After <cough> years after graduation, I had an experience which makes me wonder how far we’ve really come with women’s issues. Last week, I went back to my old University campus. I nearly drove into a building they put up right in the middle of the road I used to take. Apparently, it had been far too long since I’d visited Carleton University.
I was there because the Carleton Career Centre had invited me to join a panel of businesspeople and entrepreneurs to speak to almost-graduating Bachelor of Arts students. They came for advice and ideas about how to use their degree to pursue a career in business, marketing, and PR. We were a panel of four – two women and two men. The perfect gender balance! Shame there was no ethic diversity.
I noticed the genders were balanced in the audience, and reflected on the statistics which show more women than men graduate with undergrad degrees. The gap is also rapidly closing on enrolment in doctoral programs. The message is: we are here! We’ve come a long way, baby. This is the future dreamed of by the likes of Dr Emily Stowe.
Ask any woman in business (or in other fields, I’m sure) about gender equality and you’ll hear stories which show that we still have a long way to go. After the panel ended and the audience dispersed, a female student approached me and the other woman on the panel to ask about whether we’d ever dealt with discrimination. Clearly, this young woman was smart, savvy, motivated, and ambitious. She was encountering barriers within her own family, who were unsupportive of her desire to succeed in business. She was concerned about what she’ll find outside of campus and home.
I wish we could have told her not to worry. That she’ll never have a boss ask her “why don’t you just stay home with the kids?” and that she’ll never have a co-worker sexually harass her on a business trip, or hear the condescending “so your husband isn’t your business partner?” But these are the stories she heard from us. Along with the messages of “Be strong. Be tough. You can do it.”
Another message is “Speak up”. I find it most disturbing that she didn’t want to ask about gender discrimination during the panel. She “didn’t feel it was appropriate” to open up this discussion to the room. Silence is never a solution. It is thanks to the advocacy of The Famous Five, Gloria Steinhem, and others that women in North America have the rights we enjoy today. But the harassment, the violence, and the discrimination still continues. This is why there are organizations like the Global Fund for Women and OWJN. I dream of a future where places like Harmony House isn’t necessary.
On International Women’s Day, speak up. Speak up every day. Let’s take the discussion out of the corners of rooms.