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Women still face many pressures

VERNE BURNETT Thursday, July 27 2017

All women need to believe in themselves and to know that they have within themselves what they need to get what they want, said Marilyn Tam, kicking off her presentation at last Thursday’s Women in Leadership conference entitled “Wonder Women: Fearlessly Breaking Barriers” organised by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business at the Hyatt Regency, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.

Making that line the theme of her presentation, Tam told the women, “We all know that our expectations frame our lives, our expectations frame our future.” She said that each person has an average of six careers in their lifetime and if they were still working on their first one they needed to consider if that was what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.

“Are you satisfied with your life that you have right now and if you’re not, are you doing anything about it? Because your life is really what you expect. You are going to show up and you are going to receive based on your expectations, not what other people told you, what society tells you, what is in social media but what you really expected.”

Tam told the audience that she was the second daughter in her traditional Chinese family in Hong Kong. There were three brothers after her and because she was a girl her parents didn’t want her and gave her away to an aunt who did not have any children. She said she became a child labourer in a fishing village and did task work, an experience that was not good for her self-esteem. In time, the aunt became pregnant and had her own child, a boy, and promptly returned her to her parents, further damaging the way she thought about herself. She asked the women in the audience to examine what negative things they learned in their childhood which were still determining the outcome of their lives today and urged them to put those thoughts away. Despite her low self-esteem and the damage caused by all the negative things she was told because she was female, Tam said she developed a life mission – to do humanitarian work in Africa. After returning to her parents, she was sent to a private school where she got a quite good education. However, she dropped out early and applied to a college in the US where she was accepted. As she advanced through her career she faced many questions about her background, Tam said she decided to write a book, “How to use what you got to get what you want,” explaining that, “Truthfully, it’s all inside of us. Everything you are going to achieve is already there in bud form, like a flower before it opens or a seed before it germinates. It’s up to us to nurture that part of it. It’s not waiting for somebody else to tell us that we are going to be great.”

Tam shared four principles which she uses in her life and work. The first was to always tell the truth because it frees up the mind to concentrate on more important things. The second principle was to make partners, something she said women were good at because they like to collaborate and work together. The third principle was to make big mistakes because if they only made small mistakes it showed that they were just being careless while making no mistakes showed that they were not taking any risks. The fourth principle was to “die by your own sword,” which she said, meant that they should stand by their convictions.

Another speaker at the conference was Maja Djikic, PhD Director of the Self- Development Laboratory at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She said that women needed to beware of such internal obstacles as low self-confidence which manifests itself in not applying for positions even if the positions are available and they are qualified for them. She said another obstacle to the success of women was not having their voices heard in the companies in which they work.

Djikic also warned of the imposter syndrome which she described as the inability to internalise success and the problem of guilt which women feel about work.

In her welcome remarks, Jo-Anne Boodoosingh, Director, Executive Education at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, said resilience is one of the greatest attributes of women, in addition to the ability to overcome obstacles with grace and humility. “Each of us has a story. Obstacles we’ve faced whether personally or professionally, tears shed, pains but we also have a song of victory, a lesson of learning and a heart of gratitude.”

She said while the “wonder women” in the audience may see what they do in ordinary terms whether as mother, teacher, company director, entrepreneur, the many roles they played each day made an impact, whether it was shaping lives, raising kids, running companies, building homes and supporting families, leading teams, creating wealth, holding huge corporate portfolios, volunteering and pushing the NGOs they were associated with to perform better and help the community.

Wendy-Fae Thompson, Managing Counsel at bpTT told conference participants statistics collected at bp showed that women represented 33 percent of the workforce and 22 percent of group leaders, the company’s most senior managers. She said that by 2020 the company’s ambition was that 25 percent of its group leaders and 30 percent of its senior level leaders would be women. She said the company had set internal goals for gender representation and is holding its leaders responsible for taking all reasonable steps to be inclusive.

Karen Darbasie, Group Chief Executive Officer of First Citizens, and speaker partner, said that in just a few generations the roles of working mothers had changed in the country and working women continue to work to define their roles in society with many of them trying to achieve the “ever shifting” balance as working mothers. “The realities are that in our country many women are given the mammoth task of raising the children, cleaning the house, working a full day and at the end of the day the ritual of preparing the family meals.”

She said women had made progress but still had a way to go. “Are women getting equal pay for equal work? How do we make sexual harassment a thing of the past? Those are questions that we all need to find the answers to. As parents are we raising sons and daughters that respect each other’s differences and commonalities?” She said that research had shown that women have made progress in leadership positions but the gender gap continues to be a prevalent issue.

“Women bring different perspectives and approaches to business resulting in a more inclusive workplace and often better performance for the company, yet today the helm of Fortune 500 companies is held by only about 21 women.” She added that of the eight commercial banks in Trinidad and Tobago, three are run by women, an indication of how far this country has advanced as a society. Darbasie said that although roles are changing and improving there remain many pressures for women in this country. She referred to the statistics on domestic violence, observing that the Victim and Witness Support Unit of the Police Service had reported last year that between 2005 and 2015 almost 300 women were killed in incidents of domestic violence and more than 7,000 cases of domestic abuse were reported between 2008 and 2015. However, she said it was not only a local issue because the World Health Organisation had estimated that one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner violence in their lifetime.

She said factors associated with this include low education, exposure to violence between parents, abuse during childhood and attitudes which are accepting of violence and gender inequality. She said these statistics can be changed: in low income settings by strategies to enhance women’s social and economic empowerment including micro-financing combined with gender-equality training and community-based initiatives can make a difference while school-based programmes and initiatives had also proven effective in preventing relationship or dating violence among young people in high income settings.

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