Breaking the Bias: Embracing Diverse Journeys on International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day is a time to honor trailblazers and mark all the progress women and our allies have achieved. And it’s also a day to express our solidarity with women facing adversity around the world. As women in Ukraine and other oppressed or war-torn places fight for freedom, our thoughts and support are with them.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve all used the word “resilience” a lot (that and “agility,” and my new favorite “grit.”) Based on the simplest definition, resilience is the ability to "bounce back" from difficulty. And women, in particular, have faced inordinate difficulties during the pandemic. But, returning to the old status quo shouldn’t be the goal.
What if we focused on "bouncing forward" instead of bouncing back?
Frankly, when it comes to creating a gender-equal workplace and world, forward is the only way.
Historically, women in the workplace have been undervalued and underrepresented. In fact, globally, women still make up less than 40% of the workforce. But, as a mother of two daughters, and a daughter myself of a trailblazing woman in tech, I'm thrilled to say we're taking forward strides. And as we come together to #BreakTheBias this International Women’s Day, it’s important to celebrate the real progress that has been made as women recover from the “pink pandemic” and regain power and influence.
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Reversing The Pink Pandemic's Effects on Women
While COVID-19 affected us all, women around the world were impacted socially and economically far more than their male counterparts. And while there is still a great deal of work to be done, we're seeing exciting signs of a change: Overall, women started 2022 at the highest rate of labor force participation (57.8%) since before the pandemic. Additionally, leaders are leaning on learning to drive forward motion and positive change. Skillsoft’s latest Lean into Learning report found a 90% increase in enterprise consumption of learning content designed to help women thrive in the workplace last year.
Now, it’s time to put this knowledge into action and “break the bias” once and for all. But how?
I asked three of my female colleagues to answer that question. Here’s what they came up with.
Rashim Mogha,General Manager - Leadership and Business Portfolio
“Don't make decisions for women.”
I am tired of my success being defined by somebody else. Before you start breaking bias in others, you have to break your own bias. That means taking a step back and understanding what success truly means to you right now. For some that may mean a fast path to leading a team, for others it might be building deep expertise in a field they feel passionate about. It may be defined by financial freedom, or quiet moments surrounded by loved ones. There are as many ways to build success as there are women in the world.
Once you have a vision, building a support network across four pillars is essential, for no one should have to go it alone.
- Community — Who are the people that are looking out for you? The ones with whom you can share your vulnerable moments. The ones who give you legal advice. The ones you trust to tell you the truth. The people who cheer you on and set you straight.
- Connection — Mentorship can be helpful, but sponsorship is often the turning point for women. We don’t just need people to teach us how to lead, we need others who will give us the chance to do it. That’s why at eWOW, 25% of our speakers are always first-time speakers at any event, and we encourage women to nominate themselves for award applications.
- Competency — Are you investing in yourself? Our success is a journey that never stops. For each phase of our life success might mean something different to us. We must keep learning new skills to adapt over time.
- Celebration — It doesn’t always feel right to celebrate ourselves, but we must make it a priority. Success is not a pie that has limited slices to share. It’s a mathematical pie, with limitless possibilities. Celebrate yourself, and others proudly and publicly often.
One of the biggest challenges for living these pillars is the assumptions others make about what is important to us. I missed so many opportunities early on in my career because people assumed things about me. They believed that because I started off my career in India, I would be married by 23, and my focus would shift to family rather than my job. I wasn’t offered promotions, or new learning opportunities because someone thought I wouldn’t want them. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
We’ll know we’re breaking the bias cycle when we don’t make decisions for women, but embrace each path as a unique journey worth understanding and cheering forward.
Potoula Chresomales – SVP, Product Management
“Removing stereotypes has to be the first step to building a more inclusive workplace.”
For me, “Breaking the Bias” means removing stereotypes to build a more inclusive workplace and a more inclusive world.
I think about the three ways that bias impacts women:
- Opportunity — Breaking the bias that results in women getting fewer opportunities to advance, to take on new projects, to get promoted, to get expanded responsibilities.
- Perception — Breaking the bias that women do not have the strength or competency to take on a challenge or to lead and advocate for change.
- Recognition — Breaking the bias that results in women not being recognized for their work or achievements.
Together, I believe we can create breakthrough moments for ourselves, and the women around us. I hope you’ll join me in this mission. Let’s raise up new voices, let’s share our knowledge with others, and let’s celebrate the success of those around us.
Emma Antoine-Portinari – Content Marketing
“Challenge yourself to raise up others.”
When people first meet me, I might appear as someone who hasn’t faced a lot of bias in my life — yes, I’m white; I was born female and identify as a woman; I’m heterosexual; I’m able-bodied; and at first glance, I appear as you probably would expect any other 23-year-old woman would. And while I acknowledge these parts of my identity that grant me certain privileges, underneath the shell I present outwardly to the world, I’ve also experienced my own set of biases I’ve had to overcome in my life.
At Skillsoft, we believe and often talk about the power of learning as a catalyst for change — and on a personal level, this is truly a message I embody in my daily life. Today, I #BreakTheBias as a first-generation female college student and young professional. Graduating with my Bachelor’s Degree remains one of the most significant achievements in my life, and education has been my key to opening doors to opportunities I didn’t think possible.
Now, I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy being the first in my family to attain a college degree — from navigating the college application process, to financial aid and student loans, to picking the right major, to completing coursework, and to finding a job post-grad (amid a global pandemic nonetheless) — I’ve been faced with navigating an unknown and sometimes scary path, and if I’m being honest, I’m still trying to figure it all out.
But I haven’t done it alone. I’ve been fortunate to have a network of inspiring, strong, female role models around me who I’ve relied on throughout this journey, and whose support has helped me get to where I am today. From teachers, to past and current managers, to those who have acted as coaches and mentors to me, and today, the incredible female colleagues I have at Skillsoft.
While I may still be early in my career, it’s my hope to one day give back to other women like myself who rely on those who came before them. Already, I’ve had the chance to play a role in building our partnership with Ellevate Network. Skillsoft sponsors 2022 EllevateHER Forward fellowship grants, and it’s an honor to know that EllevateHER fellows will receive the same networking and educational opportunities that have helped me.
On this International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of the power we hold to collectively break the bias together. And so, I dare you to ask yourself: how can I support another woman in my network to overcome their own bias?
How You Can Help #BreakTheBias in Your Workplace
To echo my colleague Emma, what are your next steps? How will you “show up” for women and do your part to break the bias? Here are some suggestions:
- Find mentors who teach, coach, inspire, and surround yourself with like-minded colleagues. If you have the means, become a mentor yourself.
- Review employee benefits and enhance areas most important to women.
- Invest in developing and nourishing a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
- Provide training and tools for women to grow competencies for the most in-demand opportunities.
- Direct more resources to hiring, developing, and advancing women in the workplace.
- Contribute time and expertise to key organizations like Ellevate Network, Code Like a Girl, eWOW, iamtheCODE, and many others.
And remember that breaking any bias requires a mindset of constant learning and growth. This means seeking continuous development, staying hungry for new opportunities, and — especially — opening up to new ways of thinking.
In honor of International Women's Day, I want to encourage each one of you to help all of us "bounce forward" into meaningful change. Please take the time to reflect on your personal experiences and think of ways that you can individually help steer progress, whether that's empowering others, learning new skills and competencies, becoming an active ally, or advocating for change on an organizational level.
Because it won't be just women who benefit once that bias is broken.
Organizations — and entire nations — are measurably stronger, more healthy, secure, and successful when women have equal opportunity and equal gain.