Women’s Equality Day: Celebrating Empowerment in Today’s Global Workforce

Women’s Equality Day: Celebrating Empowerment in Today’s Global Workforce

Women’s Equality Day in the United States is a holiday that celebrates the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the amendment, though it is important to remember that not all women could vote in America until the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Women’s equality has vastly improved in the past 100 years, yet there is still so much work to be done for voting rights and equality. This year, especially, has seen critical dialogue regarding the social injustice movement’s fight against inequality and the COVID-19 global pandemic causing family pressures, health concerns, and loss of jobs and income. While these events are disruptive in nature, they have encouraged communities and organizations to refocus on equality, diversity, and inclusion. Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to rebirth from these crises and affect meaningful change.

To honour Women’s Equality Day and to celebrate women’s empowerment, we sat down with three female leaders for a candid interview on equality in the workplace.

Why does women’s equality matter? Why are you passionate about it?

Joi Gordon, CEO Dress for Success: Women are the nuclei of their homes and communities. When you make it a priority to ensure we have access to opportunities that are equitable and position us for success, everyone thrives. 

Corinne Ripoche, CEO Adecco Americas and Pontoon Solutions: A human is a human, no matter what gender, race or religion. The power of diversity and inclusion is stronger than the power of exclusion or racism. I am passionate about developing female leaders because women have different views on society and they can accelerate the change.

Mithu Bhargava, SVP & GM of Global Professional Services, NCR Corporation: I believe that I am a successful, confident and accomplished woman, and in my mind, I am “as equal if not more equal” as any other person (man or woman) out there. I believe that opportunities come to individuals on the basis of talent and perseverance, and not gender or any sort of entitlement. I believe women, in general, have inherently so much to offer and add differentiated business value in the workplace.

And yet – while I genuinely hold these beliefs, I am also aware that these sadly do not necessarily hold true in the real world today, and that women are still early in their journey towards “true equality”.  Women’s Equality Day is a great reminder for all of us – to celebrate a huge milestone in this journey towards equality, but also to keep continuing to drive visibility, action and progress towards a world with true gender parity. It’s my duty, and that of every woman out there, to continue to passionately drive forward in this mission!

What ways can leaders enact change and empower women?

Corinne Ripoche: We must create culture with purpose in our organizations, where our people can feel our commitment to challenging the status quo and building a new society. To do this though, we must have authentic leadership. It is our responsibility as leaders to empower colleagues at all levels of the organization and to equip our employees with future skills.

Joi Gordon: Enacting change to empower women is a matter of showing it more than telling it. Show your commitment by supporting us in every space we occupy — be it at home, in the workplace, or within our communities. Advocate for and invest in our advancement.

Mithu Bhargava: Every leader today wants to drive change and would say that they are supporting and empowering women around them. I do believe that we have reached that level of global awareness on this topic that there is true “intent” to empower women in the workplace today. The challenge however is, most leaders do not know “HOW” to do this. To truly enact change –

  • Leaders need to LISTEN to and UNDERSTAND from the women around them. How do the women in the organization feel that they are empowered from their perspective? Is the culture that exists supportive of women? Do the actions that take place in practice align to the cultural values that the organization claims to have?
  • Leaders also need to LEAD BY EXAMPLE when it comes to this very important topic. Does a leader truly value the opinion of the women on the team, show respect and inclusion in practice? Does a leader truly build a team that values “diversity of thought” that women bring to the table?

Leaders need to be truly aware of their own unconscious biases and be willing to introspect within themselves, and their organization/company, to enact real change.

What can individuals do to make a positive impact on gender equality at their workplaces or in their communities?

Corinne Ripoche: At Pontoon, one of our core values is to Play Collective. This is so important. Learning from each other is the most powerful attitude you can have at your workplace or in your community. By playing collective, you practice empathy and will listen to others.

Mithu Bhargava: If an individual commits to “speaking up” every time they see an opportunity to correct a possible gender inequality incident in a meeting/work setting or within their community – there will be positive impact. If an individual admits that he/she has unconscious bias and is willing to work actively to overcome it – there will be positive impact. And last but not the least – nothing speaks louder than seeing gender equality in practice. Appointing and supporting women in leadership roles that might have traditionally male-dominated, be it in the workplace or in the community is a huge way to make positive impact.

Joi Gordon: It starts with listening. Listen to our stories (without imparting your own biases on our experiences), identify the behaviours and systems that perpetuate the problem, and then make a personal commitment to challenge and dismantle them daily.

What changes have you seen in the hiring process to ensure inclusivity of women?

Mithu Bhargava: It has been encouraging to see the deliberate focus on hiring women across industries, roles and levels. That women are being considered for so many roles that traditionally would have a pipeline of male-only candidates is a positive development. The underlying changes that are empowering these shifts, however, are huge – companies now have diversity quotas for key strategic roles which helps bring in more women to senior roles. There are deliberate efforts to inspect job descriptions to ensure they are positioned as gender-neutral in their wording, and thus encourage the right talent – male or female to apply. “Implicit Bias Training” that most companies now require as part of the hiring protocol now is also a huge step forward.

Corinne Ripoche: Several initiatives have been taken, from anonymous CVs to changing the job description language to be more inclusive to quotas. But we know as well that women will never oversell themselves, where men will. We must train our talent acquisition team to read between resume lines and offer the right level of jobs to women. Today, the usage of data can stop bias. 

What traits or experiences helped you on your CEO / leadership journey?

Corinne Ripoche: My resiliency, resolve to never give up, and willingness to accept failure (even when unfair) have helped me throughout my career. An external coach has also been a strong asset. Throughout my journey, I have made it a priority to offer the best to my team. Without a strong team around you, you cannot build long-term success. Trust your people, trust your team – they are proud of your success. But don’t lose sight of the game and the players.

Joi Gordon: My ability to build relationships and establish trust with sponsors, donors and clients has served me well in my role. These skills are essential in nonprofit management because giving behaviour is driven by the connection donors one feels to an organization, its mission, and the people it serves.

Mithu Bhargava: I believe I have what I call “delusional” confidence in myself and my abilities, which has been very critical to my success in my journey this far. I have trained myself over the years to believe that there is nothing I cannot accomplish if I set my mind to it, and this mindset/trait has served me well in my career, enabling me to take on risk and new challenges without fear or self-doubt.

Have you faced any challenges in your career-related to being female and if so how have you overcome them?

Joi Gordon: In addition to being a woman and a woman of colour, I was doubted by many early on in my career in nonprofit management due to what some perceived as a lack of experience. Some people thought the job was too big for me because I did not have enough background in business management, especially when it came to the P&L aspect of running a business. I did not let those doubts dictate how I felt about myself or my capabilities. I have never let anyone’s perception of me be my story. I am writing this book.

Mithu Bhargava: Yes, like everyone – I have had my own share of obstacles along my career journey thus far. I do believe the cliché that women need to work harder to prove themselves on the job and earn their success holds true. For me, however – this just becomes the impetus to push myself harder, faster and do an even better job, so that when new opportunities arise, I am prepared, present and top of mind.

Corinne Ripoche: Earlier in my career, I was shortlisted for a new position. The CEO at the time called me to let me know that I had everything needed for the new role, but they needed me instead to stay in the position I was already working in. At the end of the conversation, he even told me that my partner could be proud of me! In the moment, of course, I was furious. But very quickly I calmed down and reminded myself to stay on the path – keep building my network, focus on my goals and bring results.

There have been a lot of reports recently that COVID is undoing much of the progress made for women because of the pressure put on women and families – children are now at home, many assume the responsibility of distance learning, and there is concern of home working space and access. This is directly impacting organizations. How do you solve for that?

Joi Gordon: We are seeing first-hand how disruptive the pandemic has been in the lives of the women we serve.  While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, the one thing organisations can do to better support women through the challenges of our new reality is to be flexible with expectations around when, where, and how work gets done.

Corinne Ripoche: According to The Adecco Group Reset Normal survey, workers are calling for greater flexibility in the wake of the pandemic. We’ve listened. At the start of the pandemic, we transitioned to a remote workforce and changed our Work from Home policy. We have put a clear priority on the importance of well-being and been mindful of family situations.

Two weeks after lockdown in America, I received a phone call from my Executive Assistant. She was exhausted between her job, two kids suddenly at home, her husband working at the hospital. Her stress was so high. Everything was happening so quickly that they hadn’t had time to organise themselves and find the right balance. I gave her to week off to breathe and to think about the flexibility she needs to have a proper work/life balance in the midst of a pandemic.

We must encourage our people to reach out before burn-out. Leadership should be flexible and encourage dialogue throughout all levels of the organization.

Mithu Bhargava: First, I do agree that COVID has put the world into a challenging position on so many fronts and that the pressures on families to balance work, children, school et all, is more than any of us could have ever imagined. That said – I do believe there is a silver lining here. For the first time with work from home being a reality – men are being forced to “be present” to see the challenge many women face balancing responsibilities of a career, work commitments, family responsibilities, and now often distance learning/children’s education. I believe this is already leading to more shared responsibilities for men and women, as against women singularly bearing the load. I also feel that the current situation is very fluid and will continue to evolve, with home workspaces becoming potentially permanent in the future, and distance learning being here to stay for a while. As organizations – we have a responsibility as well to help support employees through this challenging situation. Flexibility from a schedule perspective to allow employees to fulfil their parental responsibilities is key, along with ensuring that your employees are set up with the right infrastructure/home workspace, should work from home be a long term strategy for the organization.

Many women say they suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ as they rise in their careers. What advice do you have for them? Have you experienced this yourself?

Corinne Ripoche: We all have felt Imposter Syndrome at some point, but the most important thing to do here is to move forward. If you are where you are in your career, it’s because somebody trusted you and believed in you. And this is enough to reinforce your self-belief and determination.

At the beginning of my career, when I had the Imposter Syndrome, I would look at my peers and draw on my abilities that could help push me to the front of the pack. Just by taking the time to watch your peers, it can be enough to reinforce your self-belief and your resiliency.

Joi Gordon: My advice to women navigating imposter syndrome is to understand that it is OK to have feelings of uncertainty and insecurity as you climb the ranks but do not let them define you. Acknowledge when those feelings bubble up within you and then give yourself permission to release them. They do not serve you and are counter to the reality that you have proven yourself to be capable and worthy of advancement.

Mithu Bhargava: I personally have not, but am very aware of Imposter Syndrome, and do believe that women are likely to suffer from this, especially at pivotal points of acceleration in their careers. My advice is simple – you have got to be your own most vocal cheerleader. Catch yourself each time you question your own decisions or doubt your capabilities. You are here because you earned it, and absolutely no other reason.

About the panellists:

Corinne Ripoche is CEO of Adecco Americas and Pontoon and an Executive Committee member at The Adecco Group. Corinne is a global leader with an activist mindset and clear customer-centricity. She is driven by data and knows that purpose and experience within the hiring ecosystem is central to success. Corinne is a member of C200, Paradigm for Parity, and French Founders.

Joi Gordon joined Dress for Success® as a board member in 1999 and became CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide in 2002. Under her leadership, Dress for Success has become a globally-recognized leader that has empowered more than 1.2 million women to become economically advanced in nearly 150 cities in more than 20 countries. In addition to expanding the organization’s reach, Joi has broadened its programming, offering a full continuum of services that help women secure employment, advance in their careers and achieve financial freedom.

Mithu Bhargava serves as the Senior Vice President & GM for NCR’s of Global Professional Services business. Ms. Bhargava is a seasoned leader with extensive experience building and leading global technical go-to-market organizations, with the ultimate goal of delivering a differentiated best-in-class customer experience. Ms. Bhargava is an active advocate for women in technology and sits on the board of Girls Inc of Worcester.