Feminae Carta: Combining digital activism and research to advance gender equality globally.

Like many people who have had to pivot during the pandemic, activists have had to reimagine the way they advocate for the causes they care about in an online environment. Not only have we had to make the switch to organizing and engaging people in our advocacy efforts online, but have also had to recognize the increased inequalities amid the pandemic. 

Particularly when it comes to women’s issues, gender-based violence, school dropouts, child marriages have been increasing over the past year and a half, with more women at home and lack of access from community allies. 

As we thought about how we can take action, and reimagined possibilities for creating the needed policy changes globally to ensure that gender equality is achieved, we came up with the idea for Feminae Carta. Feminae Carta is the world’s first Digital Advocacy tool of its kind, which aims to make gender equality a policy priority in countries globally. We have more than 20 researchers from all six continents who have been working with us over the past few months to develop our initial background guide, which presents research on the current status of women’s well-being, voices and participation in society. 

In this article, we hope to share the thoughts of some researchers and their findings, to give you a sneak peek into our work. 

 

Yasmine Nassereddin, Canadian and Palestinian Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Oceania and South Asia

Education is a powerful tool capable of  breaking down and eradicating poverty; reducing child mortality; supporting economic and professional growth, development, and well-being; and most importantly closing the gap in gender inequality (UNICEF). From an economic viewpoint, investment in education expands business opportunities by strengthening a nation’s human capital. A larger and more educated labour force results in better wages and income for stable living. Investing in girl’s education can lead to an increase of females in future leadership positions and new perspectives to old persisting problems. While slight progress is occurring in gender parity in education, girls continue to face many barriers to schooling in all levels of education. In the same year, it was estimated that for every 100 boys only 86 girls were enrolled in secondary schools (United Nations, 2015). Girls education is necessary for acquiring sustainable and healthy futures for everyone. Giving girls access to equitable education is a vital investment for our world. When girls thrive by learning and developing their own passions in life, the world becomes more peaceful and sustainable as new ideas and perspectives are shared. Multiple studies and research has shown the economic, political, social, and environmental benefits of having educated women and girls. Oceania and MENA countries have definitely progressed in making improvements to their female population’s access to education, however, many structural and societal barriers block girls from achieving education they feel respected, included, and celebrated in.

 

Rosella Cottam, British Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Europe, Middle East and North Africa

Empowerment has a “transformative ability to affect power relations in societies”, and therefore the empowerment of women is an essential component of the development and interests of nations around the world (Moghadam, 2016). In Europe, the current status of women’s empowerment is dependent on the access of women to services and opportunities within their lives. Women’s empowerment in Europe has been shaped by the legacies of colonialism and this affects the structures and rights of women in the world today. In the case of nations in the European Union, there have currently been some successful outcomes related to increased women’s active role in decision-making in the workplace, yet there are still institutional and resource structures related to leadership, healthcare, and services for the poor which hinder empowerment (Sustainable Solutions).  In the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region), women’s empowerment is currently characterised by significant change in fighting the challenges to the lack of power and discrimination of women in society. There have been efforts towards improving empowerment through raising the voices of women in policy making roles, and increasing opportunities to influence laws and debates.  An example of this can be seen in Algeria, where there have been efforts to increase women’s empowerment in national parliaments, and by 2013, this has led to 31.6% of women in parliament. This example shows that efforts have had success, yet progress is still needed to reach greater empowerment.

Change can also be created through increasing public knowledge through innovative processes and research suggestions, which creates opportunities for more inclusive solutions for women.  On the ground, young activists have also needed resources in order to deliver change, and this includes technology, networks, skills, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations to empower women within their communities (UNGEI, 2014).

 

Soukaina Tachfouti, Moroccan Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Women in the Workplace in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia

The inclusion of women in professional and technical jobs can contribute to drastic changes across all sectors and industries, it can turbo-charge economic growth in regions that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution—making their participation all the more critical.  While very few women are breaking through the glass ceiling to top managerial posts, entrepreneurship is gaining importance as an alternative avenue for their economic empowerment, however it is still a widely untapped source of economic growth and social progress, and job creation. 

It is extremely critical that women are included in decision-making and hold formal positions so that their voices can be heard and the interests of women, as well as men, are taken into consideration.  Integration into employment is not limited only to the will of individuals but to a set of factors that are often interlinked, preventing women from unleashing their talent and full potential. Women in South Asia and the MENA region continue to face a range of cultural, financial, and legal barriers more than their female counterparts across the globe. The economic and labour market specificities have positioned women in a weak starting point compared to men, leaving them with a lot of catching up. Moreover, many of the barriers that render women economically inactive also haunt working women in their careers and slow down their progression. In other words, what hinders women from entering the workforce in the first place also naturally hinders their growth into business and management leadership positions.  

There are several policy prescriptions which can help create progress for women in the workplace, not only in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, but also all over the world. Some of these include ensuring girls’ get access to education and the tools they need to access work, and also improving the workplace environment by ensuring that women have equal pay.

While there is a lot of work yet to be done, the progress that has been made and the current work for gender equality is incredibly inspiring, and leaves us hopeful for the future. You can stay updated with Feminae Carta by visiting https://www.theworldwithmnr.com/feminaecarta.

Meet Jen Lee Koss, retail entrepreneur and investor with a social purpose.

Jenn Lee Koss

Jen Lee Koss is an entrepreneur and investor, passionate about supporting, uplifting, and making a change in the lives of entrepreneurs and working families. A graduate of Harvard University, Oxford University, and Harvard Business School, Jen has worked in the consumer and retail sectors for most of her career. Before launching BRIKA, a business focused on helping businesses with innovative, curated retail experiences in 2012, Jen worked in the management, consulting, investment banking, and private equity spaces. Alongside her work with BRIKA, Jen is a Founding Partner of Springbank Collective, an organization that invests in early-stage companies that are re-imagining work, building the care infrastructure, and creating solutions for working families — with a goal of a more inclusive future.

 

My first job ever was… as a House Manager at The American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. I was responsible for making sure the shows started on time and that the audience was taken care of! 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… if I look back at the trajectory of my education and career, I have always had big ideas and executed them. For example, I founded my University’s first conductorless orchestra (which still exists today!). When I left my finance career to start BRIKA, I was craving a more creative path in life.

I co-founded BRIKA because… I met the right person to start the business with. When I met my co-founder Kena, I knew she had the right experience and skillset that was complementary to my own, and that we would make a great team. 

I co-founded Springbank Collective because… in my role with BRIKA, I have been privy to working and partnering with thousands of small businesses, of which the majority are women-founded, run, and owned. I have understood firsthand how difficult it is to work and raise a family at the same time (I have four young children under the age of 10), so, in many ways, I have always felt passionate about gender equality issues, but didn’t know how or what I could do to make a change. With my founding partners, Courtney and Elana, I knew that the thesis we came up with was a large enough platform to make a difference. We believe the gender gap can’t be siloed as a “women’s issue” — it is an infrastructure gap and a massive, overlooked opportunity. We invest in the tools and services to support working women and working families across the categories of care, career, and household consumer, irrespective of the founders’ gender.

“There’s never been a better time to start your business. If you take things one tiny step at a time without getting overwhelmed by the big picture, you’re well on your way to making something great.”   

My biggest setback was… not being able to accept what I considered my “dream job,” due to a Visa issue that I had overlooked. At the time, it seemed like the end of the world, but in hindsight, I may not have ever started my entrepreneurial journey.

I overcame it by… accepting it was completely my fault and focusing on the next thing ahead. 

One misconception about social enterprises is… that it’s not big business. You can make an impact and a return at the same time. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs with a social mission is… there’s never been a better time to start your business. If you take things one tiny step at a time without getting overwhelmed by the big picture, you’re well on your way to making something great.   

The thing I love most about what I do is… meeting and connecting with new people.

One tangible way you can make your everyday spending more impactful is… putting your money where your mouth is. Go out of your way to support your local businesses and small makers because when you do, you’re supporting a dream.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the people with whom I have had the privilege of working with. I have worked with some of the best, hardest working, most inspiring individuals out there who believe in supporting talented founders and businesses. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I played Division I lacrosse in college for four years. 

I stay inspired by… my kids. They are 10, nine, six, and four, and have completely different personalities and interests. I love the lens from which they look at the world, and how their brains work as they learn.   

The future excites me because… there is still so much to do, but also so much that can be done to make lives better for the generations ahead. The onus is on us to change the gender equality equation for our kids!

My journey as a STEM entrepreneur — and the lessons I’ve learned on the way.

When people ask me how I got my start in reproductive medicine, I often tell them about my childhood. I was 7 or 8 when my fascination and love for biology started to develop. My dad was a scientist and taught reproductive biology. In the summers, I remember going to the lab with him and watching him work. He explained to me how to nurture a seed until it sprouts and grows into a strong healthy plant, and how a plant bears fruit like a woman bears babies. 

I was excited about science — I’ve always been fascinated by biological systems — so I knew I would study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that it would be medical school all the way. I am lucky to have been very supported by my parents and other people in my life. The reason we got cable when I was in elementary school was so that I could watch the first open heart surgery be performed. In high school, during a library period, we learned about the 10th birthday of Louis Brown, the first IVF baby, and I found an article about ‘the future of medicine’ that I must have read a dozen times. The meeting of science and technology, and how this would be needed for assisted human reproduction, had me hooked. 

Barriers: They exist, but belief goes a long way

While I may have always had a clear vision for my education and career path, that doesn’t mean it was a smooth journey. I was lucky that the people that surrounded me, believed in me. While some did joke that I should be a lawyer because I’m quite a vocal person — I didn’t want to study law, I wanted to be a doctor.

One area that I did hesitate was about how I was going to learn everything I needed to learn to be the doctor I wanted to be. I was guilty of serially and consistently underestimating my abilities, which unfortunately women do too much of. My male colleagues never seemed to express or show the same hesitancy while learning: I think our tendency for self-reflection to lead to self-doubt is a major chasm for women to overcome, particularly in STEM fields.

“There is something we need to do along the education journey differently, so that girls and women believe that their place is in STEM. To reinforce that their place is to have tremendous skill.”

Education: How can we prepare our children

Speaking of education, I am so supportive of how accessibility has improved. While there are still incredible gender biases that exist, there are also concerted and systemic efforts to address this and change the outcome for the future generations of women in STEM.

On the flip side, I believe that the immediacy of knowledge in the upcoming generations poses its own problems. I have three beautiful children (through IVF!), and when I watch them access Google and the wide world of the internet to get an answer to whatever it is they are thinking about or working on at that moment, it scares me a bit. They get their answer, and then they move on. It is not a piecing together of different learnings to create a whole picture, which I am concerned is stunting the curiosity-related skills that work to slowly build knowledge over time, and deep understanding of systems. 

While my love of science came from my dad, other characteristics that define me today I know that I developed through my mother and our community of ‘aunties’. The women who surrounded me, who were significant players in my life when I was growing up, were heads of university departments, leading government offices; women who were in charge in important positions. It was never a concept for me that I couldn’t be a leader, that I shouldn’t be outspoken. I had the good fortune of having a family filled with boisterous, inquisitive, well-spoken, thoughtful women — who at the same time could be kind, loving and nurturing aunties.

Mentorship & collaboration: Doing my part

I see it as part of my role as a female leader in a STEM field to act as a mentor to other women. If you see a spark, light the flame. There are no set roles for women. Girls are amazing, we are inquisitive, we are vocal, and we are scientists. Let’s tap into it, and encourage more women through mentorship to excel in STEM, in business, and in their personal lives — and especially when you dare to do it all.

You have a responsibility to set an example for the next generation of women. It is hard to be a woman. As a female CEO and single mom to three children, I have different responsibilities. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I have to make conscious choices and yes, certain sacrifices. 

“We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network.”

That’s another area where I have faced critique along my journey. Being a Medical Director & CEO, I have to set aside time for the business while performing my duties as a physician. I also have to set aside and protect time for my children. They need to know that they are a priority to me, even as they see me work long and odd hours. They get to see me as a tremendously fulfilled, successful woman, who is not afraid to say that what I do is my passion and it brings me joy — just as they do. 

We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network. Everyone has their genius — celebrate it, don’t be intimidated by it.

I’ll leave this question here: why are so many men practicing women’s health and infertility? Fertility clinics for the most part are private clinics in Canada, and women should lead more of them. Women should make more decisions within them, working together collaboratively. We can provide the medical care, and run the business. 

So what can all this be boiled down to? I guess at the end of the day I would like to encourage other women to:

  • Dream big. Once you’ve finished, amplify it exponentially — and go for it. 

  • Be strategic, make a plan, and work your tail off.

  • Don’t underestimate yourself, or other women, and don’t under-aim.

Thank you for letting me share my story, and until next time — get out there, encourage each other and dare to thrive.

7 Questions leaders must ask themselves.

Woman leader thinking and smiling

By Dr. Jivi Saran

Ready to become a transformational leader? It’s time to take your mask off.

No, not the one you’re thinking about. The mask I’m talking about is your leadership mask — the ideal and perfect role you’re trying to portray. This is a particularly common technique among people of colour and women. Performing in a leadership role is a bit like dancing in a masquerade ball. There are steps, a routine to follow, but the tempo is always changing. To avoid a misstep, many leaders cling to a routine, even if it’s not in their best interest, or even entirely appropriate to the situation.

As a Senior Business Advisor at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), I’ve spent 35 years collaborating with business leaders who want to maximize their potential and create high-performance teams. I’ve worked globally in just about every industry except aerospace (it’s on the bucket list). My secret to creating high-powered teams? Executives and CEOs must be willing to un-mask — to realize and maximize their true leadership potential.

Taking the mask off isn’t easy. It’s predictable and protective. For women and minorities who are often judged more harshly, it can feel like the mask creates a cool anonymity that’s often confused with professionalism. No one is supposed to know about the fight you had with your partner or father’s mental decline. Numbers, project deadlines, and growth are where business leaders are supposed to live and die. But that’s not tenable as a leader — or a human being.

Taking Off the Mask

Authenticity is probably the best worst-kept secret of the business world. The knee-jerk horror at the idea of feeling vulnerable is a perfectly normal response, particularly if you feel like you already receive unfair scrutiny and judgement. Yet, it’s this vulnerability — the real stuff — that often works to connect you to your team. 

Think of it like this, if you’re overwhelmed by a work task — frustrated, confused, irritated — your team members almost certainly feel the same. And ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away. A facade of cool unflappability, especially coupled with a by-the-book attitude, can make you unapproachable. At best, you miss out on opportunities to connect and emphasize with team members. At worst, it creates space for miscommunication and errors. 

Team members may be hesitant that voicing concerns may be perceived as weakness. They don’t want to mess up any more than you do. When things go wrong, pretending everything is fine doesn’t work. Acknowledge feelings of futility, frustration, disappointment — and find a way to move forward. When things go right, celebrate. Share your excitement and approval.

Authenticity is a cornerstone of leadership. Your role doesn’t end at business leader, you are also a human being. And the legacy of your company, the stuff that will live beyond your tenure, is made up of your team’s beliefs, its energy — your corporate culture. The ability to unmask, show your humanity, and adjust your course is vital. The secret sauce of leadership has always been competency, with a dash of humanity. 

7 Questions to Ask Yourself

Leading authentically isn’t just about how you present yourself to your employees, it also requires taking an honest look inward. If you’re serious about creating a high-caliber team, the sort that unlocks growth and profitability, ask yourself these seven questions about your performance:

  1. How do team members talk about you?
  2. What stories about you are shared around the water cooler?
  3. When you return home, how do you feel? Are you excited to transition out of your work role to your family role? Or are you tired and frustrated with nothing left to give?
  4. How do you WANT people to talk about you as a leader?
  5. What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you hope to impact humanity?
  6. How much time do you waste on random thoughts every day? Based on your salary and time, assign a dollar amount. Now multiply that by the number of people on your team.
  7. Do you want to create a workplace where everyone functions with purpose, ease, and grace?

Sovereign Leadership: Preparing to Take the Lead

Removing your mask and asking these seven questions are steps on the path to becoming a sovereign leader. What does it mean to be a sovereign leader? If we return to the analogy of the masquerade ball, this is how you take the lead. Sovereign leadership is about growing into yourself as a leader. It’s where you learn how to leverage your individual industry experience, energy, and passion to create a leadership style that’s smart and approachable. In other words, you gain the confidence to listen and learn what’s happening around you and then make adjustments as needed. However, doing this means coming to terms with several factors:

  • self-identity
  • self-realization
  • self-awareness
  • and self-actualization

Leaders wear many mantles. And the higher you climb, the more will be expected. To manage, report, correct, direct, nurture, assert, and grow, you need to feel comfortable approaching team members with understanding and empathy. You have to feel comfortable being yourself — man, woman, non-binary, person of colour (or some combination of these). There’s no other way this works.

Aligning with yourself as a leader takes work, but it is a profoundly rewarding journey filled with deep, personal insights. By unmasking and becoming the best version of yourself — and allowing others to do the same, you can create a workplace that’s happier, healthier, more efficient, and more inclusive. And isn’t that the point of the whole dance?

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr. Jivi Saran is a business advisor, leadership coach, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of Permission to Be You. Specializing in change management, she holds a Ph.D. in Organizational and Human Behavior and MBA in Leadership. Jivi leverages almost 35 years’ experience to increase productivity, focus, and creativity within organizations, and guides top-tier executives to reach peak-performance by changing how they teach, interact, communicate, motivate, and inspire.