We #ChooseToChallenge: Talking about Women's Equality

March 31, 2021

You know what we celebrate every March - it's International Women's Day! The most important day of the year to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about women's equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities (IWD, n.d.).

Last year, we told you why we're proud to be women and shared more about our female heroes. This year, in line with the theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we have set a few goals for ourselves. Firstly, we want to be more active in challenging ourselves to be the change we want to see. Secondly, we want to continue to use our platform to empower our community of women.

To kickstart this journey, we attended a Float HIIT workout session to remind ourselves how great it feels like to be challenged (it's also been awhile since we brought our WFH bodies out to see the world). What followed was a discussion that we had amongst the team (joined by our new member, Yulia!) around women's equality, which is the focus of this blog post. Our hope is to spark more conversations about systemic gender inequalities and not forgetting, the celebration of society's progress and what comes next.

Q: In 2019, AIGA Design Census found that “61% of designers working today are women. The rate of female creative directors across the industry rose from 3% in 2008 to 29% today." How do you feel about this?

It's positive, but it's not good enough.

María recounted the time when she was working at an agency in London, where only one out of the ten creative directors were female. There was also an instance where she was hired into a team where she was the only women. Navigating the boys' club culture was something that she was familiar with while she was trying to make friends and fit in. “The environment was intimidating. I just felt different than the rest," María expressed. It can feel very isolating when the support you need feels out of reach. Although we've seen progress, there's still a lot more work to be done when it comes to creating gender diversity in workplace and in leadership.

These numbers are shocking. Why is this happening?

This question posed by Evelyn brought us back in time to uncover the prevailing gender roles assigned to both men and women. In the past, women were given the role of a homemaker whereas men were seen as breadwinners; it was unconventional for women to seen working. Today, despite how times are changing, women still spend a good amount of effort trying to break out of social stigmas at work, on top of being good at what they do.

Yu Ting mentioned that if a men and women were both up for a promotion, there's a chance that the women would be judged for her likability while a men would be judged for his competency. María brought up the Howard vs Heidi case study conducted by Professor Frank Flynn at Columbia Business School, where it can be seen that women's success is being perceived differently from men.

“It happens in every industry. A male performer isn't judged critically if he doesn't smile on stage. But if a female performer were acting that way, she'd be deemed as rude," Yulia added.

Q: What does a world of gender equality look like?

In answering this question, there were a few intersecting themes that arose:

Losing the stereotypes

“A world where we weren't reduced to stereotypes, where blue isn't a colour for boys and pink isn't a colour for girls, and we all get to be accepted for who we are," said María. That really hit home for all of us (and surely for many of you).

Women being able to feel safe

Here are some common advice that most women have received:

Women don't go a day without thinking about how to protect themselves. And you wonder why we are ‘sensitive'...

“We want to be able to feel physically and mentally safe; to not be afraid of walking home alone at night; to not feel like our words are not taken seriously when we speak," Yu Ting reinforced.

Equal opportunities and pay

“Across all regions, women are paid less than men, with the gender pay gap estimated at 23 per cent globally. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls continues to be held back owing to the persistence of historical and structural unequal power relations between women and men, poverty and inequalities and disadvantages in access to resources and opportunities that limit women’s and girls’ capabilities. Progress on narrowing that gap has been slow. While equal pay for men and women has been widely endorsed, applying it in practice has been difficult." (United Nations, 2020)

During the discussion, Yulia shed light on the astounding gender pay gap in professional sports, particularly between the NBA and WNBA players. “Notice when we talk about NBA, our minds go straight to the male players," she said. Evelyn wondered if these players were being paid based on popularity, echoing the sentiments of the rest of us. So why do we rarely hear about the WNBA players in mainstream media?  “It's the same with the American football teams," María added. While we are all aware of the longstanding inequalities between men's and women's pays across all industries, the sense of injustice only intensifies as we continue to uncover facts like these.

It would be a real challenge to define ‘equal pay' as adjusted gender wage gap makes the conversation very one-dimensional and dismisses the disparity in opportunities offered to men and women (Gould, Schieder and Geier, 2016). We think that a world of gender equality wouldn't allow for gender-based discrimination, where accessibility to opportunities, and the value of work are not pre-determined by your gender.

Q: This International Women's Day, what is one piece of advice you would offer to your younger self?

M: Believe in yourself. Just do it.

Aquí Design will not be here if María continued to listen to the excuses she gave herself when thinking of starting a business. There are many negative voices in our heads when we try to achieve great things. “Don't let the imposter syndrome get to you. If there's something you want to do - try it. Even if it doesn't work out, you'll learn something," she said.

E: Do what you want and care less about what others think.

In secondary school, Evelyn had always wanted to participate in the street soccer matches started by the boys. “I was very conscious of how I would appear to others if I did it. There was a chance I would be labelled as attention-seeking back then," she said. Today, Evelyn would tell that girl to go for it.

Y: Don't conform to society standards.

Evelyn's fears weren't for nothing and Yulia's experiences can prove that. “People assumed I was attention-seeking just because I hung out with boys mostly. There's a term for it called pick-me girl," she said. There's no one way to be and no mould to fit in, unlike how society tells it. You do you.

YT: Don't be jealous of the other girl's success.

“I attended an all-girls primary school, and it was normal for girls to put each other down for no good reason. We were so mean to each other," Yu Ting recalled. There's enough pressure being placed on every one of us to be perfect at everything - we don't need to pit ourselves against each other.

Q: Do you think gender inequality is a challenging subject to approach? Why?

M: It is challenging to not get emotional about it.

“The difficult part is trying to be rational and factual about it because I tend to get emotional talking about the unfairness of the system. I don't want to reinforce the stereotype of women being emotional and let it get in the way of the point I'm trying to make."

E: It's more tricky than challenging

“We are all well aware that gender inequality is not something that can be changed overnight. There's a lot of learning and unlearning for everyone. I also get that men and women are different by nature, and defining equality would be very tricky. It reminds me of this illustration I came across about Equality vs Equity."

“I think it's about weighing the differences and bridging the gap for both genders to ensure everyone's experiences are balanced."

Y: It's challenging when people get defensive.

“I've experienced that before, mostly with the opposite gender, and the conversation starts to feel one-sided. For some, having equal rights seems to translate to them being at a disadvantage, which isn't true because it's more about levelling the playing field. Inequality is a real issue that needs to be acknowledged especially amongst our peers."

“Some of the older generation may have accepted and gotten used to the inequalities they experience. But no - I believe we need to fight for it."

YT: It can sometimes be tiring.

“When you pick up the courage to broach the subject or try to intervene in a situation you feel is inappropriate, there is a chance that people won't be receptive or feel personally attacked. Not a lot of people understand that good intentions don't negate the effects of actions.

“It's not that they don't believe in equality, but we might have very different perceptions of inequality."

“While trying to have these conversations with those around you, it's also important to tend to our own mental health and not take on the world's weight on our shoulders. As Evelyn said, change doesn't happen overnight, and the work doesn't just stop here."

Q: What's one achievement you are celebrating today?

M: My amazing team!

E: Accepting who I am!

Y: My life as a graduate!

YT: Our growing team!

Sources:

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About

https://www.un.org/en/observances/equal-pay-day

https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/women-make-up-more-than-half-of-the-design-industry-but-how-do-they-get-to-the-top

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