Making more space for women

Too often I hear friends, family members and even overhear strangers talking about how they can’t apply for that job because of X,Y,Z, that they are ‘lucky’ they got the job or a place on the football team. Too often these remarks come from women, and specifically young women. I have sat down and spoken to a few colleagues, friends and sisters to hear why they felt like they didn’t deserve a certain role, or why they defaulted to luck being the reason behind success rather than ability and merit.

To accompany my Vox Pop study, I researched why women don’t naturally ‘plow ahead’ like men. Trawling through a few articles on Reddit (I do not recommend), it became clear that there in a gap in the understanding of why.

There are strong arguments on these highly accredited blogging sites. Stating that women need to be nurtured in the workplace, mentored and encouraged to succeed, whereas men are solitary and happy to pursue success without any support. The undertone of these assumptions is that women need to be softly cuddled and given gold stars in order to achieve, whereas men are able to independently hunt down and conquer their goals without assistance. This misassumption prompts that women need more effort and attention in a workplace, whereas men are highly autonomous. The clever people writing these blogs fail to understand how women are inherently characterised to see themselves as polite, humble and unassuming, and this is the downfall not of one gender, but of us all.

Women are told from a very young age to not push themselves. This is not a rule, but let me explain. Over a bottle of wine and pasta in Rozelle, a girlfriend and I discussed the difference between treatment of our brothers and male classmates to ourselves and other girls and women. This girlfriend expressed how her brother had played football, and although being completely inept and finding football arduous, the brother was told to continue his commitment to the sport, to play in the rain, to persevere throughout. She, however, had danced in ballet, changed to violin after finding ballet difficult, and then taken french lessons after hurting her fingers, and so on. It was not because she was unable to continue, but because at the very first pitfall, her parents has coddled her,  and assured her she need not strain herself.

The difference between this friend and her brother has been reflected in more than a few of my friend’s childhoods, where already a stark difference between expectations and abilities had begun to form between genders at a very young age.

If my parents read this, they will be up in arms, as I was given Tonka trucks instead of Barbie dolls and my sisters and I were raised by a woman who would often repeat ‘you have no limitations except the ones you place upon yourself!’

Many young women can lay claim to similar situations of lower expectations and lack of encouragement, within family groups, school systems, and wider society. It is no wonder that this same treatment has extended to the workforce, with women often telling themselves they lack the experience, skills or knowledge, to avoid the fear of trying and failing. Women need encouragement to reverse the lifelong messages of small goals, low ambitions and that girls shouldn’t fight for themselves, speak loudly or act assertively.

There is no easy response and act to this though. It’s difficult to walk the thin line between gracefully female and a strong capable person. I am sometimes met with the response ‘calm down’ when I’ve lightly and politely defended someone’s rights or spoken about equality.

The UN Women Progress of the World’s Women report, released globally on April 27, concluded that “the global economy is not working for women” as it laid out the economic disadvantages suffered by women, relative to men in comparable circumstances, in every part of our planet. Recently while in Dubai, I picked up a copy of ‘Half the Sky: how to change the world’, a collection of stories by talented writers Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. Throughout this novel, it is repeatedly exemplified how women are the key to every global economic progression we wish to see. The education and the employment of women, not by quota, but by merit, is the answer to the foremost issues facing our planet, and it’s inhabitants.

To nurture, employ and promote women will ease disadvantage and aid development in almost every economic area, globally.

All that is required is acknowledgement and encouragement.


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