This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is: Balance for Better. I have decided to share a personal story of a formative time in my life, but I also reached out to women I deeply respect with different life experiences to get their take on International Women’s Day and find out what “Balance for Better” means to them.
Before I lose you, please note 25% of proceeds on all purchases will go to the IWD chosen charity, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from today to the end of the month.
The summer before my Year Six, I went with a group to Tanzania to help build a school for Maasai girls. To paint the picture, this was over two decades ago – and the school itself was still in its infancy and rudimentary in facility. It was not, however, rudimentary in quality of education or student. The only accessible lightbulb was in the mess hall. It was a far cry from the cushy public school I had been educated in.
But let me back up beyond that, the Maasai were a nomadic people that were being disenfranchised of their ancestral grazing grounds because their traditions did not permit females to receive western style educations.
Brave women, with the help of others, challenged the tribal norms to the elders and pushed for female education. Consequently they endured dissolved marriage contracts and ostracism. Yet, they felt women needed education to allow the greater tribe to adapt & grow with the ever-changing world and convinced the elders over some years to allow for formal education.
During my days at the school I picked coffee beans, mixed cement, laid bricks, helped administer hearing tests & tutored. In the evenings I hung out with the girls — they even tried to braid my hair. (Maybe this is where the roots of Wallace Jane truly started (pun intended)). We laughed. We sang together. The girls showed me incredible kindness. We had fun.
The girls were bright — in personality, spirit & mind. They were generous. They were so grateful to be receiving an education. And they worked hard. They were young boarders, away from their families. They trusted that receiving an education was worth the sacrifice of leaving their families. I will never forget a mum I met who had walked three days to visit her daughter. And a grandma, Goco Ruti, the heart and soul of the school, who risked everything in order for the school to come to fruition.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I was outside of my comfort zone for much of my time there. Yet, I learned so much. I reckon this experience forever cemented my perspective on the incredible & equal capabilities of females. Something I had never been forced to evaluate until that point.
Perhaps it was a “balance for better” moment (just the term hadn’t been coined yet).
Ultimately these Maasai women became empowered through education to become leaders, business people, administrators, teachers, medical professionals, etc. and help preserve their tribes’ rights within Tanzania. By receiving an education, they were achieving balance for the betterment of their tribe.
In my opinion, education is how we can help balance for better. And, I have to put my money where my mouth is. Although still a small startup with financial obligations like any other business, it’s important to give back. So, this month, 25% of all proceeds will go to World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGS) to help balance for better through education & leadership.
Still, this is only my experience, and one from a long time ago on soil far away.
I was curious about my friends’ personal experiences and what IWD means to them. Resoundingly “balance for better” struck a chord with these talented women. What stuck out to me was the general optimism for the future with workplace, homeplace -- “lifeplace” becoming more balanced.
A friend, Rebecca, who works for an urban design firm with 52% female employees will be helping to lead an IWD breakfast. The interesting twist on this breakfast is that women were able to submit anonymous questions before the breakfast that the female leaders will answer. Questions about work life balance, modified work schedules should they have children, what type of diversity the firm sees in leadership in the coming years, etc. Basically, questions that one might feel nervous to ask their direct manager one on one. An empowering opportunity indeed. And a great way for the firm to understand what 52% of their workforce may be thinking and feeling in a safe & open environment.
Another friend, Jamie, rhetorically posed why 50% of days are not International Women’s’ Day. She mentioned she will be honouring “balance for better” by continuing to develop her sport hijab company, Asiya which is celebrating its third year of business. She concluded her response by noting that women often possess among many other talents, “subtler, but critically important skills like knowing how to bring people together, listening, empathizing, and just generally getting the job done”.
Fiona, Director of a logistics company, talked to the importance of lifestyle balance and the constant struggle to maintain and find that balance as she said “a balanced world with respect to gender creates a better world. I feel that more balance in a boardroom, or a warehouse, or on a trading floor, results in more balanced opinions and more balanced actions.” She noted the general struggle we all feel, regardless of gender, of finding that right balance.
Jill, a leader within the museum space, noted the gratitude she feels for the position she finds herself in as of late, “I'm grateful for government, organizational and social and family supports that enable women including me to pursue professional impactful work while also being a parent. I hope to be a part of this work to create widespread and meaningful gender balance, and an aspect of this involves continuously learning and stretching to make a difference in my industry.”
And Lisa, a Financial Executive, with 25+ years industry experience noted the change in attitude towards women, for the better, over the course of her career. In fact, in 1994 she was encouraged to “forget about” an onslaught of unfounded name calling she overheard about herself. Lisa sums it up by saying, “On reflection, it is better for women in the workplace today but we are in no way equal to men in terms of pay, leadership opportunities and respect. These need to be balanced out through education, example and mentor programs to prepare women for leadership and, just as importantly, prepare men to be led by women. It should be a non-event that a woman is running a company, leading a board or managing a department.”
As Lisa wisely stated, “Balance for Better means so many things to me but most importantly, we need to balance our workplace, our board of directors, and our women in leadership so all our voices are being heard.”
I heard a statistic published by Ernst & Young and that is: at our current pace, women will not have equal pay as men for 217 years. What better way to decrease the tenure of that gap, then through education & leadership training? As we reflect on IWD today, to me it seems from a societal standpoint “balance is better” for the individual, the family, the tribe, the community, the country and the world.
The Maasai women, were really just trying to find “balance” and adapt themselves and the tribe to a new reality that would ensure their long-term wellbeing. If they had not made a choice to take the risk to rebalance to this new reality, they, the Maasai might not have survived. And the dynamic women quoted at the end of this piece also strive for balance in their own lives. In my opinion, in the long term “balance” is ultimately best for all, even if there is disruption of the norms along the way.