This post was originally published on Forbes Nonprofit Council.
For many years, the transition from February to March was little more to me than a calendric movement, taking us out of winter and one step closer to spring. The pandemic has forced me to alter my thoughts on time’s passage, growing equal parts impatient with its slowness and hopeful at the future’s promise.
The transition of these months has also been one of tributes, as Black History Month transitioned to Women’s History Month. 2021 brought these months together in a way I personally had not felt before. The past year has brought with it a greater awareness of social, health and economic issues, and while accompanied by a welcomed tide of calls for positive change, progress remains slow.
My social media feed vacillates between reminders of the everyday fears and frustrations women face to optimistic framings for the many firsts happening for women. Unfortunately, underpinning all of this is a common thread — too much remains the same.
Observation days and months create opportunities to educate, mobilize for action and celebrate the achievements of groups of people or specific themes. And yet named occasions also engender frustrations, as the homage is as much about pointing out the inequalities that remain as about rejoicing successes.
I love seeking out and celebrating women’s achievements, as called upon by International Women’s Day 2021’s theme #ChooseToChallenge, but I wonder what would our world be like if “first” was no longer an adjective required to highlight an individual’s success?
What if our challenge to gender bias and inequality was that women no longer wish for firsts, or even a day or a month? What if instead we had parity inclusive of racial equities — and we had it every day out of the year?
It takes the simplest of Google searches to find that women remain underrepresented in leadership and underpaid across all sectors. The statistics for women of color are even starker. Women’s reproductive rights remain under threat across the globe, and gender-based violence is a pervasive and life-threatening issue, especially troubling in disasters as norms and community protections are strained. As with any disaster, but on a scale unseen previously, the pandemic has exacerbated gender and racial inequalities and set back global gains. A recent McKinsey report “estimates that women make up almost two-fifths of the global labour force but have suffered more than half of total job losses from the crisis.”
Here are few ways that we can stand in solidarity with women toward a better future:
It cannot be said enough. Change is uncomfortable. Social, political, cultural and economic changes are often personal. There will be moments where every one of us will want to go slower or seek to see someone or something else change first. But we must find it in ourselves to remain sure-footed and true on our path to a better world for all people, despite any individual uncertainties and discomforts.
As a nonprofit leader, this courage can take the form of creating space for conversations that you know are complicated and for which you may not know the answers or outcome. For example, it’s been estimated that three-quarters of nonprofit staff are female, yet leadership, especially in large budget organizations, remains disproportionately male, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy (paywall). Nonprofit leaders grappling with this equity issue congratulate themselves on being better than the corporate world. Comparisons of this nature are no longer sufficient; we must create opportunities at our nonprofits for women, especially women of color, to be elevated and promoted. Nonprofits must set out a transparent path for their equity evolution.
Celebrate and recognize the community of women.
It is not only the women who are breaking glass ceilings or being acknowledged publicly who deserve celebration. The pandemic has shown a spotlight on the inequalities and inequities that still exist for women today. Women have been disproportionality impacted by loss of income, through increased health risks due to service-oriented sector roles and burdened by cultural and social expectations surrounding lockdowns and virtual schooling. So, celebrate the thousands who break barriers and celebrate the millions who form the bedrock of our society. All women have value and that value needs to be talked about more openly, more often.
Maintaining the family-friendly practices created during the pandemic, be they the option of remote work, flexible hours or a general air of patience and understanding that our staff have lives outside work, are a few ways to acknowledge all staff, but especially women.
Support programs that address gender and racial inequalities and inequities.
As Audre Lorde eloquently wrote in her poem There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions, “I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group.” We must explore and address the root causes of vulnerability versus the created vulnerability alone. In this way, we can dismantle the systems that reinforce injustices. Over time we can replace them with approaches that recognize intersectionality and raise all peoples up, together.
We need to support programs that go beyond the obvious and look deeper into the solutions sought by women themselves. Nonprofits need to listen to and empower local communities and work with them to address the underlying issues that create and reinforce inequalities and inequities rather than treat the symptoms alone.
Together, through our words and actions, we can create a world where we can celebrate each other’s successes for the achievements they are and leave “first” behind.