International Women’s Day: So Much Already Achieved And Still So Much To Be Done
By Andrea Blanco-Redondo, University of Sydney, Australia
These are outlandish times in our society. On the one hand, women have never experienced the current level of independence, empowerment, and social equity that we know today. On the other hand, this wave of change comes accompanied by a wave of social conscience stirring, which obliges women and men to confront their unconsciously acquired behaviour and biases. The result of this self-analysis trip is often somehow dispiriting: there is still so much more to do on the way to real social equality.
But let’s not get discouraged, today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. A Day whose origins date back to the beginning of the 20th century, although not officially adopted by the United Nations until 1975. It is a day to commemorate the movement for women’s rights, to celebrate how far we have got, and to reflect on how to keep advancing towards real equality.
Let us now analyse some of the key factors embroiled in this complicated issue and discuss how to move forward.
Women’s Potential: I cannot (I don’t want to) conceive that these days anybody may have any doubt about women’s potential to reach the highest standards of success. Women have already proven themselves as capable of astonishing achievements in science, technology, politics, arts, and any other important aspect of our society. Why is the gap persisting at the top of each of these realms, then?
The Burden of Legacy: To fix the future, we must remember where we come from: millennia of male domination in nearly every aspect of society. We should not underestimate the effect that this has in our unconscious biases. The lack of visibility for strong female role models experienced in the past has had a negative impact on our own expectations and goals as modern women. I also can’t help but emphasize the term “visibility” here: our history is full of strong female role models whose importance has been minimized in a deliberate or undeliberate manner. It is not going to be easy to get rid of this burden, but humans are exceedingly adaptable creatures. We can do this if we really want to.
Education: It all starts with education. Showing our younger ones that men and women should be treated equally and fairly and must have the same rights and granted the same opportunities is our responsibility. This process must be pervasive and occur in classrooms, social networks, and most of all in our homes. But it can’t be taken lightly; we must all undergo a sincere introspection process to not let our prejudices filter down to the younger generation’s malleable minds. A recent study found that gender stereotypes become entrenched before 10 years old and that they have very negative impacts that carry into adulthood and harm both boys and girls, in very different ways but to a similar extent. That short window of opportunity to address these issues before they become cemented later on must be seized.
Policy: Introducing policies that help close the diversity and equity gap is our most effective tool in the short term. But again, this must be done in an informed and intelligent way. Erring in this leads to negative reactions that may end up backfiring. Specifically it can lead to rejection from the men that may feel that sectors that were already incredibly competitive, take research for instance, become even more competitive for them with policies that favour hiring women over men with equivalent credentials. A well-designed policy, however, does not pursue favouring women over men but making sure that women are given enough consideration and compensating for inherent existing prejudices. A related, and more tragic, backfire effect is that women in sectors affected by these policies experience a more hostile environment and may start doubting their own value and suffering from the well-known impostor syndrome. These issues, however, come from misinformation; an effort must be made to engage in a conversation with society so that everybody understands that changes towards gender equality are absolutely necessary and beneficial.
Evidence for this is all around. A highly influential Science paper showed a few years ago that gender diverse groups collaborate more effectively and exhibit higher collective intelligence, and there is now empirical evidence that gender-heterogeneous teams produce higher-quality research. For instance, this empirical study shows that publications produced by these teams receive 34% more citations than gender-uniform authorship teams.
In summary, this affects us all. It is time to embrace the change and work together towards better social and work environments, excellence in science and technology, and economic progress.
Posted: 8 March 2018 by
Andrea Blanco-Redondo, University of Sydney, Australia
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