Amelia’s Liliana Mantilla shares her views on issues affecting women in the workplace as we mark International Women’s Day.
When I was asked to write a few words to commemorate International Women's Day, I began to think, what could I say that had not already been said? What new information could I contribute? And in doing so, I realized that it is not about saying something new, but quite the contrary: It is about repeating the message so that it reaches more and more people. Unfortunately, we must continue to say that a gender gap still exists at all levels and that this situation represents a serious problem, not only for women, but for society.
Despite all the evidence of inequality, there are still many people who do not understand why International Women's Day exists in the first place. So let’s clear up a few things. This is not a day of “celebration,” like an anniversary or a college graduation. It’s not about being congratulated for being women, or to receive flowers or discounts or gift cards. This is a day of commemoration for the struggle of women in the world for equality, justice, development and the effective recognition of their rights. It was instituted by the United Nations in 1977 to remember those who were the pioneers in the demand for equal rights and opportunities.
Unfortunately, 45 years later, women continue to experience injustice, violence and discrimination that prevents our society from advancing toward our full potential. For example, in my own country of Peru, 55% of women have suffered family violence, and Peru has one of the highest rates of physical and sexual violence against women worldwide. The illiteracy rate among women is more than twice as high as among men.
All these unfortunate situations are rooted in a common factor: a society that for many years has conditioned women to think that they are incapable and unworthy of reaching the same success levels as men. During childhood, it’s common for girls to be given dolls, toy blenders and irons, but science kits, dinosaurs, cars, etc. are reserved for boys. We grew up with stories that featured helpless princesses who had to be rescued by strong princes, which only reinforces misguided notions that women always need saving, or are unable to save themselves. These are harmful messages that continue to be communicated within our society, and therefore it’s logical that when women see an opportunity for advancement in our work or personal lives, it is difficult for us to take it.
In my case, as with many women, I have suffered situations of harassment — as a child, teenager and in my adult life. On the work front, I have been fortunate to work for many years in a company where I was able to develop a successful professional career. However, like other women, along the way I have gone through difficult situations, ones that were made all the more challenging when I became a mother and had to work that much harder than my male peers to perform at the same level.
I’ve had many discussions with managers, directors and workers, here in Peru and in different countries, about the low participation of women in senior positions in technology. Almost everyone has an opinion as to why this is the case, but what’s clear is that companies can implement action plans to promote equity in the workplace.
These plans can have different components — hosting and supporting STEM career groups and job fairs; implementing a mentoring program to team industry veterans with new workers to encourage career development; establishing and supporting proper workplace harassment protocols and procedures, and mandating training policies on gender and equity, to name a few.
No matter the workplace, it’s always beneficial for one to stop and reflect: Am I doing my best to reduce inequalities between men and women? Are there others out there trying to do the same thing? How can we work together to enable change? Whatever the answers, the important thing is to put those answers into action — and I’m positive that they can contribute to creating a better future.
Liliana Mantilla is an Engagement Manager at Amelia Peru. Click here to read her Women in AI profile.