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Dream big, start small, keep going

Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Photo of two women working on a start-up businessThe United Nations is calling on organisations to invest in women to accelerate progress towards gender equity as part of International Women’s Day on March 8. Diversity Works New Zealand Board Chair Susan Doughty looks at what this means for workplaces in Aotearoa.

I am always amazed how women seek out ways to contribute, give of their energy and skills and are driven by purpose to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others. Recently a dear friend, and incredible social entrepreneur, Priya Darsni Singh signed off a note to me with the words “dream big, start small, keep going” and it has stayed with me ever since.

As I think about the United Nation’s (UN) International Women’s Day 2024 theme of “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”, I find myself reflecting on this more and more. Priya is one of those women I celebrate who, from nothing, started her own social enterprise to provide orphans in the Asia-Pacific region with equal opportunities. A dream that has received national and international acclaim for the impact made on the areas of child literacy and economic empowerment of women. Priya dreamed big, started small, and through all of the challenges she faced, just kept going. To me, her story personifies the ethos of the UN’s theme. If we invest in girls and women, no matter how small, and provide the environment for enrichment and growth, we can create significantly better outcomes for all of society.

Action like this is needed now more than ever. Based on the World Economic Forum, it is going to take at least 131 years to achieve global gender equality, so it is no surprise that the UN Sustainable Development Goals deadline of 2030 for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is not only off track but has begun to reverse.

Today, gender equality remains one of the greatest human rights challenges we face globally. However, I am hopeful, and believe there is always a solution to every problem and the economic empowerment of women is one that can be solved through the collective efforts, big and small, of all of us.

The United Nations has identified actions that can be taken in order to accelerate the empowerment of women. The first, and arguably the most important, is to give access to financial resources by investing in women though start-up capital, education opportunities and better, higher paying jobs. The UN highlights that “when women have equal rights to access, own, and use resources, they can invest in themselves by improving their wellbeing, education, starting a business or exercising agency over their income that is ultimately good for society as a whole.”

We also know that increasing women’s participation in better and higher paying jobs has a direct impact on the empowerment of women and the health of the economy overall. In the words of the UN, “not just any job will do: work must be productive and in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and dignity”.

It is well documented that the burden of caring for others disproportionately falls to women, which has a significant impact on gender equality as women are often prohibited from working due to the access to and cost of childcare and are restricted from higher education and better jobs due to care and domestic responsibilities. By focusing on solutions to the care sector, such as making it financially affordable and accessible to all, will see an increase in women’s participation in jobs and sectors where they are currently underrepresented. Through doing so we will build and harness much needed labour skills and reduce the gender pay gap and, as a consequence, increase GDP through higher workforce participation and outcomes.

Another factor that can hold women back and one that is often overlooked, is the impact of gender-based violence which is a major impediment for women to fully participate in work. Organisations can play a part in setting policy and developing programs that help illuminate issues of domestic violence and put in place financial and other safety systems for women not only to escape these situations, but to flourish in a supportive environment.

Lastly, men, you have a unique opportunity to use your power to accelerate positive change and help to overcome this human rights challenge. When men are allies, challenging stereotypes, advocating for women’s rights, sponsoring growth and promoting gender equality at home and in the workforce, we will see meaningful change. By using your voice and agency and taking an active role in the solution, we will accelerate the empowerment of women and create a more equitable and just society for all.

Priya said it best - “dream big, start small and just keep going” - and that’s exactly what I urge all of you to do.

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