After many generations of women in the workforce we are still trying to figure out their role, needs, qualities and how we can leverage their talents to create more prosperous nations.
The optics were good when Prime Minister Trudeau, President Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump gathered with female executives to talk about empowering women, creating jobs and advancing women’s opportunities. Powerful people meeting to understand the barriers and successes of women in business.
Trump and Trudeau announced their creation of Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders – a long name with probably an even longer timeline before we see benefits. Should we be excited? Maybe, but I will reserve my enthusiasm.
I’m hoping that sooner rather than later that when we hear about a meeting to advance women we might see a better representation of women at the table. Yes, speaking to women who have climbed the entrepreneurial and business ladder is both impressive and necessary but is it enough to warrant a big “Hurray”, for us?
After over twenty years supporting women’s career aspirations I’ve learned there are commonalities in how women approach their careers but I also know that it’s a mistake to assume women’s needs are the same. If advancement is the goal then one must first figure out which road they are travelling on and meet them where they stand. It is also helpful to be more inclusive because tomorrows entrepreneur or leader may come from unlikely beginnings.
Let me give you a sampling of the women I serve who could add value to this council:
Young single women just starting their careers full of hope, naivety, high expectations, nervousness and often untested confidence. Up to this point, they have usually not experienced overt sexism on the job and haven’t had to market themselves for promotions. Most of these young women have disclosed a desire to make a difference but work isn’t everything. Full of ideas and energy it should be easy to mentor young women.
Mature business women with multiple experiences that have shaped them personally and professionally often say, “I want to remain relevant.” They may be changing their career direction or just starting to ask, “What’s next?” There is no shortage of mature women being over-looked by employers which leaves many of these women feeling like they have gone as far as they could or are allowed to go. Not leveraging their talents is a big mistake.
Immigrant women try to learn English while navigating cultural, educational and career changes. Many have experienced isolation in this new country but demonstrate strength and gratitude. I have met professional immigrant women have been surprised and disappointed when they found resistance in hiring not because of ESL but because of racism or protectionist attitudes. We need to do a better job of advancing their education and creating connections that bring these women quicker to the table. (Creating meals in the back of restaurant is no place for a former Psychologist)
Aboriginal women, many but not all, face significant barriers to employment. Struggling with literacy, poverty and lack of transportation they know what impedes opportunities for success. Honoring aboriginal culture and meeting together we learn a lot about the how, why and where they wish to work. More emphasis needs to be placed on aboriginal representation in business. We need to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit so job creation happens in communities that need it most.
Moms returning to paid employment often tell a similar story. It’s common to hear how both male and female staff responded to their request for maternity leave negatively – as if it is placing a burden on the company or on individual staff members. Women making the choice to start a family also talk about the competition to keep their job and are concerned about what it will be like when they return. Moms returning to paid work tend to feel more pressure to keep up and not be perceived as unable to balance both family and career. Their jobs are placed in jeopardy because they still remain the first point of contact for family emergencies. (I haven’t even covered trusted/affordable childcare needs)
Women survivors of violence who have dreams of a better and safer life. These women – as diverse as they are – eventually reach a point where they can access services designed to empower and create work opportunities. If Trudeau and company were truly interested in supporting these women there would be centralized health organizations addressing their needs from start to finish instead of the fragmented systems/services we have now. Many women leaders and entrepreneurs have been born from a necessity to survive and thrive.
If we really want to advance women, then the next time these executives meet with the leaders of nations try saving some chairs for women who understand maternity, community, economy and management from a different but very real perspective.