This International Women’s Day, as I think about the theme #BalanceforBetter, I am reminded to ask myself this question again: Can women have it all?
To which most women respond with ‘you can have it all, just not all at the same time’
And that makes me very angry because I have insatiable professional hunger and the mettle for a more grounded life at the same time. I am a Bhutanese woman with the unspoken pressure to sometimes act like I am neither a woman nor a Bhutanese. I have flexible morality and rigid stupidity. I have the beginnings of an old-lady stoop and the unsightly chin pimples of a fifteen-year-old. I have male colleagues who tell me I’m not aggressive enough and that I will never get what I want in life and male friends who tell me I’m too aggressive and that I make them sad.
I have righteous anger and wicked composure. In fact, I have so much righteous anger that perhaps I misunderstood the question…
The tagline for this year’s theme “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”, focuses on pushing for innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of driving change and innovation. The achievement of this ambitious goal requires transformative shifts not just in our organizations but also in our thinking.
Because I do not believe for one second that the problem is a lack of ideas and innovation put forth by women but more the lack of acceptance and tolerance of these ideas, and the women behind them. Women empowerment cannot happen if suggestions for innovative approaches are disrupted with “business as usual” excuses and structural barriers that have for decades kept women behind. These structures prevent us from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society.
You might say I have a self-fulfilling bias when I say this but I believe technology CAN and WILL provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in the tech start-up scene. Sometimes, I feel that although I have the will to lead, not to mention the requisite commitment, intelligence and ferocious work ethic – that it may not be enough in the notoriously male-dominated world where the scarcity of women leaders among the ranks of tech founders and CEOs is still all too visible.
We cannot ignore the unfortunate realities of impossible standards and underlying bitterness attached to work by women entering fields dominated by men.
And though much has been done, we still live in a world where women are often undermined, underpaid and underestimated. We need to push for more ideas and companies led by women, especially when influencing the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.
This year’s theme looks at innovators (men and women alike) to examine the ways in which innovation can remove barriers and accelerate progress of gender equality. My appeal to women is to be more ambitious and have more self-belief. Now, more than ever, we can’t be complacent. It is so vitally important that we come together collectively to accelerate acceptance and tolerance not just for innovation and change, but also for the women behind them.
It takes immense courage to speak your truth, but the next time someone asks me ‘Can women have it all’
I want to be able to say, ‘Yes – I have it all’, truthfully.
Oh and Happy International Women’s Day 2019.