This blog will soon be moving on to my new domain http://www.diversityatworkus.com where I will continue to develop content regarding gender equality, diversity, inclusion and social impact.
It’s been a rock and roll year for women’s rights. Just when you thought the 2016 elections in the US were a reality TV show titled ‘battle of the sexes: who will be President’, along came 2017 and brought us the biggest women’s march in history followed by the creation of a popular movement to end sexual harassment. Much ink has been spilled in an effort to make sense of these momentous events – what were the cultural, technological and historical contexts which set up the conditions of this to take place? What created a perfect storm of feminist consciousness?
On International Women’s Day 2018, I’d like to put on my own analysis hat and look at how these broader themes played out in my microcosm of lived experiences spanning the length of the peninsula between foggy San-Francisco and sunny San-Jose: Silicon Valley. The fabled and the mythological collided with reality more than once this past year, and giants were shaken to their core in the name of equality and justice. Though the Valley, and the companies it sprung which are rooted in the ethos of innovating to improve people’s lives, has always been a place where people came together to be better, it wasn’t until 2017 when the reality of corporate America finally collided with the founding principles of these same tech giants.
Scandals and public outrage aren’t new – what 2017 brought to light were the gender dimensions of these pain points. Although revelations of discrimination, sexism, bro-culture and even harassment have been around for a while, and the pioneering law-suit brought by Ellen Pow really opened up this conversation space, it seems Silicon Valley titans hadn’t been paying attention. Now that both the #metoo movement has risen to prominence and diversity efforts are finally giving rise to a multiplicity of voices and some measures of accountability, the landscape is beginning to shift.
The year kicked off with the infamous ‘Google Manifesto’ written by a Google employee named James Damore who used an internal company forum to post a ten-page ramble which made the case that women weren’t cut out for tech. This so called ‘manifesto’ which was just a really long blog post, used a lot of motivated reasoning and pseudo-scientific studies to try and make this point, but ultimately this MGTOW test-case failed spectacularly. In the effort to subvert the progress Silicon Valley has made on increasing women’s representation in tech, the document and subsequent lawsuit (after Google fired Damore), played into the hands of diversity proponents by encouraging every CEO in the Valley, more than one top VC, and even top journals like The Economist, to publish full throated endorsement of diversity efforts. The lawsuit also failed because Google has every right to fire someone who’s creating a hostile work environment. obviously.
Some said the manifesto was simply reflecting an existing feeling of resentment and even ‘the beginnings of a backlash’ against diversity efforts, as though the technocrats behind these kinds of policies (full disclosure: I’m one of them) are to blame for people’s adverse reactions. That maybe in the process of changing a flawed system we’re making some people uncomfortable. Here’s the thing though: change is not always comfortable, it’s not easy, and there are winners and losers. It’s not a level playing field, and in order to make it one, which will ultimately lead to better results across the board, some people will need to consciously make room for others.
If you think about the 2016 elections in which a purportedly ‘disenfranchised’ and ignored part of America’s citizenry, living in poor, under-developed, sparsely populated regions, voted en-mass for a populist candidate, it’s easy to see the dangers of ignoring inequities. This works both ways. Women and people of color who’ve traditionally and systematically been left out of the means of production have been fighting back for a century. The civil rights movement and the feminist movement weren’t welcomed with open arms, they faced resistance by those who were worried about losing their privileges. The same resistance that James Damore expressed in his manifesto, and the same anger that gave rise to Trumpism, is precisely why diversity efforts must continue. It’s also evidence that they’re working.
It’s clear that Silicon Valley is changing, in part through public pressure and in part though thoughtful leadership which cares about increasing the talent pool for their companies and doing what’s right. The ethos of the tech entrepreneur as a white male Stanford or Harvard dropout is no longer true nor indicative of the real leaders of the tech industry. But more importantly, these myths which helped perpetuate obsolete attitudes have no place in the realities of 2018, where women have stood proud and tall together to say that they will not stay silent in face of a system which glorifies and celebrates bad behavior as part of a narrative of prosperity.
On International Women’s Day 2018, it feels like the winds of change are finally sweeping the last vestiges of ‘the old boys club’ away from the peninsula, and making room for egalitarian and purposeful measures to increase women’s representation in tech.
 ‘Men Going Their Own Way’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_Going_Their_Own_Way
 ‘The email Larry Page should have written to James Damore’: https://www.economist.com/news/international/21726276-last-week-newspaper-said-alphabets-boss-should-write-detailed-ringing-rebuttal
This fantastic piece from Mike Dillon at PWC showcases the importance of diversity efforts that include EVERYONE, especially white male allies who are so often excluded from diversity strategies. It’s also worth noting that not including men in diversity efforts places all the responsibility for leading these strategies on women and minorities, who are already facing challenges in the workplace including discrimination and bias.
A couple weeks back, I served as a panelist at The Better Man Conference, an annual event in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on engaging men in conversations around inclusionary leadership for women and minorities. On stage, I was joined by a diverse group of fellow panelists: Dr. Ronald Copeland of Kaiser Permanente, Nadia Chargualaf of Telestra, Lesley Slaton-Brown of HP, and Dale Thomas Vaughn of the Gender Leadership Group.
To my surprise, during the Q&A session, an audience member raised her hand and asked me, “As a white man, why are you on this panel? Why do you care about diversity?”
I didn’t see it coming. I felt her comment seemed to question my credentials as PwC’s Chief Diversity Officer. Almost as a reflex I responded by saying: “As an out gay man, I understand exclusion because of my sexual orientation.”
But as I thought more and more about my response, I realized that it shouldn’t matter if I was gay or not. I shouldn’t have to be part of a minority or underrepresented group to care about diversity and inclusion. And if anything, we should want more straight white men to be allies and to be engaged in discussions about diversity and inclusion.
Indeed, everyone should strive to learn from the experiences of those who are different from us. And the more allies we can make by having open dialogues and conversations with each other, the more impact we can truly have.
By engaging in conversations with those who are different from us, we are able to challenge assumptions and break down unconscious biases. This is an important first step in becoming allies and supporting others — which includes speaking up for them, giving them opportunities to speak for themselves, and listening and learning from their unique experiences and perspectives.
As a white male, who is a partner at a major firm like PwC, I am able to use my political capital to advocate for diversity and inclusion in Corporate America. That’s why I am always committed to being an ally for others, to elevating conversations around D&I, and to giving underrepresented and minority groups platforms to be heard. One great example of how we’re doing this at PwC is our HeForShe Ally Champion Network, where we educate both our male and female staff members to come together to support global gender parity.
When fighting for greater inclusion, we have to remember that it takes everyone’s involvement to really make societal change happen. As journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas reminds us, “You don’t have to be gay to fight for LGBT rights, you don’t have to be an immigrant to fight for immigrant rights, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist.” As Vargas rightly points out, equality is a two-way street, “my equality is tied to your equality.”
This all brings me back to why having conversations about diversity and inclusion at work is so important. These conversations can be uncomfortable for everyone (white, black, brown, gay, straight, cis, transgender, male, female, etc.). You don’t want to misspeak or ask a question that might offend someone. But it’s important that we build the trust that is needed to have these conversations so we can move forward toward greater diversity and inclusion as allies. I’m proud that at PwC, we haven’t been afraid to have these conversations because we know it is a first step to bringing allyship into the workplace and hopefully beyond.
This is an important and timely discussion of informed consent with a specific girl’s rights lens! the concept of ‘duty of care’ is particularly useful, shifting the burden of responsibility back to the institutional entity rather than the individual, which is ultimately responsible for how and if data about vulnerable constituencies is used.
This post is co-authored by Emily Tomkys, Oxfam GB; Danna Ingleton, Amnesty International; and me (Linda Raftree, Independent)
At the MERL Tech conference in DC this month, we ran a breakout session on rethinking consent in the digital age. Most INGOs have not updated their consent forms and policies for many years, yet the growing use of technology in our work, for many different purposes, raises many questions and insecurities that are difficult to address. Our old ways of requesting and managing consent need to be modernized to meet the new realities of digital data and the changing nature of data. Is informed consent even possible when data is digital and/or opened? Do we have any way of controlling what happens with that data once it is digital? How often are organizations violating national and global data privacy laws? Can technology be part of the answer?
Let’s take a moment…
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At the recent Gender360 Summit I was introduced by my former boss and beloved colleague Feyi Rodway to the concept of creating ‘brave spaces’. This term seems to have surfaced during discussion groups and research she conducted in Ghana and indicated a move away from the notion of ‘safe spaces’ to a space that inspires one to speak out. This being a new term for me, which nonetheless resonated deeply, i decided to do some digging and figure out where this idea came from and what it sets out to accomplish.
As we know all great journeys begin with a google search, and I quickly found what appears to be a seminal 2013 piece titled ‘from safe spaces to brave spaces’ by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. In this article they explore the notion of safe spaces which arose out of facilitating social justice discussions with students at NY University. they spend some time discussing what a safe space actually is which pretty much does what it says on the can, and through a series of agreed guidelines sets basic ‘rules of engagement’ that ensure people’s views won’t be attacked, belittled, ridiculed or dismissed. they quickly realized that their students were conflating ‘safety’ with ‘comfort’, and the moment a discussion moved from ‘political to provocative’ students invoked the rules of safe space to essentially shut down the conversation.
Democracy rests on the belief that freedom of speech, even when it is painful, difficult, aggravating or hurtful, is necessary for the protection of everyone’s rights. as the famous saying goes “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Yet this notion of listening to and giving space to views that challenge our established beliefs, seems to have been undermined by the idea that a safe space means avoiding discomfort at all times. Arao and Clemens felt that students were not adequately prepared to deal with controversial or politicized issues since the expectation of being challenged was removed in the notion of creating ‘safety’ which led students to ‘discount, deflect and retreat’ the moment they felt ‘unsafe’, that is, uncomfortable.
Their solution, is to replace the unhelpful idea of safety with that of bravery, which would ‘help students rise to the challenges of genuine dialogue on diversity and social justice issues’. The article doesn’t go far enough to my mind as it stays in the realm of discussion guidelines for facilitators by setting out new common rules for creating a brave space. this assumes too much a level playing field of values and language, and background and geography. Their articulation of ‘brave spaces’ doesn’t travel well.
However, if we think of the basic tenet of the move from safety (comfort) to bravery (meeting challenges) this works very well in the context of effective advocacy. Much of the work that I’ve led to build young people’s capacity to be effective advocates, to speak truth to power, is about building their self efficacy and agency. The basic premise of this work rests on the assumption that the space these youth advocates are entering is not safe, that they will be a minority in an adult arena where their views are most likely to be dismissed due to their age, and where they will most likely meet with hostility by those in power who they are holding to account.
This means that creating a brave space becomes an act of conscious and deliberate actions that go beyond agreed behavior guidelines, to building the capacity of youth advocates to meet challenges, and in turn, work with those in power to become open to being challenged. In other words, creating a brave space requires working with those about to enter this space before they even get there and it requires an active intervention of facilitators that work against power imbalances in any way they can (this could include changing discussion format or even language).
for me the move from safe spaces to brave spaces can best be summed up as the move from ‘hearing’ to ‘listening’. and when we finally listen to those who we don’t usually hear from, a whole world of possibilities opens up.
Melinda Gates pledges $80 million to close gender gaps through data. will Gates do for advancing gender equality what they did for eliminating malaria? one can only hope!
“We can’t close the gender gap without closing the data gap.” That was the key message of the speech by Melinda Gates at a session titled “A Girls’ and Women’s lens on the SDGs ” at Women Deliver. With a new plan of action, new goals and a new roadmap for achieving them, it is more crucial than ever to ensure we are able to measure the progress properly. Yet, the data is still incomplete, and the dark numbers are huge. Is it really that difficult to gather data, and how do we change that?
Data is necessary for knowing what’s happening, and how to move further. Without being able to measure the right things, we cannot know where and how to invest money and time. And often, where help is the most needed, the numbers are the most misleading. As Gates pointed out later on during her presentation…
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As a gender and development practitioner who works specifically with girls and young women who are under 18 years of age, I get asked a lot about what i take into consideration when developing or advising others on the development of a program to empower girls in living poverty. My response? there are many things to take into account, but first and foremost, consider whether your intervention might put them at risk. if the answer is yes, and ofttimes it will be especially if the program is gender transformative, i.e. challenging existing power structures, then one must honestly consider whether the risk level is acceptable and what if anything can be put in place to mitigate this risk.
When we’re working on challenging gender norms and changing social behaviors, we are actively disrupting the status quo. and this can make some people resistant, uncomfortable, fearful or even violent. especially those who are in positions of power, and who might feel like this power is being directly or indirectly challenged. for instance, a woman finding gainful employment or joining a savings groups which gives her control over her income might experience backlash from her spouse, children or the wider community.
Working with those who are under 18 requires that we consider their evolving capacity to handle such risks and the consequences to their lives. different age groups are at different cognitive and behavioral development stages and that’s a hugely important factor to consider. for instance, sex education curricula will not be the same for early adolescents (10/11-14) and late adolescents (14-18) who are most likely already sexually active.
Children and young people are also still considered legal wards of their families and care-takers, and so any intervention that involves them necessarily involves more than just one individual. this is an important point that often differentiates working with children and youth from working with adults. Any program that involves children and youth, also requires informed consent, which depending on the program can be a huge sticking point.
After establishing the unique parameters of working with under 18’s, we come to the issue of risk. how to define what’s too great a risk, and what can conceivably be seen in the context of our work to transform relations between the sexes, as the acceptable cost of doing business?
To paraphrase from my favorite show – when it comes to risk in programming with girls, when is a risk too risky?
The first part of this answer is philosophical and ethical. From a child protection perspective you could say that ensuring every part of a program is ‘in the best interest of the child’ is paramount. From a social change perspective you could say that empowering children to speak out and affect change trumps an (ofttimes) paternalistic child protection approach which would deny the child a chance to exercise their agency. both of these need to be taken into consideration in terms of the goals of a program. for instance, if the goal is to change social norms by organizing a group of girl advocates who will speak out against early pregnancy in their communities, then one must weigh the risk of community backlash with the real possibility that this kind of work could save lives.
There’s no easy answer, and ‘doing no harm’ is above all our main objective, though we must weigh the likelihood and severity of risks in light of the potential transformative change our project could achieve. I would also add, again, that any intervention which seeks to challenge patriarchy in all its forms carries inherent risks. For me that is a given, however, there are clear ways in which these risks can be substantially reduced through effective programming, even if not eliminated altogether.
The second part of this answer is technical. Any self respecting organization will conduct risk analyses for programs, initiatives, events or engagements involving young people. this is the best space to evaluate the risk levels and agree on mitigation steps. an example of a risk assessment (for an event) will look something like this:
Even visually, color coding a risk assessment can offer a good ‘at glance’ measure for deciding whether the risk levels are too high – if half the document is red, then you should go back to the drawing board.
Finally, I would also suggest that a good way of evaluating risk to young people or children can be done by including them in program design. working with children and young people is the best way to gain insights into their lived realities and ensure any intervention is tailored to address their experiences as they perceive them. this is especially relevant when working with adolescent girls, since they will experience different social pressures depending on cultural context and are best placed to gauge the reactions of their families, communities and peers to any actions they will take to challenge the patriarchal status quo.
On a rainy November day in 2007, Plan UK launched a new campaign named after a report they had just published called ‘Because I am a Girl’. The launch was held at the offices of Marie Claire Magazine, and it featured Cherie Blaire as a guest speaker. At the time, global attention was firmly fixed elsewhere – it was hurricane season in the Pacific and the Dow Jones had just taken a 360 point dive, heralding an economic crisis the likes of which the world hadn’t known since The Great Depression. But in a small press reception, in the heart of London, change was afoot.
The next day a minor news story made it onto the back pages of a few papers – the UN sent home 108 of the 950 Sri Lankan peacekeepers stationed in Haiti, accusing them of sexual abuse, including with underage girls. This shocking event passed by mostly unnoticed and unremarked upon by those responsible for holding UN agencies to account. As usual, only the feminists cried in outrage, and the world kept spinning on its axis unperturbed. Girls were invisible, and so was their plight.
Around the same time the 2008 ‘Because I am a Girl’ report was published, focusing on girl’s rights in war zones. One of its main recommendations was to enforce the code of conduct for UN personnel serving in conflict and post conflict zones so that they protect, not exploit, girls and young women. Despite the topical nature of the issues discussed, the report’s call to action failed to gain significant traction with donors and policy makers. It would take yet a deeper plunge into the economic abyss in order to firmly place girls at the top of the development agenda.
In December 2009, the participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos – largely heads of billion dollar corporations – were invited to a session called ‘The Girl Effect on Development’. The Davos meetings that year were focusing exclusively on the global economic crisis that had hit these corporations hard. The idea of a session that sought to encourage large scale investments in adolescent girls living in some of the poorest communities in the world seemed at odds with the economic climate. Yet, the session had sold out almost immediately.
The Girl Effect told a simple story: if you invest in adolescent girls, then fertility rates drop, children have better health outcomes, the workforce grows and becomes more productive ultimately leading to a stimulated economy. The crux of the argument was this – girls will one day be mothers, transferring their gains to their children, ensuring a multiplier and intergenerational effect will inevitably take place. This easy formula for stimulating the economy caught the attention of every business person and politician in the room and the Girl Effect video quickly went viral.
At the same time Plan’s third ‘Because I am a Girl’ report which analyzed the roles of girls and young women within the global economy, had finally hit a home run. Coming as it did on the heels of the economic crisis it offered duty bearers a clear route towards equitable distribution of wealth and assets – through an investment in girl’s education. History shows, the report argued, that when a girls are as educated as boys, economies prosper and governments remain stable.
The clarion call for girls had been made and it was echoing around the globe. Other organizations launched similar campaigns, and suddenly it seemed like everyone was talking at once. Investments increased, another Girl Effect video was released, the ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign went global and the UN passed a resolution to make October 11th the International Day of the Girl.
Girls had become central to the development agenda. Yet, it became apparent as world nations geared up to begin the Post 2015 negotiations that the real challenge was still ahead. How can the success of the ‘girl movement’ be translated into hard-hitting policy wins? For a time it seemed like the girl-focused agencies would continue to work at cross purposes, clamoring all at once about different topics, and losing ground to other, less controversial global issues. In the fight to get girls on the development agenda, the hard nut of member-state support had yet to be fully cracked.
Over the past few months, a cross section of leading girl-focused agencies agreed that this historic moment was a time when we are bigger than the sum of our parts, and combining agendas was the only way to truly make a lasting historic impact on the UN negotiations.
Have we succeeded? I believe we have. At the Summit of the Sustainable Development Goals, Malala Yousafzai gave a key-note address, and standing by her side were adolescent girls from across the globe, including girls that were part of an innovative Plan International project to empower them to be part of this historic process. By working together we have for the first time created a space where girl’s voices are welcomed and listened to, and where the issues faced by adolescent girls the world over are accepted as central to the future prosperity of human kind.
but now the real test begins. will girls be invited to take part in SDG implementation? will their voices be heard as the commitments made at the UN are translated into policy plans and agendas? We’ve come so far from that rainy afternoon, and now the world is finally listening…it’s up to all of us to ensure global attention stays firmly fixed on the next generation of leaders and change makers – adolescent girls.
The epic USA victory over Japan yesterday at the Women’s FIFA World Cup, and the entire tournament really, showed the world that women in sports can be competitive and fight for victory with a passion and fierceness that defies social expectations at every turn. the girls on the field weren’t thinking about their makeup or the way they will look if they make a face or shout with joy. the wanted to win, and when they scored, they roared. It was beautiful.
Title 9 in the USA, which stipulated that colleges couldn’t discriminate on the basis of sex in funding sports, is largely responsible for last night’s epic win. see? policies and legislation work. the right investment makes all the difference. gender roles aren’t written in stone – they change with the times, and they change when society makes a decision to stand up for what’s right. I can only imagine the kind of impact the Equal Rights Amendment would have on women’s rights if Congress finally ratified the ERA into the constitution.
It’s been a good month for equality in the United States. The country celebrated transgender rights and threw Caitlyn Jenner the nicest coming out party ever. SCOTUS handed down a landmark decision to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. And there’s a woman running for president.
Granted, transgender rights still have a long way to go – check out John Oliver’s segment on the issue. He really exposes the ways in which we currently view transgender people – most of us seem confused, and the rest want to ask them about their privates. Legally, they still have an uphill battle with many States viewing transgender identity as a lifestyle choice. and they still face higher rates of poverty, suicide and violence than the general public.
The gay movement is celebrating marriage equality and everyone is changing their Facebook profile photo. however, a moving piece by Darnell Moore exposes the ways in which the LGBTQ+ movement has failed to include him ‘under the rainbow’. he writes: ‘the “movement” might care about my queerness, but it certainly does not value my blackness’. this sentiment is one that the gay movement will have to address very soon if it wishes to stay true to its cause.
Historically, the feminist and gay movement have not always gotten on well. Feminists see the inclusion of gay women’s issues as a distraction from issues faced by all women regardless of their sexual orientation, and gay women see the feminist majority as trying to erase their experiences and unique challenges. The PBS documentary ‘Makers: Women Who Made America‘ takes a good look at the cost of this struggle. The schism has been so great that to this day you’ll find countries like Ireland, where gays can get married but women can’t get a legal abortion.
But here’s the thing –
Equality is for everybody. discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation is unjust and it should be illegal. How those two have managed to be separated in the eyes of the public and of legislators is a question for another day. But for now I think the time is right for the feminist movement to reclaim this space and leverage the current public support for equal rights to fight for what we deserve.
and thankfully – I’m not alone in my convictions.
On June 23rd, Meryl Streep sent five hundred and thirty-five letters to each and every Member of Congress urging them to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment stalled in 1982 as it was ratified by only 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution. The ERA has been introduced in Congress every year since, with little result. the ERA, together with much of the feminist movement, seemed stuck.
But the tide is turning. a new generation of feminists have taken up the call. a slew of girl’s empowerment campaigns have emerged, some led by civil society and some by large brands (#likeagirl, this girl can, Dove real beauty to name a few). they have both capitalized on the renewed feminist energy and also been instrumental in creating an added momentum. and with the wind of civil rights victories at our back, and a female presidential candidate with an outstanding record on advancing women’s rights at our lead, we might just make the ERA happen before I’m gray and old.
Jessica Neuwirth is the Founder and President of the ERA Coalition which is working to create a broad base of support for the ERA across America. ‘Equal Means Equal’ is a documentary produced by Patricia Arquette which takes a long hard look at the reality of women’s lives without the ERA and the personal cost to their freedom and civil liberties. Issues that have been getting more attention lately, from the pay gap and paid family leave, to domestic violence and trafficking, are all linked to the unequal treatment of women under the law and the continued discrimination they face in the United States in 2015.
I can only hope we have the courage to come together with the support of our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and demand an end to discrimination against women with a constitutional guarantee.