We need a seat at the table and we are going to have to put the chairs there ourselves.
This morning I had a conversation with a male friend that believes in equality. He’s a Bahamian who voted in support of equal rights for women in the referendum, is not afraid to stand behind a female leader and genuinely agrees that while we are different, we are equal and equity should be displayed in all circumstances. Though he is all the things I described above, his inability to see, think of or consider a woman for a position that needed filling is a reminder of how far we have to go 108 years after the first International Women’s Day.
Who gets the job?
Without discussing the particulars of the position or the company, here is the background story; a company needs representation in the form of a person, a face that the media and the Bahamian people can identify with. Vice President of Public Relations or Director of Government Relations & External Affairs, are a few examples.
When my friend described the position, I immediately thought of a young charismatic woman, well-known and well-loved in the community who has worked locally and internationally on social projects. I was immediately shut down.
“No.” He said, “that won’t work. We need someone who knows the industry. Someone that understands the players and can play the game.”
I’ll pause here and say that I agreed. As a marketing and PR professional I would have given the same advice to a client- choose someone that knows the business and knows it well.
It was his next statement that inspired this post. He said, (I’ve taken liberty with the names and changed them up a bit) “here are examples of the people that do this job; Emmet Ferguson, Simon Solomon, Lowell Pinder. We need people like that.”
Me: “So, you mean you need a man then?”
Him: “Star, not everything is about men versus women. I didn’t say we needed a man I gave you examples of people who do this type of work and they happen to be men. If you can think of a suitable person, woman or man, I’d put their name forward.”
Me: “Ok great how about Geneva Rutherford former educator, senator and executive at the Grand Bahama Port Authority, or Willie Moss noted attorney and former executive at Grand Bahama Port Authority.”
Me: “I’m surprised they haven’t considered Zayden Langley”.
Him: “He’s a great choice, I’ll suggest it!”
Me: Why not the same response for the two women candidates?
Him: “Because I don’t know them or about them Star.”
So what does this mean for us 108 years after the first International Women’s Day?
If the two outstanding women I had described to him had been male he would have known them. Their stories would have been told. His network of male leaders would have included them. And that is why I’m writing today folks because:
We need to bring each other to the table
I don’t know Willie Moss or Geneva Rutherford personally. Willie Moss was my high school graduation speaker. Geneva Rutherford was my primary school principal and I remember her appointment as senator leading to actual protests of some kind on the lawn in front of my second-grade classroom. Though my interactions with them were limited, their impact on me was significant enough that I remembered them as two excellent choices for this work years later.
Teachers and school officials reading this, decorate your classrooms with these women on these days. Church leaders and conference planners plan your event around them and their stories. Journalists and bloggers feature them. When you’ve been put in charge of a project that requires you hire someone, find someone to fill in, give someone an opportunity in any sense, do not discount qualified men but by damn look for a qualified woman.
We need more mentorship and networking opportunities with activities that push us outside of our comfort zone and encourage us to get to know one another. We need each other and every single woman to start where we are and do what we can to lift another woman up. Everywhere you are, in any position you find yourself in, sing each other’s praises, share each other’s stories and bring a sister to the table.
We need men to partner with us
I went into a meeting shortly after that conversation with my friend and one of the men commented on my clothing. I told him I was wearing purple to celebrate International Women’s Day and black to represent the power of the people united. His younger colleague (millennial, our age, seen him around Via on a Friday night) nudges him and says, “We need an International Men’s Day”.
Men need to get it, or they will forever be stumbling blocks to our progress. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t know how to make them get it. I think the ideas I suggested above regarding highlighting women throughout the year in various ways is one aspect, but I also believe we need to use our mothers, daughters and sisters to get to our husbands, fathers and brothers. Call them out on their bias and have them call us out on ours. Discuss situations of injustice you may experience. Patiently remind them that showing consideration and appreciation for women as we seek equality does not make them less equal.
We need men to stand on the front line with us, to bring us to the table, to just listen to our voices without setting up a wall. If we are going to inhabit a “Wakanda State of Mind”, we need each other.