Every year on this day March 8th, the world celebrates International Women's Day. It is a day set aside for different societies to critically think about promoting gender equality in cultures, workplaces, and livelihoods.
Interesting conversations and dialogues relating to the current IWD theme always surround a day like this. As an informed male, I always reflect and share my thoughts on IWD themes. Here are my thoughts on last year's theme (Link). Now, moving on to this year's theme, #ChooseToChallenge. What does #ChooseToChallenge mean to me, especially as a male counterpart? What am I Challenging? Why should I challenge? And most importantly, how can I challenge? See, we often find ourselves jumping into the Buzz without really contextualizing the message far beyond ideas into action points that bring actual impact. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to go beyond the Buzz and share my insight.
What does Choose to Challenge, Mean?
Fortunately, the IWD organisers have given a ready-made answer to this question. They have expanded the theme and explained what it means; The #ChooseToChallenge goals are threefold; Celebrate Women's Achievement, Raise Awareness against Bias, Take Action for Equality.
What should I Challenge?
Having worked for a company whose female representative is 70% for the past three years, I found myself living the aforementioned IWD2021 goals by default. However, there is one goal that stood out for me, and that is; Raising Awareness against Gender Bias. I #ChooseToChallenge Unconscious Gender Bias.
For alignment sake, unconscious gender bias is unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender. Gender biases are deeply rooted in our communities because of our traditions, norms, values, culture or experience. As a result of these biases, we unconsciously and automatically make quick irrational decisions, assessments, judgements and opinions on an individual according to gender and gender stereotypes. I believe that raising awareness is probably the most significant challenge to attaining Gender Equality today.
Ask a friend, colleague or child to draw or visualize:
· A doctor
· An Engineer or
· A Pilot
And then ask them to visualise:
· A Nurse,
· A Caretaker or
· A Flight Attendant
Most people will end up associating the first mentioned fields with Male Characters and the second group with Female Characters.
As simple as it is, the example above transcends to workplaces and organization. It is not shocking that in today’s day and age with the strides that the world has taken towards gender equality some people will still be surprised to meet a Female Director or Head of Unit or a Female Founder. Similarly, it is important to note that, the subtle effects of unconscious gender bias are often unrecognized and deeply rooted in organizational culture.
In 2021, I choose to challenge the unseen but pervasive bias, which can inhibit us from achieving gender equity.
How can I Choose to challenge? Especially as a Man!
I feel there is always a need to take gender equality discussions from WHAT IS TO BE DONE! to HOW IT CAN BE DONE! Simply put, we might struggle to obtain long-term systemic changes if we cannot action our words!
Different from the What, the How questions what is to be done concerning a particular issue. As an individual or organization, how do you create a workplace that supports gender equity? How are you advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women in the workplace? How do you celebrate women's achievement? This is how we should be approaching such goals.
Understanding that we have different backgrounds, it is difficult to pinpoint all personal barriers that lead to Unconscious Gender Bias. Having said that, I still believe we have ample resources readily available that provide us with tangible daily tools to identify our different bias and how to overcome them to accomplish these goals.
... As a Man?
It is of paramount importance to bring and engage men in gender discussions. Based on historical misinterpretations of gender issues, the gender equality idea has often been viewed as men versus women. I dare say, we must choose to challenge collectively. As you Choose to Challenge, ladies, kindly offer a space for us men to join you. We can work together within a context of mutual support, trust and commitment to fight against gender inequality.
As a Man, here are three key actions I take to move from advocacy to action.
- I strive to become aware and continuously examine my unconscious biases – This is a good starting point: Pay attention to my thoughts and action triggers. Instead of becoming defensive when I err, I try to be introspective to find the root of my bias and seize the unique opportunity to grow and be better.
- I take a genuine interest in gender equality - Knowledge is the best tool in destroying stereotypes and uncovering unconscious biases. The good news is that there are many ways I educate myself. I try to be brave enough and ask uncomfortable questions with a purpose to learn and be better.
- I take a stand – Another way of building a gender-sensitive community is through role-modelling, which means advocating for equity and inclusion. As a man, I always try to face my peers when we play the masculinity card on gender issues.
Lastly, why should I Choose to Challenge?
I believe we are all responsible for our thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can use our platforms, time, effort, skills and experience in a unique way to raise awareness against bias, take action for equality and seek out and celebrate women's achievements.
And this ladies and gentlemen, this was my way!
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