Women's development, empowerment and gender equality
Women's development, empowerment, and gender equality are all vast topics and have many windows to look from. One approach could be to divide these factors into two broad areas, i.e., key challenges and recommended solutions. Interestingly, both areas can be connected to the quality of the "support system" of a woman. The better the quality, the lesser the challenges and vice versa. So, what makes a good support system? Who should make it? What should be the role of a woman in developing a good support system? What about the others who could directly contribute and benefit from it?
A good support system always stands tall like a pillar for all, irrelevant of gender type, development, empowerment, or gender equality. The support system can be creative, flexible, and need-based to ensure maximum output. There are different sets of challenges faced by the different genders in developing their support systems. To mark International Women's Month this article discusses the challenges and recommended solutions for Women.
Like any other key element for our well-being, a support system may be considered as one of the basic needs. However, we cannot get "a quality finished product" unless we go through a rigorous process of developing it. Some of us carefully plan around it and then start developing while others may just end up dealing with what they have and blame their fate and again some are lucky to have it naturally. A well-thought-out support system must consider the internal and external factors not only for a woman but everyone. It demands lots of careful evaluation of the choices and the decisions we make in our personal and professional lives. While there are well-structured learning and development opportunities related to our professional lives, the same is lacking for exploring opportunities or facing challenges in our personal lives. This training on personal and professional areas can also be given by leaders who choose to lead by example i.e., "leading with real-life examples" vs. leaders who do not practise what they preach and as a result, make it difficult for their employees or team members to follow them. Personal life matters in professional development and vice versa. We may choose not to talk about our personal life at work, however, an individual having a difficult personal life mostly leaves traces at work that others must deal with, therefore suitable training programmes or discussions are needed to tackle personal challenges as well.
So, what is meant by the support system? A support system can be defined as a network consisting of ourselves, our friends, family, neighbors, peers, an organisation we work in, the regulatory environment that we operate under, the social functions that we live with, etc.
What can be considered the Internal Factors
- Individual's initiatives for her development, the time she invests for her well-being and growth.
- Relationship with herself (self-critic vs. who has positive self-identity), her own family, spouse, and spouse's family (based on different cultures), etc. can be an important internal factor.
- Relationships with friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. are all internal factors.
What can be considered the External Factors?
- Regulations and implementation of those regulations could be important external factors. Simply having regulations without suitable monitoring and actions often dies down without giving any fruit hence not resulting in having a positive impact on women.
- Organisational initiatives
- Building an inclusive culture.
- Policies and Tools to measure equality and diversity.
- Building Awareness across the organization highlighting the direct relationship between the organization's culture and its reputation and brand.
- Promote positive perceptions of women's contributions towards the organisation's financial and non-financial goals.
- Talent management.
- Flexibility at work (hours, work from home, online platform, virtual meetings, etc.)
- Effective Networking opportunities.
- Coaching and Mentoring at all levels.
We cannot control these factors completely; however, we may take different measures to create a favorable environment for ourselves and others who directly influence the quality of our environment. Depending on our career goals and interests we can develop ourselves to be better equipped in making meaningful decisions on how we build our support system. Taking selective actions best suited to achieve our goals can be a tricky area. Initiating well-thought-out mini steps before taking a big step for working on the internal as well as the external factors is extremely important. Developing a vision to see how a small action today can make a big impact in the long run matters significantly e.g., a good selfie vs. good content. Other internal factors that can be vital for our personal as well as professional lives are 'time management skills' to see what is draining our efforts and killing our time, 'emotional intelligence' to be able to navigate through unproductive responses e.g., personal attacks, and 'creating a personal brand' through choosing a theme best representing our strengths and passion.
INTERNAL FACTORS: Our approach towards self-development can play a key role which can also influence our external factors significantly. The skills we are willing to develop and utilize are our own choice which can go a long way in achieving our career goals. The most important point is to understand what skills can help us in achieving our goals. Some may dream of achieving a goal however may take the wrong route and never reach the goal.
Some professions may have clearer and more structured skill requirements as compared to others. Where can we go to learn these skills? How should we apply these skills in real-life situations? All these, may not be easy to master, therefore we need to understand others' successes and failures in similar fields as well instead of just going to textbooks. Instead, we need to exchange information and knowledge and take initiative to connect with experienced people who are genuinely interested in helping others while we do all this, we also need to gradually build our brand to attract attention from the right people who can help meet our career goals in the right way for making it more sustainable in the long run.
Every action may affect our reputation positively or negatively, for example, the quality and purpose of our social media posts, likes and dislikes, our profile pictures, etc. among many other things that matter significantly at present time. For example, posting an inappropriate profile picture on LinkedIn may be left to wrong assumptions about the person therefore an appropriate profile picture is of vital importance these days when recruitment involves tracking candidates' social media footprints and reputations. One needs to have a balanced approach to building her brand keeping in mind if her actions are helping or countering her future goal. Going with the flow may not always bring us the desired outcomes.
Being famous or popular may not always mean being successful; neither can it ensure being impactful towards achieving a broader goal! For example, posting a good selfie without relevance or content can influence some momentary reactions but not necessarily contribute to one's career goals. Good content on the other hand may get slower results initially, however, maybe a step in the right direction in the long run. Many times there are no right and wrong steps based on what kind of brand we are trying to build for ourselves.
Every person's condition is different from others, as a result, the same Goal may need a different strategy. One may be tempted to copy others' successes or more importantly copy others' paths to success, and this may be done without realizing if the same approach is the most suitable one for that individual operating under different conditions-for example, an individual operating with the support of her family vs. the opposite.
So, these factors need to be considered which can help us find a more suitable path to meeting our goal. The path needs to be based primarily on one's goal, strengths, conditions in life, and also some other related factors.
FAMILY SUPPORT: Support from our immediate family or spouse's family can play a very important role based on the country we live in. Relationship-building skills can be extremely important even in our personal lives. Not taking things personally, and understanding others' situations or exposures in life before concluding are all important skills required in both personal as well as professional lives. As an example, we do not have to restrict our professional strengths to only our customers but we can also apply them in our personal lives with good intentions. The ability to come out of our emotional space and see things more objectively can also contribute to a workable and long-lasting relationship that can become a significant part of our support system. So, no matter how friendly the external regulations are, without good family support an easy task may turn into a difficult one.
Successes without such support are also difficult to sustain after a certain number of years of one's career. Career has ups and downs so family support becomes very valuable at times. Therefore, this is an area where time and energy need to be invested carefully and efficiently. Some initiatives can be taken to develop good family support. Sounds difficult? Well, it is difficult however an important factor here could be managing one's expectations. Sometimes taking a pause or keeping silent can be more powerful and helpful for earning respect and managing the expectations of our family in the long run. Additionally, no matter what the relationship is, every relationship has to be worked on, keeping the priorities in front. Again, a balanced approach is the best one. Expectations from a relationship need to be based on the situations, characteristics of the people, and the alternatives in hand. Mastering the art of influencing others can also be applied in one's personal life which can help others to understand our priorities better. We must remember that no two situations are alike so there may not be a simple formula that can be applied by many. For example, there are no reasons to be pressured from seeing someone's success on Facebook and taking the same path. The pros and cons may be different for each one of us. Therefore, while exchanging information is always good, decision-making must be based on individual situations instead of copied and pasted from others.
Adverse reactions, judgmental approaches, and comparing ourselves with others are all natural characteristics, however, if we want to be focused on our goal, we may have to take a broader look and build our necessary skills instead of feeling helpless or too critical towards ourselves. Knowledge can be one of the key factors in this case. Achieving equal rights without equal knowledge may not be sustainable in the long run. While we may start small, our goal can always be to achieve big and include our efforts to gain more knowledge in the related field which I believe could be the best tool for this cause.
EXTERNAL FACTORS FOR THE SUPPORT SYSTEM: External factors include regulatory, organisational, and also social support among other things.
If we can identify and agree on the roles and accountabilities along with the tools to measure the impacts of the different external stakeholders, then it will be easier for us to understand where and how we need to work harder depending on the source of bigger gaps.
Many countries have done a great job of ensuring women's access to education. The question remains if women are being able to fully utilise these accesses and another question if not then what are the action plans? Likewise simply being employed does not give women the financial independence or freedom required to take financial decisions. If these are not satisfied, can only women's employment bring financial inclusion? Therefore, statistics talks only one side of the story and still needs qualitative findings or studies for a more meaningful conclusion on Women's Overall Empowerment.
Every initiative has two sides, the providers, and the receivers. While it may be easier to celebrate the work of the providers, holistic success will depend on both the provider's as well as the receiver's engagement in the initiative. The question is how to measure. There could be different tools that can be used. Even a simple survey through social media can also give us powerful results in just a few hours, so again creativity and commitment can make things happen simpler and faster way.
Shahnaz Sultana is Chief Consultant and CEO of FINS Alliance, Founder of WE Global (FAFWBF: Financial Alliance for Women in Banking and Finance, since 2020)