“As an organisation focused on developing youth leadership, what does it mean to be a woman and the Managing Director of AIESEC in Australia?”
To be honest, that thought has hardly ever crossed my mind. Ever since I joined the organisation in 2012, I have never felt inadequate because of who I was. I have run for five leadership positions within the organisation, and my success in every election was never about my gender or background - it was purely based on only my strengths, merit and the unique attributes I bring to the table.
Why? In university, I happened to stumble upon an organisation that believes that world peace can only be achieved when every single person can be the best version of themselves. And because of that a key value is celebrating all types of diversity and not discriminating on the basis of anything, because everyone deserves a chance to be their best and contribute to a better world.
However, I know for sure that I am privileged to have the opportunity to work in this unique environment, and that this is not the case in many places here and around the world. Moreover, I am aware that I am also privileged in other areas outside of my work - as someone who has completed university, currently living in a developed country, and the economic ability to choose my career and the way I choose to make an impact on the world. It is therefore a responsibility to recognise this privilege and be part of the fight for equality and the value of women in society.
Gender equality, Sustainable Development Goal #5, is about ending the discrimination against women and girls everywhere. It is about adopting and strengthening policies for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, ensuring full and effective participation of women, eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and so much more. The questions I ask myself often are - what real actions can young people take today to support gender equality? What can we collectively do to achieve its targets by 2030? What would it take for there one day to not need an International Women’s Day?
So what can young people do?
- Challenge traditional views of leadership
A common theme that restricts women from taking higher leadership positions is the traditional leadership view that leaders must be masculine, dominant and confident. Not only is this type of thinking isolating for women (or anyone!) who does not fit the traditional stereotypes, it assumes these qualities are the only ones that can get something from A to B.
As a quiet leader myself, I am a huge fan of Susan Cain and her work on introversion. It is about focusing on the unique strengths of what a person brings, celebrating the diversity in thought and approaches. Leadership is so much more than being in charge and calling the shots - it’s about guiding the direction and inspiring action. Depending on the context and the task at hand, certain qualities (that may not be the typical leadership qualities) will be best suited to achieve the outcome.
Whether it’s with your peers working on a group project, or in casual conversations with friends, challenge when someone goes straight to the stereotypical view of a leader. Consider what needs to be done, the strengths individuals can bring, and encourage the right leader to take that position.
- Focus on merit
While I agree with organisations who have diversity targets, I still feel that an attention on gender no matter for positive or negative outcomes doesn’t solve the fundamental underlying issue. When there is a clear focus on strengths, acquired skills and real achievements, everyone is put on the same playing field and the best people can be selected. Having picked a team based on merit, it became just a happy coincidence that 5 out of 7 of my team are great female leaders capable of leading their organisation.
As a young person looking into careers, do your research on organisations and companies that support the contribution women make to their organisation. Speak to women in leadership positions and what strengths they bring to their role. Open the conversation and let employers know that gender equality is important - only when there is demand will society answer the call!
- Take the plunge
In my work I have often heard that sometimes the problem is that women aren’t applying in the first place - possibly from lack of confidence or their own assumptions that women shouldn’t be leaders. Even in encouraging environments, it takes someone to lead by example in order to encourage and empower others to do the same. Encourage young women to run for leadership positions if it’s something they feel passionate about!
I fight for a world where women all around the world can have equal opportunities for leadership. I fight for a world where women can be valued for their strengths, merit and unique attributes first and foremost. I fight for a world where women have everything they need to be the best versions of themselves, in the way that they choose.
This International Women’s Day, let us take actionable steps to celebrate the diversity, strength and leadership of women as a crucial part of a collective contribution to a better world!