribute much of my own success as a women leader to my father. Growing up, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling in my household. My father taught me to speak my mind, believe in my opinions, and pursue any path I wanted in life. He encouraged me to explore my passions regardless of field and create my own opportunities. Most importantly, he stood up for my voice and, in the process, taught me to do the same.

To bridge the gap, we need support from both sides. While it is inspiring to see women in roles of leadership advocating to create opportunities for young women, it is equally inspiring to see the same message shared among male influences in our life. Whether you are a father, uncle, brother or even a male mentor, when you invest in your girls, you create opportunities for everyone.

While there are big actions that need to take place to move the needle closer to gender parity, everyone has the power to give girls a seat at their table. The values we teach girls in our households, schools, and communities set the foundation for the ambitions of our future leaders.

To everyone out there working to make a difference, just remember: The work that you are doing matters and your efforts are making a difference — one girl at a time.

By Kelly Lovell

Source: Huffington Post Canada

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