After starting WIPA I was often asked what’s the point of having a women’s organization? Is it only open to women? What exactly do you do? While most of these questions were pretty straightforward only the former question really challenged me in terms of how to respond.
What’s the point of having a women’s organization?
My initial reaction to this question was, “what do you mean what is the point?!” But after further reflection it became clear to me that this wasn’t necessarily so obvious – for a number of reasons.
First: Generational gap. Among younger professionals the idea that women wouldn’t have the same access to professional advancement or that equity would even be an issue for debate is incomprehensible for many. In the post-70s gender revolution many young professionals have been raised to believe in and expect equal opportunity. Thus, it makes sense for younger generations to ask – what is the point?
In reality, the gender gap at the senior level is huge. If in doubt, refer to the numerous posts that have been featured on this blog. While stats are better than they were several decades ago it is something that must be actively addressed if the current crop of young professionals want to reduce this potential loss of opportunity.
Second: How can an organization “fix” the gender gap? In reality, one organization can’t “fix” the gender gap but there are a number of organizations that work on specific issues that help to address the various issues that contribute to the problem. Below are some of my favorite women’s organizations and the work that they do to tackle this gap.
- Women in International Security (WIIS): WIIS tracks the progress of women in the public sector through research and studies targeted at understanding the current professional environment for women. They work largely in the public sector and send out regular job announcements targeted at women to their members.
- Women’s Forum: The Women’s Forum was established in response to what was seen as a lack of female representation in the World Economic Forum. The Women’s Forum brings together industry and professional leaders to form and propose unique solutions to global economic and social challenges.
- Women’s Professional Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce PRC: (Full disclosure: I sat on the Committee in 2009) The WPC focuses on giving women the tools to increase their professional capacity through mentoring, seminars and networking events. These opportunities help women to form new connections in the business community increasing their competitiveness and business insight in China.
- Women in International Public Affairs (WIPA): By creating an informed community for young professionals we strive to give young professionals a long-lasting network committed to addressing issues of gender equity throughout their career. Whether equity is the central focus of their professional work or factors into their future policy or management decisions, WIPA encourages its members to think creativity about how to foster gender equity and encourage discussion.
Third: What can I do? I’m one person. You don’t need to start a women’s organization to contribute to reducing the gender gap. There are lots of ways that one person can contribute to fostering an environment that encourages equal participation from men and women.
- You can get involved in anyone of the organizations listed above or any of the hundreds of organizations out there.
- You can increase awareness of gender gap issues by sharing articles, statistics, information with your friends and colleagues.
- You can mentor younger professionals or reach out to to more senior professional women to learn from their experiences, challenges and successes.
- You can use your understanding of gender issues to inform your policy decisions through out your professional career.
- You can foster a working environment that promotes gender equity.
- You can participate in gender equity panels at conferences and seminars.
- You can list your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.