The story of the girl from Beirut who went to Paris with a suitcase full of “ hope and courage and daring”, whose father valued her as an answer to his prayers and made sure she was not burdened with conventional aspirations but rather imbued her with the spirit of adventure was one of hope but sadly not a common story in traditional societies. Dr. Rangita related this moving testimony and discussed that ‘the girl child is marginalized and devalued because she is thought to be a drain on family resources. That is why empowerment of women both in the family and in public is one of the urgent challenges of our times.” She went on to discuss how when women compose 40% of the labour force, 43% of the agricultural labour force and 51% of the university students, they own only 9% of the assets of the World. Day 7 of the AUW WPSP Summer Leadership Institute focused on women advancing to higher leadership positions in the family and the workplace and contributing to their economies.
The Millennium Development Goals though well discussed have not been achieved by too many nations and achieving them all within the deadline of 2015 seems elusive. MDG 3 laid down certain provisions as indicators to gender equality: ratio of girls and boys in primary school, employment of women in non-agricultural sectors and proportion of seats held by women in the National Parliament. Although these provisions are being worked on, we are far from reaching the goals. The World Bank Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development strongly states that the only way to meet any of the development goals is to advance gender equality and women’s agency and voice in the home and in public.
Where studies have shown a high correlation between companies having women in high managerial positions and their level of profits in the Fortune 500 lists, it is seen that women constitute only 3% of Fortune 500 companies top positions. In class we discussed the importance of women breaking the glass ceiling. Dr. Rangita discussed that once women break through the glass ceiling it was important that they support other women to rise to the top through building pipelines, mentoring and sponsorship programs that open doors for more women at the top. The right guidance including shadowing of mentors and availability of resources are two of the biggest factors that contribute to success, and thus the 5 class groups were assigned the task of coming up with an action plan for their own Fortune 500 companies to build pipelines for women in junior positions to learn and rise to the top.
Action Plan to Break the Glass Ceiling for top managerial leadership positions for women by Group 1:
The group recognized three main factors which keep fewer women from reaching the top executive positions in a company: The absence of an environment in the company where opportunities are equally open to males and females, the lack of skills and resources to learn about the managerial workplace responsibilities, and opportunities for mentorships within the company. They then provided a three step solution which their company would adopt to tackle this issue.
Management Program- Critical thinking and skill building are essential at the workplace and hence this training program for the employees of the company should excel their work performance by miles! The participants would be chosen through a basic evaluation test and the program would have a 50% quota for female employees. They would receive gender sensitive guidelines and hear testimonies and tips from executives at their company. Also, company policy improvements and work ethics would be discussed greatly.
A fifty percent quota for males in positions they are underrepresented in such as receptionists and secretaries was suggested. The popular saying is that the only women in the boardrooms are the secretaries behind their male executives, and this company policy suggestion aimed to change that. Often it is seen that women enter the company as receptionists and assistants and remain in those positions for the rest of their careers. Having a 50% quota for males to be in these positions would not only break corporate stereotype but also pressure women to think beyond these positions and opt for more. However, questions were raised in class as to the possible power dynamics and professional relationship between a woman executive and a male assistant, where the team replied by saying their program aims to change that perception and normalize it through their measures.
Executive Shadow Program- The final solution the group proposed involved an extensive shadow program where one male and one female worker at the company would be chosen and assigned to follow each executive throughout the week and exchange policy and work suggestions with them through reports and conversations. This would not only let them get firsthand experience and learn directly from their mentors but also change the company dynamics and bring in fresh ideas onto the table. The workers would be replaced for new ones every 3 months to allow all employees to have a chance of being part of this program. This makes sure men and women in the company have that access to mentorship and also pressures the company to have a balanced workforce demographic as for every male employee would have to be teamed with a female employee for them to be a part of the program.
After lunch, trailers of revolutionary films and documentaries such as Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Women, War and Peace and The Afghan Institute of Learning were seen and discussed. Students discussed possible social business models and weighed the pros and cons of tactics such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Public-Private Partnerships and other social business strategies adopted by companies. Cases such as the Lady Mechanica, Pink Taxi Service, Sanergy and Danone Yogurt partnering with Grameen’s Shakti Doi were studied and students brainstormed their own ideas for social businesses. Upon discussing the work of Grameen Bank and BRAC which aimed at empowering women, students questioned the problem of breaking out of the debt-cycle. They stressed that training and monitoring of the borrowers was quintessential in the healthy running of these organizations.
Our classmate narrated the story of her role as the ‘graphic designer from Afghanistan’ as she told of her experience teaching afghan women to learn computing and graphic designing in groups and then encouraging them to spread their knowledge. She said she would expand this program if she were granted $5000 while other students proposed schools, custom tailoring services and soup kitchens as possible social businesses they could start. They all believed that for social businesses to really create change and serve their purpose, they needed to be sustainable and provide lasting solutions, so that they would not only in the words of Bill Drayton—the father of social entrepreneurship as discussed with us by Dr. Rangita: ‘give a man a fish or teach him to fish, but revolutionize the fishing industry’.
Finally, the class was asked to develop an action plan that they would like to implement post-WPSP to benefit their society or tackle an issue that was discussed in class and they were passionate about.
Raiya Kishwar Ashraf is currently an undergraduate at Asian University for Women (Class of 2015) where she is majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She wishes to work in the development sector in Bangladesh in the future and will be contributing to the WPSP social media presence during the WPSP Summer Institute.