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International Women's Day: Unfinished Business

International Women’s Day is one of my very favorite days. It gives all of us —  women and men — a chance to reflect not just on how much progress we've made on women's issues and where we're going next, but on how we treat each other, how we boost and empower everyone around us.

As a woman, a tech leader, a wife, and a mother I know that the privileged life I have is the result of the efforts of women and men who came before me, and I am filled with gratitude.

It has been just over 100 years since most women in the United States gained the right to vote — although voting rights for all women, including Native American women, wasn’t enshrined in law until 1965.

Even now, the work is not finished.

There is continued gender disparity in pay and social constructs. There are lingering historical biases that condition society to expect less of women, and condition women to expect less of themselves and society. The battle for equal respect, equal freedom and equal opportunities hasn’t ended.

I have two daughters, and my hope is that they experience even greater freedom and opportunities than I have.

Just as I have benefitted from the work done by previous generations, it is my responsibility — our collective responsibility — to make the world even better for my daughters and all women of future generations.

While advocating for legislation and supporting rights organizations are a part of that effort, there are things we all can do in our everyday lives that will help. I want to share three simple ideas that I hope will resonate with you.  

You are the author of your life. Choose to be the hero of your story.

Sometimes things don't go well, and we're told that our situation is unfair. Although well-intentioned, these messages can be so loud and pervasive that they make it difficult to see that — despite the circumstances — you still have agency over your life.

When you succumb to the idea that you are being treated unfairly, it’s easy for fatigue to set in, easy to let go of the struggle and settle. When you think that doors are closed, don’t pay attention to the doors that are shut. Instead keep looking for doors that are open. You may find that some doors appear to be closed, but actually they are a little ajar, waiting for someone to push them open.

And then push.

Unintentional bias is pervasive: Call it out and people will correct themselves.

Let’s just agree that there is bias. Less than 4% of companies in the Fortune 1000 have female CEOs. Despite women leading other countries around the world, a woman has never been elected president of the U.S. The first female vice-president took office just three years ago.

So there is systemic bias, and even a few people who are intentionally evil. But for the most part, what we experience is unintentional bias based on outdated stereotypes. It’s thick-headedness. But when I have raised my hand or expressed my unhappiness at unequal treatment, people have corrected their bias. Sometimes I even get an apology.

I am not only a woman but also a minority of a minority: An Indian immigrant woman, a tech entrepreneur, cofounder of a successful company. People like me aren’t abundant, so there’s a lack of understanding. I get dunderheaded questions that hint at disbelief, mockery and assumptions that somehow I am getting a free ride.

It sucks.

And yet, when I look at where these biases are coming from, it’s because the world is not yet perfect. Most bias doesn’t come from a conscious effort to disrespect me or deny me an opportunity. It’s unintentional.

Unintentional bias does not go away if we don’t call it out. If enough of us notice and correct it in our daily lives, our daughters won’t experience it at the same intensity that we do.

So speak up.

Find an ally. It helps.

I heard the story of a young woman in India. When she got married her husband’s family told her that she should not work outside of the home. They said it would interfere with her domestic duties. She loved her job. She was good at it. She wanted very much to continue working and she knew it was in her best interest. She spoke to some members of the new family who also believed that employment for women is not only good for the woman, but good for the whole family too. They agreed that she wasn’t being unreasonable and helped her with ideas to convince the other family members to get past their outdated beliefs.

Sometimes you just hit a wall. You are ready to move forward, but you're being viewed through a stereotype that won't allow you the opportunity you want. Finding someone who sees you without the stereotype can help. They can validate your ideas, help with course corrections and they may even pitch your ideas for you too. 

So find an ally.

As a global society, we have made a lot of progress. And I am profoundly grateful for the progress that has been gifted to me by those who came before. Not much time has passed since women were considered a burden, or property; when atrocities committed against them were blamed on their character. And in some places in the world, those are still norms. But in other places, those norms are disappearing: The new norm is that women are able to own and run multinational technology companies, and women’s rights are considered human rights.

In order for our daughters to have a more equitable society where they can live their full potential as productive and valued members of society there is more work to be done.

On this International Women’s Day, here is the commitment I am asking for: Let’s make it happen!

international women's day

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