Meet Four Canadian Women Smashing the Status Quo

With female-led movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp motivating women to have a louder voice, this year’s International Women’s Day is summoning all to take action against social inequalities, unequal pay, lack of diversity, and sexual harassment. In honour of this special day, we put the spotlight on four inspiring Canadian women who have smashed the status quo across fashion, politics, and philanthropy.

 

Eva Hartling, Vice President, Birks Brand & Chief Marketing Officer – ‎Birks Group Inc. 

What challenges do you feel women have overcome over the last year?

“Campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp have helped make things move in the right direction: we are finally just starting to have an open dialogue about issues facing women in the past year. I don’t think we have overcome the actual challenge of dealing with gender inequality or female abuse in the workplace just yet, but at least being able to speak about these issues is a first step. There’s still a long way to go. Hollywood A-listers are getting their stories out but I don’t think working women everywhere feel as empowered just yet, knowing they may not get the same treatment.”

How do you feel about IWD’s theme this year: #PressForProgress?

“I think Frances McDormand said it best on Oscars night: ‘Inclusion Rider’! Even for those of us who don’t work in the film industry, it is so important to keep pushing for diversity and for dialogue around inequality. We must get to a point where women everywhere (and not just American movie stars) are comfortable voicing their beliefs and concerns as well as pushing for gender representation.”

What’s the hardest part about being a woman in your industry?

“Women continue to be underrepresented at senior-management levels in most luxury jewellery and timepiece companies. We operate in a very traditional industry where the belief is still that men buy gifts of jewellery for women…and that women just look pretty wearing diamonds. The industry is just now starting to wake up and realize that women now buy luxury goods for themselves. I think being (relatively) young and a woman offers an extra challenge; I go to a lot of meetings with suppliers or business partners who will address my male colleagues first even if I am the most senior in the room. And don’t get me started about ‘mansplaining!’ Typical example is a meeting where a female executive will voice an idea and be generally ignored until a male colleague will repeat the same idea almost word-for-word and the whole room will go ‘how brilliant!'”

What’s the best part of being a woman?

“I’m basically our target audience, along with every woman inside our company! I have loved spearheading our move towards women self-purchasers at Birks. Today it infuses everything we are doing, from product design to marketing to store experience. I also love inspiring younger generations of women and seeing them learn firsthand the role they can plan within an organization.”

What are your thoughts on the different female-led movements: Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp?

“These movements all represent a step in the right direction. They also force us to challenge what we have deemed “acceptable” or “normal” for so long. We take a lot of things for granted. (I mean, it was only in 1940 that women gained the right to vote in the province of Quebec!). In the Trump era we also run the risk of going backwards on a lot of rights previously gained, and we absolutely cannot allow that to happen.”

Farah Mohamed, CEO of Malala Fund & Founder of G(irls)20 Summit

What challenges do you feel women have overcome over the last year?

“If we are looking at Saudi Arabia, we have seen progress in a woman’s mobility with the change in law that will allow women to drive. If we are looking at Nigeria, we are seeing signs of progress toward guaranteeing that every girl will have access to 12 years of safe and quality education. In the global north, in places like Canada and the USA it would be an understatement to say that there has been a resurgence of the voice of women who will no longer tolerate sexual harassment.  None of these are simple challenges to overcome and each needs to be recognized for its impact on local, national, and global communities.”

How do you feel about IWD’s theme this year: #PressForProgress?

“Although I am not really big on themes, I do see merit in rallying around something that people can personalize and make their own.  As ownership is a great motivator for change, I hope the theme this year will result in real change and will bring more people into the pursuit of gender equality.”

Do you feel there’s an adequate representation of women in your industry?

“The social profit sector is an amazing place for women; it is an inclusive, positive, soul fulfilling, challenging sector that requires accountability, creativity, and patience.  Because of the nature of the challenges the sector tackles, it is a hard sector for women and men but all things worth fighting for like girls’ education are.”

What are your thoughts on the different female-led movements: Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp?

“I feel as though this past year has given way for people who really never saw themselves as feminists or champions of equality to become involved.  I applaud the actions of those who have been active and engaged; yet, I am frustrated that in the 21st century we still have to battle sexist, oppressive, backward, juvenile and in some cases, criminal behaviour.  Study after study, example after example show that the advancement of women is good for everyone, so I have to shake my head at the fact that here we are in 2017 having to fight for basic rights and opportunities. What I would like to see is a world where my 10-year-old niece doesn’t have to fight for her right to be at the table, be safe in the workplace and that she can be recognized for her talent, determination, and hard work. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that all girls have access to free, safe, and quality secondary school education so they can choose their own future.”

 

Dr. Alaa Murabit, Canadian Physician & United Nations High-Level Commissioner 

What challenges do you feel women have overcome over the last year?

“I think the greatest stride that has been made is that women’s voices are being heard more in mainstream media and issues which impact our collective communities are being taken in a more serious light. This came down to women who refused to stay silent in a time of cultural, political, and social misogyny. Having worked on women’s rights for nearly ten years, what makes this past year most interesting has been the social justice and environmental justice activists, advocates and leaders who are now connecting the dots between the issues they feel passionately about, and the inclusion of women. We’ve seen this inclusive approach translated into some of the key movements of the past year as well. And what I find most encouraging is a recognition that you can not improve or truly address issues of racism, classism, climate or security without the inclusion of all women, not only those we have traditionally amplified.”

How do you feel about IWD’s theme this year: #PressForProgress?

“Its such an interesting theme only because it, like most other things, puts the onus entirely on women. As though we have not been pressing for progress for centuries. All great cultural change, including the advancement of women, stems from a disruption of the status quo and of the norms which govern our societies. And yet, in many ways we continue to perpetuate traditional and existing norms and institutions while still hoping or expecting some sort of grand scale cultural shift—that will not happen. We need to be deliberate about creating a different framework so that women who do have a voice, who have agency, can see themselves and their goals reflected in different movements and vehicles.

It is past due that we publicly challenge institutions, companies and individuals who benefit from the exclusion of women and put the onus on them to act. It parallels what Chris Rock said about racism and the onus being on white people—we need to feel the same way about sexism, and the onus being on men.

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense.  To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t.”

What’s the hardest about being a woman in your industry?

“The greatest challenge is that our social norms do not teach us to assume women should be leadership roles. It is not normalized, and so everyday I walk into work having the extra burden of almost teaching people I am qualified, not only to men, but women as well. I read something recently that brings much of it to light; in a Gallup poll about the gender preference of your boss (that they have been conducting since 1953) employees, both male and female, consistently prefer a male boss. When you preface this with the reality that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, it begs the questions: have enough employees even experienced having a women boss to know what that would actually be like? And further to that, once a woman does ascend up that chain of command, she often has to employ the same techniques and strategies as her male counterparts, so what would those stats say if we were actually looking at companies with equal women’s employment, retention and long term opportunity strategies? What would those numbers say if we didn’t treat women’s leadership like a limited competition, but rather a natural expectation of handwork and merit? Further to that, what can be said for the clear lack of leadership opportunities and roles for women of colour? Immigrant women? Refugees? Members of the LGBT community? Women with disabilities?”

What’s the message you would give to aspiring young women?

“Surround yourself with people who tell you your goals are within reach and expand what your goals are. Take it easy on yourself—society teaches us that we have to be a million things, and we shouldn’t be a million others. When I first started I was 21, a few decades younger than most people I worked with. I was immediately told to wear blazers more, to avoid wearing pink because it is too girly, wear heels to ‘make myself seem larger’ since I am 5’2, and to get a voice coach because, when I give speeches, sometimes my ‘pitch is so high’ that people stopped listening.’ I never listened; I created jobs for myself because I knew what I was passionate about. I work daily with CEOs, heads of state and people. I wear heels if I want to, pink if I want to, and I’ve surrounded myself with mentors who give me pointers and tips on how to be a better leader: more well read, more thoughtful and more empathetic. So, I guess my greatest piece of advice, other than believing in yourself and finding others that do as well, is if you ever find yourself somewhere where you’re not seen and appreciated, then find somewhere and someone that does.”

What are your thoughts on the different female-led movements: Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp?

“I am cautiously optimistic. I believe that this is an extremely rare moment where—local and international—societies and industries are coming to realize the importance of having women at the table and recognizing that if they are not the ones to push it and ensure it, governments would not act on their own to promote and institutionalize women’s inclusion and security. My hope is that we go one step further, rather than simply speaking or marching. We institutionally transform industries and governments so that this energy and commitment stands the test of time—and of attention spans.  A protest or march without further robust action and legal change is incredible for engagement and solidarity. But if we truly want greater representation of women within national and international bodies, the promotion of monitoring and reporting on women’s rights, greater resource allocation, a more accountable media, and, above all, the prioritization of the voices and experiences of women who do not traditionally have access to a platform, then we need to be strategic and harness this energy and passion into something long term.”

 

                Photography by Ted Belton

Lesley Hampton, First Nations Fashion Designer, Founder & Creative Director for Lesley Hampton

What challenges do you feel women have overcome over the last year?

“I feel women have overcome many challenges this year, but one challenge that stands out the most is silence. I feel this year truly began the shift to a ‘peoples’ world. Women (especially in the film industry) have risen up and come together to finally shed light and end the elephant in the room: constant harassment from men, or being manipulated and suppressed by men with power. It has trickled to the fashion industry, with fashion weeks providing models with private changing rooms backstage, hidden from wandering eyes and cameras.” 

How do you feel about IWD’s theme this year: press for progress?

“Women would not have accomplished what they have so quickly without social media and press. The momentum that #MeToo received was truly inspiring and in that it is perfectly themed for what’s going on right now with the media and all the brave women coming out to show solidarity. It’s also motivating for all people to keep pushing in the direction of  gender equality.”

What’s the hardest part about being a woman in your industry?

“Diversity and representation for real-bodied women on the runway, online, and in magazines. To rise against any stereotypes of female gossip and rumours, and to become a Wolfpack of all women fighting for a progressive society.”

What’s the best part of being a woman?

“Women are powerful! The best part of being a women is realizing and embracing your personal strength and then using it to empower yourself and other women.”

What are your thoughts on the different female-led movements: Women’s March, #MeToo, and #TimesUp? 

“Inspiring! It takes a lot of courage to do what those women have done, and it takes strength, unity, and determination to get the momentum that it has. I am proud of women this year for breaking the silence and no longer settling for anything other then their rights as human beings.”

 

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