Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Where Are All the Girls? by Rhonda Singer

There is a wonderful picture on my computer screensaver, taken a few Septembers ago, of my husband and me, surrounded by our five granddaughters (ranging in age from four months to almost 7 years old at the time).

Each time that photo catches my eye, I still find myself in a kind of almost happy disbelief, for the score has been flipped on its head in only one generation. My husband and I had three sons, hence, I was outnumbered in our household 4:1.

Back then; 4 testosterone: 1 estrogen.

Now? The men are outnumbered. Today the score sits at 4 testosterone: 9 estrogen.

I waited many years for the joy of female family members, never expecting to experience this type of balance. Now that I am a grandmother, an Amah, I reflect on what the future holds for today's young women.

Whilst I was waiting (and hoping) for an estrogen infusion into our family, the world was going through a dramatic change in the gender ratio balance. This is a significant, virtually hidden and very worrisome issue. One that is very likely going to have a big impact on our future world.

While on travel, I picked up the riveting book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendadhl, which had been shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times book prize and a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. What I read about gender imbalance of girls to boys was shocking.

The link to technology and subsequent use of ultrasound is alarming, for it means that the skewed sex ration is an outgrowth of economic progress not backward traditions. Restoring the global balance of males and females could take until 2050.

Implications are profound. Evidence already shows that girls throughout the world face higher rates of violence, poverty, and discrimination. The world’s surplus men means an increase of testosterone and therefore more violence, with huge rises in the number of kidnappings, prostitution, and international trafficking and child marriages.
By now most of know of Malala, the brave young woman who at 14 years old was shot by the Taliban for standing up and advocating for the education of girls. Ironically, during that same week back in 2012, October 11 was declared by the United Nations as the world's first International Day of the Girl Child.  Canada has led the international community in adopting this day, along with the support of Plan Canada

The question is why are girls and women valued less than boys and men?

There is a growing recognition around the world that support girls and their basic human rights is key for healthy communities. History shows that the best way to convince more couples to have girls is to improve the status of women by boosting education and career advancement.
And yet, sadly, women still need to be distinguished separately in diversity initiatives along with immigrants, GLBT, and people of color. Each of those segments are composed of either men OR women and so to be identified separately AND to naturally fall into any other ism as a woman is a double whammy. 
In spite of that ‘so called’ advocacy, we still read in the media that salaries are 15% to 30% less than men, and women’s representation in Fortune 500 leadership positions has stagnated in recent years.  In case you missed it, here is a wonderful infographic that we developed here at Global Learning, for this year’s International Women’s Day that looks at the gender wage gap here in Canada and the U.S.A. We have come so far, yet what is already ten years ago, in 2005 Royal Bank of Canada released a report that estimated the lost income potential of women in Canada due to the wage gap is about $126-billion a year.  
So what is going on? It is a cultural and economic issue… not a gender one.
Culture can be defined simply as ‘the way we do things here’. Geert Hofstede, a well known researcher, defines organization culture as the “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members from others"
And culture is not easily described. Try articulating five or six practices in your organization and then ask “why do we do that?”.
Culture is based on values, the glue to behavior and decision- making. 
The question is: what’s invisible in our Canadian culture that does not recognize girls and women as equal, valuable contributors and leaders in the world of work- in government and in politics? 
My invitation to you: take a stand and start an inquiry with others about what is going on from a cultural and economic lens.
It is not only about my granddaughters; it is about your daughters and granddaughters too. It is about creating the future.  

Friday, 13 March 2015

Inspiring Others to "Walk Their Talk" By Elaine Newman

There are times in a person's life, amazing fleeting times, when they know what they believe in and stand for, has made a difference in shaping the choices of others.  These are the times we wait for and treasure, when we realize all of our hard work and effort has resonated with people we love and hope to inspire.  For parents, aunts and uncles and other adult family members, this is the defining moment with children. Last night, I had such a moment.

My daughter, Alexandra graduated last November from McGill University in Montreal with a Master of Science (MSc) Family Medicine.  Her thesis focused on the well sibling experience of anxiety and depression in young adults.  Her brother (my son) Michael has struggled with severe anxiety his entire life and her personal experience as his sister influenced her choice of thesis topic.  Much has been studied and written about the impact of mental health issues on the family unit from the individual's as well as the parent's perspective, but little to no research has been centered on the well sibling's experience.  Alexandra's thesis utilized qualitative research to explore the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the study group of 18 to 25 year old well siblings. This was a true case of lived experience shaping important choices in our life.

Alexandra was invited by the Jack.org McGill Students' Chapter to talk about her thesis and the impact that mental health issues have on the whole family unit at their Bridge the Gap speaker series this week.

Jack.org is the only national network of young leaders transforming the way we think about mental health.  With initiatives and programs designed for young people, by young people, they strive to end the stigma in our generation.  

In 2010, Jack Windeler was a first year student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  He was a lively, bright and funny young man who was also struggling with mental illness.  Halfway through the school year, his grades dropped, he stopped going to class and he became disinterested and disengaged. Like many young people, Jack couldn't reach out for help.  In March 2010, Jack died by suicide. His loss devastated his family, shocked the Queen's community and started a movement. Following his death, his parents, Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington asked friends and family to make donations to Kids Help Phone in Jack's memory.  The outpouring of support created the foundation for The Jack Project which has since grown into a registered Canadian charity which focuses its efforts on decreasing stigma and improving mental well being on campuses.”

Back in September 2014, my son Michael started his freshman year at college and it was no surprise to us that he chose to attend Queens University.  What was surprising to us was that he could go away to college at all.  With his severe anxiety, he had never, and I mean never, been able to participate in overnight school trips, stay at friend's houses or travel by himself.  With the support of his family, friends, doctor, and coach who he had worked with since age 8, Michael started a year-long plan focused on enabling him to attend a university away from Toronto. 

Michael not only saw this as an opportunity to enable and empower his own life, he developed into a champion for other people living with mental health disabilities. Michael quickly became an ally and mentor for younger students in his school who were experiencing the all too familiar fears and anxiety that have plagued him for so many years. 

With this new glimpse of discovery into his own purpose, Michael has been exploring endeavors he couldn’t have conceived possible just a short time ago.  He has been invited to and has spoken at school events, as well as attended outside conferences with his school counsellor, a personal mentor of his for the past 9 years.  Most importantly Michael accomplished this amazing goal that he had set out for himself, while at the same time leaving others to feel inspired to do the same.

Last night, I received an unexpected gift, packaged in a brief Facebook comment.  As most of us do these days, my daughter Alexandra took to her Facebook profile, to make mention of her speaking engagement with the Jack.org McGill Students' Chapter

Michael left the following comment:

"really proud of my big sister Alex for speaking about her thesis at McGill today! As someone who has struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, having a family member focus a thesis on mental health issues and helping others affected by this is the best thing I could ever ask for! Love You."

I told my children last night, how proud I was of both of them for "walking the talk" and being role models and advocates for individuals with mental health issues.  Awareness, understanding, advocacy and empathy are critical to supporting others in every respect.  If all of us can focus on inspiring others in some way, big or small, to "walk their talk", the world will truly become a better place. 

"Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?" ~ Robert Kennedy 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

It’s Time to #MakeItHappen!

As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, I am thinking back on all of the important and influential women in my life.  I have been blessed to have had strong, intelligent female role models on my journey; from family to mentors to colleagues and peers. Passionate, resilient, and compassionate are all qualities I have observed in these women and I have tried to emulate them in both my personal and professional life.  My company’s creation,  focus and direction has been shaped by the beliefs espoused by these women, as well as the struggles and in some cases, injustices experienced by them.  Like all of us, I have made choices and life decisions based on the perspectives, beliefs, and stories of others who I have admired on the positive side and chosen to avoid on the other end of the spectrum.

All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. The theme of the 2015 global celebration is Make It Happen and brings with it an expectation and conviction that the time of true equality of women in all respects is right now.  While International Women’s Day is a celebration of achievements, both past and present, it reminds us that despite advancements, there is still significant work to do and inequalities to address in the world as a whole.  It is up to all of us to Make It Happen

The issue of wage inequality for women remains at the forefront of focus and discussion in 2015, despite significant and varied strategies to rectify this injustice over many decades. History books document legislative attempts to compel wage equality with such laws as the U.S. Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Canada’s first pay equity legislation federally enacted in 1977. But as we have come to realize over the years, people’s actions are not always aligned with the required legislation in a country.  How do we change beliefs that are deeply rooted in injustice and unconscious bias?  My clients are constantly asking this question as it relates to all dimensions of diversity, not just gender equality issues and understand that while most people believe that such actions are not only the “right thing to do”, they are also the “smart thing to do”, that inequalities continue to exist in the world.   The most important question is how will we finally bring about this change? And based on all of the research over the past several decades; is this even possible?

This leads me back to the women who have shaped my life and their personal experiences with inequality. My mother had a profound influence on who I am; my belief system in “walking the talk” and my passion for pursuing inclusion for all.  She was ahead of her time and acted on her strong belief in doing what was right. In 1982, she spearheaded a law suit involving herself and four other women against her employer, the F.W. Woolworth Company and alleged discrimination on the basis of sex in contravention of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The complaint stemmed from the retailer’s decision regarding the implementation of an annual wage increase. ‘Wage increases in varying amounts were granted to the staff at the operation at that time with the exception of the five complainants and one other female employee.  Instead of receiving wage increases as did their fellow workers, those six individuals had their wages frozen.  The complainants allege that Woolworth’s decision to freeze only their wages had the effect of discriminating against them on the basis of their sex because only female employees had their wages frozen”.  

It took tremendous courage and conviction for my mother and these women to bring this suit against their employer, especially considering they still went to work every day for almost four years until the case came to trial.  I still remember the discussion we had as a family when my mom told us what she wanted to do and asked for our support, which we gave her without hesitation. This was the family we grew up in, one that fought for what was right, even if it had a personal cost associated with it.  In the end, the case was not successful. It was proven that the company “had treated the complainants differently from its other employees by denying them a raise in 1982.  From a human standpoint, the way the respondent handled the matter at the time created a well justified feeling of unfairness and discrimination in the minds of the complainants. But, the complainants were unable to establish on the evidence that they were denied the raise “because of their sex”. The complainants were only able to show that they were treated differently and that they were all female.”

It is a sad, but true reality that the fight for wage equality for women continues to be necessary in the year 2015.  For many companies, the actions taken in perpetuating wage inequality are still the same as my mother experienced in 1982. It is up to all of us, men and women alike, to finally figure out and enable the mechanisms to change this reality.  After all, isn’t it about time to just Make It Happen?

 “I did everything that was asked, in fact I did more… All those years, besides watching these young men work there and get raises… I felt, okay, I do my job and I’m getting my raises so I am satisfied. But when this came up, and now you see a person who has less seniority, less responsibility, less skills, less everything… He is getting a raise and I am not. So then I thought there has to be a principle somewhere here.”