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Things women and women of colour can do to #BreakTheBias

Sonya Barlow, award-winning entrepreneur, shares how you can break the bias on International Women's Day.

Sonya Barlow

International Women's Day is celebrated every year on March 8th to celebrate women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements.

But, IWD is also a stop in the way to identifying what needs to be done to achieve gender parity - but even among women, there are different gaps.

As a first-generation Pakistani in the United Kingdom, I am very much aware of the tension between the gender norms and stereotypes constraining women of colour.

For example, traditionally speaking, South Asian women are not encouraged to be loud, ambitious or different. From a young age, we are told about marriage, kids and family and the family's expectations in terms of career paths. We are also not encouraged to drink, socialise or dress as we please. These are hindering factors when it comes to entering and progressing in the workplace because most company's cultures are catered to Western norms and standards.

As a young professional entering my first corporate role at the age of 22, I found it challenging to navigate the workplace due to society's expectations for a woman of colour and also faced discrimination for the same thing, which consequently resulted in unfair dismissals.

If you are still struggling with feeling like you belong, you are not alone, and there are things you can do to break the biases and norms that are holding you back.

Challenge the idea that ‘women can't have it all’

How often have we heard that women can't balance both a successful career and family/personal life?

That is nonsense. If anything, women have proven time and time again that they can be the primary caregivers of their households and still have thriving career paths.

So, if you want to contribute to changing this idea, ask yourself these questions:

  • How is your working practice?

  • Does it satisfy all your needs?

  • Are you maintaining a work-life balance?

  • If not, what can you pause, shift or pause?

Now, Reflect on your needs and your answers to see if there are any important gaps preventing you from reaching your full potential.

Then, create a plan and propose them to your decision-makers and important people - both at work and home, emphasising the fact that women CAN have it all, but they still need time to breathe and enjoy life.

Prioritise and celebrate yourself

We have all heard that you have to stand out to get more opportunities, and self-promotion is critical for this.

But, there are still stigmas and biases against women who promote their accolades and accomplishments. A self-promoting woman is selfish and well assertive, arrogant.

We have been brought up with the idea that women should be modest and deferential. And as a LinkedIn Changemaker and Top Voice, I can see the impact of these gender norms. Less than 1% of people online share their successes, and an even smaller percentage are those that identify as women.

So, let's change that. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being proud of what you have achieved and sharing it with others!

You can start by creating a list of your achievements, accolades and successes. Note down what have been your results at work and the impact you have made in your role.

Then, write it up and post it on your social media - LinkedIn is the best platform to share and have these conversations. Also, sharing can empower other females to talk about their own experiences and journeys.

Fight the idea that ‘women don’t deserve the same as their male counterparts’

This idea reminds me of the statement made by the U.S. Football Federation that the women's national team being paid less than the male one was justified because men have more ability, strength and speed.

We already know that it will take 100 years before we reach equality, and the average woman is paid 10% less than her male counterpart. But it is still shocking to have organisations that say the gender pay gap is justified.

So, we must take things into our control and change this.

How? Research what is the salary benchmark for your role, document your successes alongside your job description and ask for that pay rise.

Stop being your worst enemy and be your own cheerleader.

What's the worst that can happen? They could say no, of course, but it could equally be that you receive feedback to improve, be placed on an appraisal plan working towards the next promotion or get that raise.

If not, you could realise that the company doesn't value you, and you are now free to look for newer, better opportunities that enable you to reach your career and life goals.

To keep moving the needle for gender equality, we need to do our part as individuals to break the biases and gender norms that have been part of women's narratives for decades.

So, what will you do today to break your biases?

Written by Sonya Barlow

About the author

Sonya Barlow is an award-winning entrepreneur, founder of @LMFNetwork, diversity coach, TEDX Speaker, LinkedIn Changemaker 2021, LinkedIn Top Voice 2022, radio host at the BBC Asian Network’s The Everyday Hustle and author of Unprepared to Entrepreneur.

In 2020, she was named as one of the most influential women in tech (ComputerWeekly), Winner of the women in software changemakers (Makers and Google), Top 50 BAME entrepreneurs (TechRound), Future Shaper 2020 (Marie Claire UK), InspiringFiftyUK 2021 (accelerateHER) and Forbes 30 under 30 shortlist runner up 2021.

She has delivered two TEDx talks and is acknowledged as an international keynote speaker. Sonya has had her articles published in Metro, Sifted EU and The Telegraph.

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