To Create Change for Women, Unleash Your Bravery

3/7/2022
— Melissa Waggener Zorkin, Global CEO and Founder 

playing it safe is no longer an option —
#BreaktheBias for International Women's Day

International Women’s Day is different this year. It arrives in the middle of a massive and devastating conflict in Ukraine, which will have a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of women and girls in the region. Amid our shock, this crisis is also a profound reminder of women’s indomitable bravery and resilience, even in circumstances where their very lives are at risk.

It also reinforces the importance of this year’s International Women’s Day call to action to break the bias against women. All too often we see women absent from decision-making. Instead, we’re flooded with images of men who all look the same at long tables calling the shots. But if we are to successfully navigate global disruptions and ensure the rights of women are upheld, it is imperative that women have a voice and seat at the table. 

There’s A LOT OF work to be done to break through barriers to access and claim those seats. But bold, brave women are making it happen around the world. In our current moment, I’m awed by how leaders like Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Sanna Marin, prime minister of Finland, have used their platforms to voice support and take immediate action for Ukraine. And in the U.S., it’s thrilling to stand on the cusp of seeing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson be the first Black woman to use her voice as a Supreme Court justice.

Each of those women inspires in how they’ve summoned their bravery, joined forces with allies and taken bold action. As we strive to take their lead and break the bias for women, here are three ways that women and allies can work together to uplift women now.

Look for what you don't see, then listen for what you don't know 

The world is changing fast, and many leaders are confused by the new rules and expectations of our culture at large and in the workplace. That's okay. Women and men don't have to have all the answers. You don't have to be perfect. You just need to be willing to look for what you don't see. And if you're not seeing women around you, create opportunities to integrate them and their voices. Listen to them and let them shed light into your blind spots, which can help you discover and break through your own bias.

The good news is research shows a tremendous shift in expectations around listening — 71% of respondents in our recent Brands in Motion survey put more emphasis on learning and engagement with women and people of color. We need greater diversity of thinking — the chance to listen to voices other than our own. Increasingly, our people and our broader stakeholders expect leaders to actively listen to those voices — and to take action.

Bring women to the table

When I started my agency, I was a rare female leader in the technology communications world. So, from day one, I made it a priority to bring women to the table and make sure they have unlimited opportunities at WE Communications. As you break new ground in your career or in your community, remember that it’s a great thing to be first at the table, but don’t be the last. Reach back and pull other women to the table with you.

A powerful way to do that is through mentorship. It helps fill some of the gaps of support and break through the biases that too many women face and elevate the diverse young voices who can see around the corner to what’s next in our world. And in a time when people are reevaluating career and life choices at an unprecedented scale, mentoring is both a powerful way leaders can support women in their careers and a strong lever in retaining them, too.

Unleash your bravery and take action

You break through barriers and bias by knowing your purpose and bravely speaking your truth — even if not everyone likes it. That’s advice my colleagues at WE give all the time in our work with clients. As we navigate ever-changing global dynamics, many want to take the safest route. But in 2022 and beyond, playing it safe is no longer an option. Our latest WE Brands in Motion report, The Bravery Mandate, drove that point home when it showed that even though two-thirds of stakeholders are open to brands speaking on societal issues, one-third will always be skeptical of their intent.

The lesson for women? When you’re working to create change, you will ruffle some feathers — you may even lose people along the way. That’s okay and it’s okay to be scared, too. Your goal is not to make everyone happy with you all the time: It is to be clear about your purpose, who you are and what you stand for.

Above all, it’s time to unleash the bravery we’re seeing so clearly in women in Ukraine, in women leaders and in bias breakers around the world. Creating a world free of bias against women is possible, and the moment is now to bring women to the table, integrate their voices and drive lasting change.

 

Photos by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images and Drew Angerer/Getty Images