United State of Women – reflections on an inspiring day

united_state_of_women

Whatever your view of the outcome of the US election, the candidates, their views and the representation of women has become a hot topic of discussion over the last months. I’ve been reflecting on how this debate echoes the themes of the United State of Women summit that I attended in June and the topics resonate.

Questions that I’ve read about and hear during the debate are: What would a female president of the US look like and behave? Are women held to different standards than male counterparts? Are there parts of our perspectives and experience that are valued and important based on our gender?

During the summit, we heard examples of how women can contribute to the success of different initiatives, but also heard about a lack of representation of women in decision making forums. Sayu Bhojwani, Founder and President of The New American Leaders Project, talked about politics as being “the last frontier of access to power” and quoted the statistic that only 24% of state legislative offices in the US are held by women, and less than 6% of offices are held by women of colour.

One of the themes that I took away from the summit was the concept of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work; the idea that when you’re in a position to influence and contribute to decisions, you need to be true to your own perspective and experience. It’s the idea that when you do have the opportunity to sit at the table and be a part of decisions, you take the chance to represent your perspectives and be disruptive to effect changes that need to happen. Where 40% of people in the US can’t take paid time off for sick leave, not everyone has the luxury of being able to participate in democracy. We’ve all got a responsibility to share our perspectives on the behalf of others that aren’t able to.

In a room that was full of committed and courageous individuals whose achievements were as overwhelming as they were inspiring, I thought back to how, in HR, we can contribute to an equal and inclusive society. We can start with thinking about how the policies we implement impact the full diversity of our workforce. We can work within our organisations to raise awareness of bias, ensure that underrepresented groups have access and consideration, and to encourage a culture that enables a truly inclusive environment where our employees are all able to bring their ‘full self’ to work without fear. And we can be a role model for the principles and behaviour that we believe are important.

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