Written by Hannah Temple and Dawn Lising, Co-Presidents at WMN
Edited by Sandy Nadugala, Content Manager at WMN
This year’s Co-Presidents of the Women in Management Network, Dawn Lising and Hannah Temple, share their thoughts on the state of the gender equality movement in Canada, the stereotypes women currently face, and the kind of change they hope to see in the world as International Women’s Month comes to a close.
What are your thoughts on gender equality in Canada?
Hannah: Women still face prejudice in their everyday lives and are not given the same opportunities as men. It is more difficult for women to advance in their careers and they still face the misconception that women cannot be strong leaders. Additionally, Covid-19 has disproportionately affected women. A study done by RBC showed that 10 times more women than men in Canada have fallen out of the labour force since 2020. The topic of women’s rights is heavily impacted by intersecting identities (Disabled women, BIPOC women, women of religious minorities, LGBTQIA2S+ etc). These intersections must be considered when bringing forth systemic change.
Do you experience any sort of exclusion in regards to the participation of public or political life?
Hannah: When it comes to our club, we sometimes struggle with the exclusion or dismissal of our message. WMN’s mission has always been to promote gender equity and to achieve it through the collaboration of all genders. The business field is strongly male dominated, yet we find ourselves sometimes dismissed by men that refuse to attend our events because our club is often misinterpreted for being women only.
Dawn: Feminism is also often dismissed for being a movement led only by and for women, despite its goal of equality. To achieve this, a two-way conversation is necessary. We can’t make progress unless men decide to also become advocates and actively wish to participate. There can be no equality unless men decide to acknowledge the gender gaps that still exist today, and the privileges they may have in certain fields.
Are there any daily challenges that you face that make you feel any less equal to a man?
Hannah: The way we dress and present ourselves, whether in person or online, could affect our careers due to slutshaming. Men do not face this problem as they are not hyper sexualized the way women are. Even the way we dress is often brought up when it comes to topics like sexual assault. From a young age, women are also taught to take safety precautions to do everyday things like walk at night or take public transportation, as well as how to protect themselves if they find themselves in danger. It’s disheartening that we aren’t more keen on educating men on how to help women feel safe. It makes us feel less equal to a man when they are not required to be educated on how to prevent sexual assault or protect others from it. Furthermore, it only makes matters worse when individuals believe that topics like sexual assault or sexual harassment are “too political” to discuss. It’s important to educate ourselves and hold ourselves accountable in order to make a change.
What are the stereotypes that you continue to hear in regards to women in 2021?
Dawn: There are three very common stereotypes that we still hear in 2022:
There is a misconception that women need to be married and become mothers in order to be “complete”, when in reality no one is incomplete without a partner or children. Even when it comes to the roles of what it means to be a “good” wife or a “good” mom, women are often held to a higher standard.
There are many stereotypes of how a mother “should” be - there is a double standard when it comes to parenting. Fathers are often praised for their efforts for mundane tasks like taking care of their children or cleaning the house, whereas this is the baseline for what is expected of most mothers. They are often far more criticized for being bad parents if they wish to return to work or work “too much”. Celebrities are constantly asked if parenting affects their work and vice versa. Men are almost never asked this question.
In terms of leadership, there is also discussion that men are better leaders than women. This stereotype implies that women are “too emotional” or “bossy” in comparison to men. The reality is that all leaders, despite their gender, have their strengths and faults. I’ve personally found that sometimes the best leaders are the most empathetic and personable, which stems from being emotionally intelligent.
Why do you believe public servants have a tendency to disregard women’s stories more often than men?
Hannah: The long standing stereotype that women are “dramatic” and “emotional” really hurts women when it comes to speaking out about harassment or misconduct at the hands of men. Women are often called “attention seekers” or are accused of “exaggerating”. This type of response is extremely invalidating and harmful. The reality is that many of society’s views about women and power are grounded in deeply ingrained notions of oppression and sexism. It is a constant battle to dismantle these systems and we need better education and training for public servants and those in authoritative positions. Statistics show that only a small percentage of women make false accusations of sexual harassment or assault, despite the way tabloid media and misogynistic culture blame victims in the name of preserving the perpetrator’s reputation. This is even more evident upon the inspection of men in positions of economic, social and political power who face minimal consequences, if any at all, for their actions.
As International Women’s Month draws to a close, what kind of change do you hope to see in the future?
Hannah and Dawn: We hope to see more accountability and open-discussion when it comes to hard hitting topics like harassment, sexual assault and misogynistic ideas. We also hope to see more justice and change for marginalized communities that require more attention when it comes to equity. Although many Canadian women have benefited from the gender equality movement, many communities are excluded due to a lack of intersectionality. There is no equality if all communities are not given equal opportunities and resources.
Any advice or resources to women who want their voices to be heard?
Hannah: Advocates, volunteers, or donations can help spread the message. A great example is the Native Women Association of Canada. These kinds of organizations are designed to share our stories and experiences, and provide opportunities for us to grow as a collective unit. There are also many women’s clubs and organizations that focus on empowering women (like WMN!), including ones specific to certain disciplines, like business, technology, and science. This can help you to find great female mentors. Above all, surround yourself with women who want to lift other women up!