What does International Women’s Day mean to you? To some, it’s a date to celebrate being a woman; for others, it’s about recognising important women who have touched their lives. For me, this is a day to show gratitude to women of earlier generations whose actions have allowed me to have the life I have, as well as considering the untapped opportunities for future generations of women.
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality’. Although there is a greater number of women in the boardroom, greater legislative rights for women and a huge increase of women’s visibility as impressive role models, there is still no place in the world where women can claim to have all of the same rights as men.
Still an unfair society?
Women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts and women are still not present in equal numbers in business and politics. Globally, women’s access to education and healthcare is less than that of males while the level of violence against women is worse than that of men.
In Luxembourg the latest available statistics show the gender pay gap stands at 8.6%, management and supervisory positions are overwhelmingly held by men here, whilst women often take charge of important unpaid tasks, such as household work and caring for children or relatives.
The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity
With this in mind, International Women’s Day 2016 is encouraging everyone – men and women – to take purposeful action to achieve gender parity as quickly as possible. This can be done by helping women and girls to achieve their ambitions, it can be a general calling for gender-balanced leadership or developing more inclusive and flexible cultures that allow women and girls to thrive and flourish. Too often, we look further afield when thinking of gender parity but we can all do something locally to support and empower the girls and young women close to us to advance and realise the limitless potential they have to offer. So, what can we do?
There are some wonderful groups within Luxembourg, such as Dress for Success, whose mission is to to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools. Another organisation promoting women is Girls in Tech, who are focused on the promotion, growth and success of entrepreneurial and innovative women in the technology space. But there are also things we can do to empower ourselves as women, everyday.
The Confidence Gap
A common scenario: For years, Jill had doggedly worked through entry-level and early mid-level positions at her company, but just as she was primed to enter the top level she started to flag. She was hitting a black spot that she couldn’t identify and it was clearly starting to hold her back. With some support Jill established that her confidence was low and she was filled with self-doubt believing that she didn’t really deserve her promotion.
The confidence gap between the sexes is indeed a crisis particular to women. Many women come to me, not feeling ready for promotion and in general underestimate their abilities. This can have a devastating effect as confidence is as closely correlated with success as competence. The good news is that confidence can be acquired.
Starting with practising strong, positive poses, Jill could connect with her body, her feelings and her thoughts, whilst building confidence and preparing her for challenging work situations.
Our posture and how we hold our body can affect how anxious we become and how confident we feel.
If we stand strong and look powerful (even if we don’t feel like it on the inside!) we are not only perceived differently but our body chemistry also changes. The release of testosterone makes us more daring whilst cortisol, the stress hormone, becomes lower leading to higher confidence and performance.
A positive, power pose involves opening up the body, making yourself bigger. This can be as simple as putting your hands on your hips when engaging in conversation or if you can find a private space, stand with your legs apart and stretch your arms outwards and upwards or try walking up and down with your arms swinging.
Mentoring in Luxembourg
Mentoring teenage girls and young women and watching them develop in confidence can be very rewarding. With girls starting to, and in some cases, outperform boys academically they are still vastly underrepresented in most influential jobs. There are many teenage girls in our community who lack confidence and self-belief and who desperately need positive female role models to advise them on their future plans and to encourage them to be ambitious.
Abbey has been mentoring Claire in a school setting since she was 12 years old. Abbey was one of many young people who was struggling at school in the Duchy and was facing an opportunity gap. From the start changes were evident, most notably in the improvement of Abbey’s grades. The effect rippled outwards opening Abbey’s eyes to her potential and the possibilities available to her.
Becoming a mentor can help change a young girl’s life. Having someone to encourage them, believe in them and recognise their talents can elevate and motivate a person to achieve and succeed.
The benefits of mentoring goes both ways, Clare noticed that her mentoring relationship with Abbey helped her grow and develop strengths that she did not know were there.
The Power of Journalling
Young girls & women today are bombarded with media messages of how they should be and this is no less true in Luxembourg. The world appears to be filled with images of ‘perfect’ looking people, leading to women being overly concerned with their appearance whilst undervaluing and even ignoring their many strengths. This can lead to low self-esteem and negative emotions, a downward spiral that is often difficult to get out of. If you are in this situation, there are many steps you can take to stop the cycle of negative thinking and to burst the bubbles of negative beliefs.
One step is the wonderful and freeing experience of journalling. I have been journalling for about 7 years now and have found that if I stop I quickly realise just how beneficial this activity is.
I am an active person with an active life and journalling helps me to slow down and think about what is really happening inside me and around me.
Before starting my journal I was always keeping myself busy, now I allow myself to sit, to think and to write about something that is going on in my life and affecting me. This helps me to deal with the situation, its related feelings and to gain a more realistic view.
Secondly, it helped me uncover who I am. Do you really know who you are? Most people, including me, think they do – I thought I knew what I liked and didn’t like and where I was going. This turned out to not be the case; by journalling I have uncovered dreams and goals that I never knew were mine. I also uncovered many things that I discovered I just couldn’t stand doing, helping me set boundaries and be able to say ‘no’ more often.
Finally, writing about your feelings hugely impacts your ability to process the feelings. Writing forces us to add structure to our thoughts. Rather than bottling up my thoughts and feelings, I prefer to now put them on paper, release them from my heart and my mind, and welcome serenity.
So on this important day, let me give a call out to all men and women in management / supervisory positions: reach out to young persons starting out in their career, seek hidden potential, collaborate and share your experience.
And to all: go to Ernster today and buy that journal – you won’t regret it. And practice that Wonder Woman pose!
Copyright 2016: Joanna West
Photo: Roberto Nickson / Unsplash