All women deserve the support needed to reach their full potential. In light of this year’s IWD theme, #ChooseToChallenge, I’ve looked at the challenges I’ve faced as a woman, and at the ways we can challenge ourselves to bring about societal change
When I was growing up, in Puebla, Mexico, my mother was a housewife, teacher and businesswoman. There were times when I just wanted her home, cooking and taking care of me like the mothers of other girls at school, but as I got older, I adapted. I saw her strength. I began to admire her independence, her resilience, her capability. It was this that made her my role model.
My father was more traditional. While he valued my education and career, he didn’t like me being away from home for long periods of time. Although I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in my career so far, I can’t help but think that if I had been given more independence, I could have achieved even more.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t good at creative activities like painting, but I loved physics and maths. I found them very logical. I found it hard to relate to famous women. There were famous female artists, musicians and actresses, but where were the famous female scientists? Then I came across the work of Marie Curie. I was mesmerised by her analytical language, the way she was able to explain things that other people couldn’t understand.
After committing myself to my studies, I was overjoyed to receive a place to study Electronic Engineering at university. But in a class of 100 male students, there were only six girls. People around me thought it was crazy that I’d want to be in this class, but I felt so honoured to be there. I got through it by not being ashamed to admit when there was something I didn’t know. I wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help or to ask questions.
This is what I want to pass on to my own daughters – the importance of independence and self-confidence. I talk openly with them about gender and sexuality, conversations I never had with my parents.
They have a lot more freedom than I had, growing up in a Latin conservative family. I’ve always told them that they can’t rely on a Prince Charming. They need to be able to take care of themselves. My eldest daughter is a student, and rents a room in an apartment far away from me. I miss her, but I admire her self-sufficiency.
As a society, we need to help girls believe in themselves and their ability. All women should feel empowered to reach their full potential. If we are going to reach true gender equality, I see three key areas we need to focus on: educating boys and girls from an early age, getting large companies to take a leading role in change at scale, and empowering citizens and organisations to advocate in the public sector for new laws and regulations.
The first step to achieve this is building awareness. This begins in the early years of education. We should educate our kids about gender equality and how powerful this can make us as a society.
In professional contexts, we must educate our leaders. Unconscious bias training is really important. In the past, male bosses have agreed with me that we have to hire more women, but then have reminded me that we need to prioritise quality. Are they implying women don’t have quality?
One of the main challenges women face in the workplace today are biases relating to career growth. I think that in some companies, young women are disadvantaged because male bosses are reluctant to hire them in case they leave the company for maternity leave. This continues even when women are more senior in a company. Often when women do go on maternity leave, if they used to have a leadership position, they come back to find someone has taken their role, so they have to take a step down. We need to ensure that women feel protected in this part of their lives – that they can go on maternity leave and return to the same position. In fact, parental leave should be fair and equal for all people. Whether it’s maternal or paternal leave, there should never be an impact on career position or family finances when a family chooses to have a child.
We need to actively work to change behaviour and company culture. Behaviours are more likely to change when women have at least 30% representation. This is why we need quotas. Because if we don’t break the pattern, then things will just stay as they are.
Gender equality is linked to sustainability. When we actively work to increase gender participation and equalise gender treatment in our companies, our workforce becomes empowered. This is beneficial for a company’s long term health. Organisations that are more empowered foster innovative environments, and are therefore more sustainable over time.
Once we have built awareness at the level of global organisations, these organisations can help lead the change. Big companies have a big impact on the world around them. When companies are pushed to change, they can push for these changes to take place in society. Organisations employ local citizens, who in turn can organise and advocate for change in the governments that represent them, ensuring they issue the right legislation and regulations around diversity and inclusion. The more empowered and the more innovative we are as a society, the better off all members of society will be.
On International Women’s Day, we have the chance to reflect on how pervasive these issues are in our society, and also our opportunity to change. At Siemens, we’ve decided to host our first ever global virtual event to mark International Women’s Day this year.
This year’s IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge. To all the women who face challenges in their lives, I want to tell them to be brave – to keep their expectations high, their vision clear, and their values strong.
To the women who are mothers or teachers, I want you to educate all the young people in your life – to support them to challenge gender inequality.
As individuals and as organisations, I want us to challenge ourselves to change the status quo more quickly. In the last quarter at Siemens, we hired 50/50 men and women in cybersecurity jobs, and the number of women in leadership roles increased. This is fantastic, but there is still a lot more to be done. We have around 26% participation of women globally at Siemens. This isn’t nearly enough, and we have to increase this significantly.
On International Women’s Day at Siemens, we are not just celebrating women for women. We are celebrating women for the whole company, and women for society as a whole. We have the power to transform society, and it begins with you. Imagine true equality, talk about it, educate the children and the people in your lives, live by example, and stand up for what you believe in. Imagine how empowering it will be when everyone truly belongs, when everyone can live up to their fullest potential, regardless of their gender. Isn’t that worth fighting for? When we achieve true equality, it will be done by everyone, for everyone – so let’s start today!