Why Women?

The mission of Lead5050 is “to raise the profile of women in international education and facilitate them into positions of leadership.”

But why women? Don’t we already have women in international education? Why not LGBTQ? Why not minorities? Why not underrepresented and underserved markets?

That’s a fair question. (Psssst women are represented there as well.)

My favourite analogy to help answer these questions is one that shifted my paradigm when I couldn’t see past my own privilege –
When someone says, “Save the rainforest!” does anyone believe they also mean, “…and burn all other forests to the ground?” No. That would be crazy - not to mention completely detrimental to our ecosystem. Like deforestation, inequality is not a battle being fought by one specific group, with one specific type of problem.

There is simply too much injustice in the world for humankind to tackle one issue at a time.

Women work through issues in the workplace that are unique to them as women. Often men find difficulty empathizing simply because their human experience is different. We get it. Totally understandable.

So consider what it could mean if on the path to leadership you had to spend a lot of your time and energy proving your level of expertise before being taken seriously (Check out: Male and Female Co-Workers switch email signatures). As a journalist in the Marine Corps, it took me about six months to figure this out. I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time getting the interviews and story opportunities I wanted. So I started publishing under my rank, initials, and last name, and used email as my primary means of communication to set up interviews. I didn’t communicate over the phone or in person until I absolutely had to.

And. It. Worked.

Studies have shown that men and women both give men higher marks for competency on resumes (Read: An experiment removing gender from job applications) despite the exact same information being presented. Imagine how that translates into women being hired into positions of leadership.

Women and men can use the exact same language and posturing, and while in a man this is viewed as competent and self-assured, in women it is viewed as rude or even threatening. ( I, to my ever-decreasing surprise, had been told to “stand down” by a previous supervisor fairly frequently in meetings for no more than stating facts or reciting research. He would say, “People don’t know how to take you when you act like a man. You need to present your opinions like a nice girl.” (Please refer to these funny because they’re true Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women infographics.) What must it do to a woman’s path to success if she is seen as intimidating by stating actual facts?

Unfortunately, the stereotype of ineptitude isn’t where it stops.

If you’ve never had to sit in a professional setting with a person who touched you inappropriately, remarked on your body, or made a wrong place, wrong time joke about the prospects of the two of you having sex - you’re probably a man. A recent poll in the UK found 52 percent of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace while less than one in five reported it to their employer. The study also suggests that the reality of that number may be much higher due to the normalization of this behavior causing women who have spent more time in the workforce to become desensitised - let me put that another way - numb. It should be noted that a similar poll found around 20 percent of men experience sexual harassment and are even less likely to report it. How long would you stay at a job where you felt threatened, sexualized, and demeaned? How uncomfortable would that be to explain to a new employer about a job move?

Riiiiiiiiiight around here is where you’re thinking, “Wait! Can’t we flirt? Compliment? Dance? I mean have you been to some of these international education conferences?” Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. The purpose of this article is to help you understand the current realities of women working towards positions of leaderships. Also, if you have started to read this as “Men bad, Women good” I would like to refer you back to our rainforest analogy, and remind you that a statement of facts should not be interpreted as threatening. Don’t worry we’ll cover all that eventually. Spoiler Alert: For the most part, it all boils down to consent, communication, and the healthy processing of rejection.

It’s not all bad news.

Women are becoming more and more united (See: Women’s March), gender equality is becoming cool in Hollywood, and even politicians are getting in the game. Women, many for the first time, are in a time and space where they are comfortable and supported sharing their stories of inequality and even violence through social media on hashtags like #MeToo, #YoTambien, #BalancetonPorc, #QuellaVoltaChe, and more. Women are supporting one another- ‘amplifying’ each others’ voices.

It can be hard to see past our own experiences and paradigm. It can be hard to recognize our own privilege. We, in the international education community, have the amazing privilege and opportunity to reach across borders, oceans, cultures, and walls to inspire and uplift women from all over the world.

I get it. Women in international education is a pretty specific niche! If you have a cause that is near and dear to your heart, I hope you are using your gifts to be a champion of that cause. I hope you recognize your privilege where you have it. And I hope when you see injustice, you fight it - in ways both big and small. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, this is a small market but the best place to affect a meaningful change - a real impact - is the place you are.

And here we are.