Break the Bias: A Q&A on International Women’s Day

Breaking the Bias on International Women’s Day
8 March 2021 · 4 min read
On March 8, 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day as both a celebration of women around the globe, but also a commitment to closing the gender equality gap and ending violence against women.
Nearly 50 years later, the tradition has continued, and so too does the fight for true gender equality.
In honor of International Women’s Day at Prosperoware, we sat down with our own Melody Easton (Director of Marketing), Nana Owusu (Account Executive), Trish Rilling (Director of Channel and Alliances), and Juliana Gover (Manager of Demand Generation) to learn about the experiences, challenges, and successes that have shaped their professional lives.
Listening to New Voices
What does International Women’s Day mean to you? 
Melody Easton (ME): IWD gives women across the world a voice to help raise concerns and to shine a spotlight on the bias women still face in the workplace.  Having a daughter, makes this even more poignant, as I don’t want her to have to struggle to succeed in her career, just because of her gender.
Trish Rilling (TR): As a woman in technology for over 20 years, I view this day as a celebration for women who helped pave the way for others in this industry and the world. We have come so far, and I can’t wait to see how we continue to change and progress through my daughter as she grows.
Juliana Gover (JG): IWD for me means taking special notice of the women who are out there paving the way for the rest of us. We have to make sure to appreciate them – if we get further than they were able to, it is only because of the foundation that they laid before us.
How hard is it to make it to the top? Can you do it? There are more CIO’s in the Netherlands called Pieter than there are female CIO’s in the country!
ME: It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of determination (and a thick skin at times), but it can be done.  At Prosperoware, 40% of people who manage teams are women.  This is something that attracted me to the company.
I have found all the women in management to be extremely supportive of each other and we all have our own stories to tell.  I see so many female entrepreneurs these days and I believe technology has really helped change the dynamics and enabled women to take control and start their own companies.
TR: This can ABSOLUTELY be done! Be genuine and true to your ideals not only as a woman but as a leader. Learn to manage well by being a valuable contributor to any team within the company you work for. Support your colleagues when you can, pick your battles carefully and when you have a chance to fight for something you know is right, do it professionally.
JG: That’s a shocking statistic. I can and want to do it! The question for a lot of women is, “Is their career their priority?” For men, it is almost always yes, but for women there is the question of family and expectations that the career has to take a back seat.
I think we have to work to normalize that it should not be a question of a family or a career, but we all can do both, either or none! Each family is going to be different, so each person’s position is going to be different. Those who want to be a CIO can do it. Let’s make it normal for more women to do it if that is what they want!
Why do we need more women in leadership? 
ME: I believe women bring a different viewpoint to the table.  Companies that have more women on their leadership team, outperform those that don’t.  Companies that have more diversity on their leadership team, outperform those that don’t.
The reason is simple – more diversity, brings greater creativity and innovation because you are getting different perspectives.  I also think women are huge advocates for a better work/life balance. I read this article recently on the value of women in leadership roles and it really resonated.
TR: Women generally can be more empathetic, but they are also very organized, great multi taskers, excellent communicators and are comfortable with conflict and showing vulnerability. Adding more of these traits to your team is extremely valuable.
JG: Female bosses bring a different perspective – whether it be approach to a problem or management style. The more variety in perspective and styles the better and holistic a company will be. If we provide more diversity at the top it will trickle down and have a large positive impact.
What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?
ME: From when I was in my 20’s to now, there has been huge progress. I started my life as a Quantity Surveyor – in fact, I was one of the first female quantity surveyors in South Africa. It was a tough gig! I would go on construction sites and would be double guessed all the time by the male sub-contractors. I even remember a time when I was called back on site to re-measure work done for a progress payment.
The subcontractor stood over me while I retook my measurements and I had to prove to him I was correct. My male counterparts remarked that this had never happened to them. I eventually gave up, it was too daunting, and I convinced myself, the world wasn’t ready! Now I see so many women in construction roles and in the tech sector, that it warms my heart. It gives me hope for the future that our daughters and granddaughters will not feel like they should give up like I did.
What are the most effective ways to counteract the negative stereotypes of feminism, especially in the workplace? 
JG: I think a lot of this comes from the misconstrued view that we expect a benefit or special opportunities, but that is not what we want. We just need to be given a reasonable chance for the same opportunity and when a man is chosen over a woman, that is still okay. We would just love to understand what they had over us so that we can grow. I think creating that open dialogue will help prove that equality has been met.
What would you change about the assumptions made by men of women? Why is it that girls are seen as bossy, but boys are seen as having leadership qualities?
TR: I would say assumptions are not facts. Times have changed and many women are the breadwinners for their families (myself included) more than ever before. Many men respect women for that. As a woman, if you let assumptions hold you back form performing and showing up, you need to own that and deal with it. We can’t bring insecurities into the boardroom because it will continue to hold us back. If we carry ourselves as confident and capable then assumptions won’t apply to us.
One of my mentors and former SVPs, Bart Giordano, told me to quit apologizing. He said, “What are you sorry about? You’re doing an amazing job and when you apologize, it shows me that you don’t believe that.”
I never apologized for the little stuff ever again. It was a gamechanger for me!
JG: I believe that women feel like they need to almost have a split personality to the extreme in the professional world. All leaders have to be patient and help develop their employees, but also critique and reprimand them.
In order to be taken seriously, women are forced to approach the situations very differently whereas men can approach the same situation in the same way. There is an assumption that if a woman is delivering a critique in a calm tone, it is only a suggestion, and that it only needs to be taken as truth if their tone is demanding or loud.
What’s your International Women’s Day message?
ME: Know. Your. Worth.  Do not let imposter syndrome take over and make you think you aren’t good enough – because you are!
TR: I’m a BIG Maya Angelou fan, and one of my favorite quotes of hers is, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it. Change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.
I believe that if we as women carry ourselves with confidence and let our voices be heard in a positive way, we can move mountains!!!
JG: More women, better companies!
What advice will you give to your younger self?
ME: That’s simple. Don’t give up!
TR: I would have so many things to tell my younger self, that fortunately I’m able to share with my daughter now. As I’ve matured and been through so many things in my life and career, I think the most valuable things I would share are:
    • Don’t take yourself too seriously, everybody makes mistakes! Use those as learning materials.
    • Take risks earlier, learn to lean in and share your ideas to earn you a place at the table sooner.
    • Don’t be afraid to speak, even if your voice is shaking when you do it! It gets easier the more you do it!
    • Walk away if your value, personal brand, or integrity is ever at risk. No person or amount of money is worth compromising that. EVER!
JG: Don’t sweat the little things, and slow and steady wins the race!
Nana Owusu: The fight for equality continues. Microaggressions and lack of emotional intelligence block the progression of many women in the corporate world. My message is, remember WHO you are ladies, and never forget it!
For extended conversations on these topics and more, check out our exclusive International Women’s Day podcast featuring some talented women from Prosperoware and Litera.
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