Equality - what have you challenged lately?


Mar 11 2021 • 4 min read • International Women's Day

Equality is not for someone else to give, it’s for you to take, challenging all that stands in its way — what do you choose to challenge in order create abundant opportunities for yourself and those around you?

112 years ago, women demonstrated great courage and chose to challenge the status quo of the prevailing times, with a deep conviction about the contribution that women can make in society. Whilst notable progress has been made as far as women representation in decision making spheres, this should not blur the vision on the work that lies ahead in order to achieve gender equality.

The 2018 WEF Global Gender Gap Report predicted that it would take 108 years for the world to achieve gender parity. 2 years later this number was revised to 257 years, a regression by 149 years, and evidence already suggests that the post-Covid pandemic impacts will significantly increase the years to equality.

So this year, we remember the women who protested 112 years ago, marking the first ever International Women’s Day, and are emboldened by their courage. This year’s IWD theme, ChooseToChallenge, is an urgent reminder for us to courageously challenge the status quo, the inequality and the structural biases in our workplaces and social contexts.

Cognisant that the process of transformation often operates at a snail-pace, and does not effectively address structural biases, we encourage every woman to do the work of challenging themselves exactly where they are, not waiting for a momentous event to stand up for equality.

Challenging orthodoxies

Weapons of Math destruction is how Joy Buolamwini describes the impact that biased algorithms and AI could have on equality. As technologies become more pervasive in defining the future, we are encouraged by women like Joy, who challenge the status quo, in their area of expertise, and actively participate in creating a more equitable society.

Facial recognition software has been the go-to agent for law enforcers for more than 20 years now. This technology has been scaled to various areas such as airports, university campuses and, what you’re probably most familiar with, to unlock mobile devices. In 2009 Nikon launched the Nikon Coolpix S630 camera with facial recognition features. What many did not expect to see was the “Did someone blink?” pop up when Asian people tried to take a photo. This brought to light the lack of racial inclusion in developing the device software. Years later, Robert Williams, a black American man was incorrectly identified as a shoplifter of a store in Detroit. This led to his unlawful and wrongful arrest in June 2020. There are many “AI gone wrong” case studies, the bias and inaccuracy of these technologies is nothing new.

In 2018 Joy Buolamwini published a paper titled Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification. This paper revealed that existing AI software was more accurate in identifying white males, and significantly inconsistent in recognising Asian and Black women. Her contributions have already driven tech giants to improve their software for the betterment of both genders and racial groups. Her bravery in choosing to challenge the performance of AI technologies has inspired developers to be more mindful of the social impact of their work and to develop more inclusive systems.

As we look to challenge orthodoxies we, in our personal capacity, have to challenge the spaces we work in. Pushing boundaries on what is generally accepted has a ripple effect on disrupting orthodoxies and driving change.

Start today, and start where you are:

Have more regard for the perspective you bring: More diverse environments cultivate the most creative ideas and solutions. Women bring unique perspectives; we should choose to amplify our voices and make meaningful contributions in our teams and to the work we do. Be intentional in how you show up at work.

Be proactive in driving change for yourself: Historic sheroes who changed legislation for the benefit of women were successful in doing so because they were united by a common goal; for their voices to be heard and to be allowed to serve in public office. What unites us today is our desire to gain access to strategic markets currently dominated by men, to have equal opportunities to grow in our careers and businesses, and to live out our life’s purpose without restraint. With this in mind, be deliberate about the steps you take in your career.

Free yourself of limiting beliefs: Many studies have revealed that women have mastered the art of selling themselves short. Example, it is a known fact that women only apply for a job when they meet all the job requirements, whereas men are ready to take the plunge with just 60% of the job requirements met. This lack of confidence has been socialised as “Imposter Syndrome”. Negative and disempowering thoughts and beliefs about ourselves are quite dangerous. Choose self-belief and become your number one advocate.

Change is not an overnight process; it comes about as a result of small strategic action and the conscious effort to do a little more than the day before.

As we celebrate historic women who have led the gender equality movement, let us now pledge to continue in our strides to becoming agents of change in the spaces we find ourselves in. Let us challenge all that does not support our ambitions and all that holds us back, even if that something is us. #ChooseToChallenge.

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