Get Out of the Gender Ghetto – Disruptor League

By Federica D’Armento and Aleksandra Orman-Lorenz

It’s the year 2277, and women have finally achieved equal pay at work.

This is not the apocalyptic ending of a Hollywood movie. This may be the reality in 257 years. This is actually what the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 says: men and women will have pay equality in 257 years. 55 more years than the estimate in the previous edition. (wow! we’re good at making counterclockwise progress!)
Nowhere in the world do women earn the same as men. 
Nowhere in the world do women have equal representation in positions of power.
There is not now, nor has there ever been in the whole of history, a single country in the world where women have equality with men. Not one. It hasn’t happened in the whole of evolution.
These are facts. And there is no intention here of denying this disturbing reality. There is one question though: what are we doing wrong? And by ‘we’ I mean ‘we’ as women, men, human beings, leaders, families, companies, communities. And women’s associations too.

Ask for forgiveness, not for permission

A Country is fighting against a pandemic, and 21 men will save its economy.
Once again – this is not a movie set in 1860. This is my Country just one month ago. 
It’s May 2020, Italy has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in Europe. Yet the Civil Defence’s daily briefings on the crisis are chaired by men, and no women were included in the group of experts advising the government during the outbreak. After a sh*tstorm of indignation a handful of women have been added to the taskforce. 
If this is not enough to picture the epic fail of  a civilized Country, you know what was possibly more irritating to me? The movement which started the petition used the hashtag #DateciVoce // #GiveUsVoice. BBC News online titled “Italian women demand voice in Covid-19 fight”. 
Seriously? Are we truly demanding for the permission to speak? Are we really still at the point where we need to ask for the opportunity to demonstrate our competencies? Do we still have to rely on those lists of the most ‘something’ women, and ask them to stand for us all? Do we still have to recall some women’s movements and start whatever form of petitions?
If ‘yes’ is the answer to any of the above we can surely blame politicians or leaders. At the same time, start questioning what we are doing wrong and what women’s associations could do better is a must.

From network to ghetto: the blurry border

In my life and career I was part of women’s associations. They do a tremendous job in developing womens leadership networks, building womens confidence, expanding critical awareness around the gender gap and increasing collective strength. But every time I was attending one of their conferences there was a nagging thought in my mind: why are there only women here?
I recently joined PWN – Professional Women Network – as a mentor. Am I contradictory? 
“It’s a women’s network – yes – and great people are at the heart of it. It’s not about kneeling, wheeling and complaining. It’s about like-minded people coming together and having a great platform to engage with. It’s about fostering bonds with a realistic vision. One step at a time. It may be a women movement. But this doesn’t mean that it is open to women only, does it? We actually recently celebrated our first male member. We already had many male mentors, and the next step is to onboard male mentees too: lack of confidence, clarity and the need for support to achieve life goals are not only struggles women face. That’s our commitment: to open ourselves to the future we want to have, and the future of gender equality includes men”.
This is what Aleksandra – Board Member at PWN Switzerland – told me about the organization. And I thought: it-could-work!

The best of all possible worlds: here are a few bricks

Be inclusive and seek for alliances: a ghetto is the worst place to work from. Women should not sit in separate teams, trying to change gender relations through mainstream programs and checklists. Women need powerful sponsors to champion their cause: who said that it cannot be a man?
Change shared expectations: there is a need to engage with families and communities, including male audiences. Changes in gender norms and practices do not come from changes in individual attitudes, but from changes in shared expectations. Shared with men too – yes!
– Reframe feminism: feminists believe that women and men are equal and should have equal rights, opportunities and levels of wellbeing. Women’s associations, leaders and politicians of all genders play a key role in shifting public debate and lobbying for change when the opportunity arises 
In the best of all possible worlds women’s organizations are still out there, with the main purpose of no longer being needed. Women and men join forces and work on a simple agenda: get equality in every aspect of our lives. Together they talk less about problems and act more on real solutions to help other women and men to get out of this uncomfortable cognitive blindness.