Times up for inequality

By Nayem Alam, Montreal Global Shaper, Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, Governor General’s Award Recipient & Founder of Speak Up

On Thursday March 8, 2018, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Montreal Global Shapers Hub, along with ForUsGirls Foundation, the Jeune chambre de commerce algérienne du Canada (JCCAC) and Deloitte Canada joined forces to put together a panel discussion titled “#TimesUp: A Dialogue on Women’s Equity in the Workplace, Politics and Society.”

Starting bright and early at 7AM, a full crowd joined for breakfast, and delighted in discussions at Deloitte (our host). Despite the time and cold temperatures, everyone was motivated to participate in the important panel on empowerment.

From left to right: Aminka Belvitt (ForUsGirls), Isabella Tassoni (City Councillor, Laval-des-Rapides), Felicia O. Sangare (Sirius Personnel), Caroline Bourbonnière (‎Element AI) & Neila Zerguini (Deloitte)

The series commenced with our moderator and Montreal Global Shaper, Aminka Belvitt introducing the speakers and starting the discussion on the topic of Women in the Workforce. An eye-opening discussion, they highlighted the experiences of women who are still marginalized throughout the workforce. Felicia noted that “it is really important for women to help each other … our role is to ease the path of those coming after us.” To truly experience her expressions, we must be aware that when we reach a certain point of success in our lives, we should always seek to mark the path so as to make it easier for others after us to tread. In doing so, not only do we grow personally, but as a community more largely.

Below is a short excerpt of their dialogue:

Aminka (Moderator): All of you have worked in industries that are male dominant…what do you do to succeed in these types of environment…there are scenarios where you can get harassed by male co-workers and noticeably not paid as much as them…how would you encourage other women to handle these kinds of situations?
Felicia: Life is hard and life will be hard…but when we see [something that is unfair] we have to stand against it!
Isabella: Women underestimate themselves…we need to start taking ownership, believing in yourselves, knowing who you are and saying, “you know what, this is what I deserve, this is what I worked for, and here I am!”
Caroline: I think we’ve reached a place in society where it is okay to talk about these kinds of topics. It’s important to speak to HR, speak to your trustworthy colleagues and [essentially] speak up.”
Neila: I tend to challenge myself by asking my trustworthy friends about providing critical feedback. We cannot change everything in one shot, but having allies is a good alternative [path] to seeking what you deserve.

Reflecting the human condition more broadly — each speaker’s intervention provided both complementary and distinct resolutions intended to address and redress a challenge that is local but global in nature.

We are all members of one human family and deserve equal rights to speak and be heard. In the 21st Century, it is time we eliminate gender inequality, and advance gender parity.

Another topic of discussion focused on Women in Politics and our speakers had a lot to say. Here are some notable quotes:

“We are all different, we all come from different backgrounds … but we all come from the same society and we are all building this society together.” — Felicia O. Sangare
“We should recognize the barriers for women entering politics. We need to focus on capacity building, helping women to believe in themselves!” — Caroline Bourbonnière
“If there’s a time to speak, it’s now…We need more women, we need more people from different backgrounds and communities so we can establish several roles. This will guide the younger generation that we are capable of managing all types of roles, not just one.” — Neila Zerguini
“Leading by example is key. I think confidence is a huge issue, I myself struggled with this, people used to be like “you should really run.” Though, the first thing that came to my mind was, “I’m too young and no one is going to take me seriously.” But this was not a good mentality to have — when we build confidence in women…we know that we [women] can do it [the job] just as much as anybody else can…that’s what is going to break down the walls of fear of attaining confidence.” — Isabella Tassoni

The final topic was regarding Women in Society. Our moderator, Aminka, noted that gender parity will not accelerate by simply having women raising their voices. It is on all of us — men and women together — to accept and support one another: “It’s really important that we see men in the room as well because this is not a discussion for us (women) to have, it’s a discussion for all of us to have.”

Event attendees on #IWD2018 sharing thoughts on what the #TimesUp movement means to them.

From thought to action, this final topic of conversation pieced everything together, putting everything in perspective. While the Panel featured all women speakers and the event was hosted in light of International Women’s Day, the audience was composed of the same number of men and women who had the capacity to act on the shared lessons learned that day.

As one of the panelists, Neila, observed — and which deserves to have a worldwide resonance:

“We’re not trying to bring women into a man’s world, we’re trying to change the world […] because time is up. The whole world needs to shift to include women.”

As a male figure, I agree that this isn’t a man’s world — it is our shared world. We have to make sure that women don’t feel like they are left out. What I admired tremendously about this discussion is that regardless of the different backgrounds the women came from, all were ultimately able to come together and simply sit down and talk about relevant issues in the world. Not only was it a positive discussion — underpinned by mutual acceptance — but equally, each speaker supported one another by bouncing off ideas and making sure their points were appreciated throughout the room.

Finally, here is a short poem I wrote in honor of women:

My dear
You are strong, worthy and do not have to shed anymore tears
Sometimes we are lost and confused but
My dear
You always seem to come around when no one else is there
I have seen compassion, intelligence and hard work
But all of which seem to be unnoticed
My dear
I stand up with you devoted
There is a lot that I’ve seen in all my years
The stretch marks that you’ve carried out
For not being treated properly
It’s time I say,
My dear
You are not my property
You do not have to prove yourself to anybody
My dear
#TimesUp for inequality.

We are incredibly thankful to our sponsor and host, Deloitte, for providing us with the opportunity to hold this event at their premises. Additional thanks to the speakers, guests, and attendees who made the event a success, and last but not least, to our co-hosts Aminka (ForUsGirls) and Ikram (JCCAC) for spearheading the occasion!

To watch the livestream of the event and to follow the Montreal Global Shapers, please click here. Also feel free to check out our other posts on our Facebook and Twitter pages to stay tuned for future events.

Members of the Montreal Global Shapers

#IWD2018 #TimesUp #WeSeeEqual