International Women’s Day

“… it’s important to remember that all of us
are a crucial part of the environment influencing
our world’s future women.
Our ambition, our work, our efforts to obliterate the gender gap,
and our relentless refusal to give up
are paving the way for the next generation,
just as our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers did for us.
And that’s a pretty big deal.”
~ Jennifer Winter 

Yesterday I attended the Union League’s International Women’s Day luncheon. Per their website: “International Women’s Day is a day that is observed annually at the United Nations and is designated by many countries as a national holiday. It began as a remembrance and celebration of the struggle faced by women around the world in the name of equality, justice, peace and development.

Though the role of women around the world has continued to evolve in the nine decades since the inception of International Women’s Day, women in the 21st century still face many obstacles in the advancement of their status worldwide. Regardless of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, the desire and need for progressive change is universal.”

The luncheon was preceded by a trade fair showcasing numerous organizations to help in the advancement of business women, assisting women in developing countries by promoting and selling their handmade crafts, an organization researching women’s leadership in Chicago, and a few international representatives. The Women’s Innovation Network table drew those with a sweet tooth as we offered fudge by Kilwin’s Chocolates and cupcakes by The Sugar Path.

Keynote speaker Sarah Robb O’Hagan, Chief Marketing Officer of Gatorade (and named #10 most powerful women in sports by Forbes) gave the following tips, after noting that she was always ‘average’ when growing up:

1. Know your strengths and play to them

She related trying to fit into a company culture she didn’t belong in (Atari), in a field she wasn’t passionate about, and being laid off as a result. “Play to who you are and be authentic,” was her lesson.

2. Know when to pass the ball

Citing the Businessweek article “Behind Every Great Woman” Robb O’Hagan advocated letting others share in the balancing act of life. “Let them play to their strengths,” she said, “When you’re doing it all you’re not playing to the things you are best at.”

3. Playing to win is better than playing not to lose

Gatorade partner Serena Williams has seen both sides of the coin, and Robb O’Hagan said that when Serena stopped listening to what others were saying about her and got back to being true to herself, her game improved again.

4. Play like a girl

With this fabulous slide, Robb O’Hagan said that Lego conducted studies on how boys and girls play. Per Brad Wiener in “Lego is for Girls”: “Whereas boys tend to be ‘linear’—building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box—girls prefer ‘stops along the way,’ and to begin storytelling and rearranging.”

“They (girls) look for meaning in play.”
~ Sarah Robb O’Hagan

Recommending Ann Doyle’s book “Power Up”, Robb O’Hagan stated that “We haven’t been able to usher in a new style of leadership,” because we downplay feminism and therefore a feminine leadership style. Women are “more thoughtful about the outcome of a decision,” she said.

5. Do not be afraid to change the game

Gatorade started as a sports drink, then became a popular consumer purchase, and then plateaud. Realizing the company was losing its core customer — athletes — but still had a strong brand power with that group, it is now introducing the G-Series which focuses on providing nutrient-rich products to athletes with a “Win from Within” campaign. Relating that to women, Robb O’Hagan said “We actually have to figure out to be proud of who we are and to play to who we are. … We have the opportunity to lean in and make a difference.”

“Everybody in this room is leading by their lives.”
~ Sarah Robb O’Hagan

We were surrounded by beautiful paintings and sculptures at both the fair and the luncheon. The Union League has an extensive art collection and I look forward to taking one of their monthly tours in the future.

Interestingly, a fellow attendee noted that her mother still had to enter the Union League by the back door just a few decades ago. That men-only era still held remnants as a men’s room had a makeshift paper sign on the door that said “Ladies room” right next to the sign by the stairwell instructing: “Ladies restroom downstairs.”

Citing this type of exclusion in Palestine, and noting that both storms and liberty are given feminine pronouns, cultural speaker Roxane Asaf said: “What is powerful causes fear. When order is challenged, we are degraded; we must be stripped.”

While women in Palestine do celebrate International Women’s Day with a march and by presenting issues to the legislature, promises to create committees on those issues may not be followed through in action by leaders. “There is hope, if not a lot of action,” said Asaf.

“Liberty and respect are at issue for women.”
~ Roxane Asaf

Cultural speaker Avirama Golan remembered her Israeli grandmother as a ‘strong woman’ even though she might be considered a ‘simple woman.’ The primary breadwinner after her husband was imprisoned during World War I while raising her 6 children, she didn’t see herself as a role model or the head of the family. She “was putting bread on her childrens’ table, that’s all,” said Golan.

“Yes, we’ve come a long way.
Feminism is the most successful revolution of all time
without bloodshed.
But are my daughters really free?”
~ Avirama Golan 

“Women work hard, sometimes harder than men but make much less than men to survive in a merciless, almost inhuman labor market and they’re expected to be even better mothers and wives than their ancestors,” Golan said.

Golan said men are also burdened with having to maintain their gender-biased roles. This is touched on by the article Robb O’Hagan mentioned. Carol Hymowitz wrote: “Even as the trend becomes more widespread, stigmas persist. At-home dads are sometimes perceived as freeloaders, even if they’ve lost jobs. Or they’re considered frivolous kept men—gentlemen who golf.”

The consensus was that we need to continue to break down the gender-barriers and advocate true equality.

“I remember my grandmother singing loud and clear:
‘What are you waiting for, there is so much work to be done.’”

~ Avirama Golan


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