Updated: Mar 26, 2022
By Christina Chia, Member, The Brilliant Foundation
International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated on March 8 every year, is a global celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. For me, every day should be IWD. This year’s theme is #Breakthebias. It is a call for all of us to reflect and act, as we forge and elevate women’s rights and roles, contributing significantly to a world where bias, stereotypes and discrimination are unwelcome. The relevance of #Breakthebias cannot be ignored as we rebuild post-pandemic workplaces in our communities.
As an Asian Australian I have been the target of many forms of stereotypes and biases. When I was hired as a Senior Executive, the CEO congratulated me and said: “You got the job but I need to let the Board and others know that you are Asian”.
I was not given the Managerial role I applied for but was given the “second in command” role with feedback that being a migrant (Asian) would not be consistent with the organisation branding.
I also had to contend with a recruiter who suggested I shouldn’t take a ‘big role’ (demanding) as I was a mother of two young children. I was given projects deemed as “female centric” by my bosses, such as PR, business development and fundraising – the “soft and light weight” ones, while “the boys will manage the ‘heavy’ ones, such as mergers/acquisitions, IT and finance.” Boys?! The list goes on and on!
Over my twenty-five year career in Australia and South East Asia, I admit that some days were really tough, but I never gave up. I kept moving forward, progressing and found ways to survive. Of course, I needed the jobs so that I could fund the best education for my daughters. I also worked very hard and smart to prove that I could stand shoulder to shoulder with any employee – male or female.
I put in extra hours sacrificing sleep and social lifestyle and made work a priority – just like any employee who is serious about advancing their career.
I remember missing my daughters’ concerts and key events in their lives. I remember my daughters were the first to be at ‘Before School Care’ and were the last to be picked up at the end of the day. There were days I felt insecure in my job due to the bias associated with staying home to look after my sick daughter.
I did whatever I could with my abilities and capacity to have a progressive career AND be present for my daughters. This is because I believe, back then and now, that I can have a successful career AND be the mother and wife that I want to be.
I have always believed that women can achieve success in anything they put their minds, hearts and souls into. I migrated to Melbourne as a single parent, with very little money, no job prospects, two girls under five years of age and with dreams for my girls to have opportunities for success. I never settled for second best. I never settled for an “either /or” option, rather, a ‘Yes to all’ attitude. I wanted to break the mould of what society had expected of me and set an example for my girls. I wanted to play my part in breaking the biases (conscious and unconscious) that stop women from living their very best lives.
International Women’s Day: #Breakthebias today and everyday!
I believe that the best way for any change to occur, is to look closely and critically at workplace and community cultures, and if we aren’t “walking the talk”, then we need to take action on a DAILY basis. From our spoken words to our chosen actions, every little gestures and behaviour makes a difference in breaking the bias.
Fast forward to 2022. I am very proud to say that I am now leading the way. As a Cultural Shifting Pioneer, I can attest to the value of breaking biases, leading to successful and thriving organisations. Diversity is key. Diversity adds value to companies and increases innovative and creative ideas. Diverse teams can also connect better with clients and customers.
When workplace culture is safe and inclusive and when our differences are valued and celebrated, companies flourish. Culture does not make people. Rather, people make culture and we need to ‘walk this talk’ together and on a daily basis.
Celebrating IWD is not just about women. All people, being fully respected for who they identify as, must participate in change if we are to achieve an authentic balance in our workplaces. Men, who have been the main protagonists for women not flourishing historically, must work together with all colleagues, to achieve workplace parity on all levels.
I believe women have the innate ability to welcome and celebrate diversity in all its manifestations. Women are not threatened by another’s sexual identity. Women are not disturbed by the revelation of someone identifying as other than male or female. Women understand that she, he and they all deserve the opportunity to flourish in the workplace and in the world.
We have made great progress over the years and there is so much to celebrate – but there is also much progress to be made. A great example of a change in attitude within businesses has been the acceptance of flexible working days/hours.
The pandemic forced businesses to be creative. A workplace culture that once discriminated against women of colour, women with disabilities and LGBTQI women (read “women”) suddenly found that allowing flexible working conditions for all workers didn’t have a detrimental effect on business outcomes.
IWD is a great reminder to be grateful for the achievements of those who came before us and to appreciate those who stand beside us now – forging the way for those who will come after.
Our experiences shape who we are. We have a responsibility to learn from the intersections of belief, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, disability and identity.
I encourage you to commit to #Breakthebias, smash stereotypes, break inequality and reject discrimination – today and every day, so that our communities flourish. There is a power we bring when we remember, celebrate and challenge together – today and every day!
Edited by Renee Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation