International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. This year’s theme invites us to “Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated, and where we can unite together and forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.”
At a time when we live online as much as offline, at a time of global instability and crisis, it feels more important than ever to talk about how we can build a better, more inclusive world. With this premise, last week, the Avast Foundation organized a special IWD event to explore ‘how we can #BreaktheBias and create #DigitalFreedom across the world'.
A panel of five impressive women from the United Nations, Avast, Avast Foundation, Oxford Institute and the BBC gathered virtually to provide their insights into what these themes mean to them and what part we can play to help make them a reality.
We had the pleasure of hosting Dunola Oladapo, Chair of Avast Foundation Youth Leadership Board and part of the Digital Inclusion Team, the United Nations Agency for ICTs; Marianna Spring, Specialist Disinformation and Social Media Reporter at the BBC; Erin Gallegos, Head of Partnerships and Program Delivery at the Avast Foundation; Anna George, Academic Researcher at Oxford Internet Institute, part of Oxford University; and Dita Formankova, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Avast and Founder of Czechitas.
The panel was moderated by former BBC Chief News Presenter, Philippa Thomas, and hosted by Vita Santrucek, Chief Product Officer at Avast and sponsor of the Women@Avast resource group, and Chris Stein, Head of Grants and Insights at Avast Foundation.
Here are some of the key takeaways and their thoughts.
Dunola Oladapo was the first one to explore where we should start to focus to achieve a better, gender equal world for everyone. She highlighted that in order for this to be a reality there needs to be more equal access to resources and political power for everyone. She spoke about how gender inequality takes multiple forms, and needs to be fought on different levels, and particularly discussed the importance of digital inclusion. She stated, “to provide digital access to marginalised groups, we need a multistakeholder approach. We all need to work together to push the dial.”
The BBC Reporter, Marianna Spring, spoke about those that do have access to the internet, and abuse it, in the context of her recent research on online abuse. She explained how women’s freedom of speech online is being impacted by violent threats, gender slurs and all forms of online hate, putting them off from doing their jobs and attacking their personal security. She spoke about her personal experience dealing with this issue and how many women don't have support when dealing with these situations or even the opportunity to speak out about this. She said, “Women are disproportionately affected by online hate and feel like speaking about this makes them look weak or vulnerable. It is so crucial that we speak out on these issues if we can because it makes a difference.” She highlighted the importance of exposing the scale of the issue, to pressing it on the public and political agenda and how this has started to change the attitude towards online hate.
Erin Gallegos followed by detailing how “the world is diverse, but our institutions and centers of power don't reflect that diversity.” She touched base on how digital technologies have been great to create democratisation of access, which is a building block to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive world, but also how technology is recreating some of the worst parts of the offline world. “It is not an equitable or inclusive world now, even by default or design, and we lose these voices if we don’t provide safe spaces for them to be heard.”
As a woman in STEM, Anna George agreed that women in the sector are vastly underrepresented, how we need to increase diversity and how research has proven that having diverse perspectives leads to better outcomes in business and sports. The onus for her needs to be not on the individual: “we don’t need individuals to change to match structures, we need structures to change to match individuals. It shouldn’t be women’s responsibility to overcome the additional obstacles that they face. We need to change society to reduce these obstacles towards women.” She also pointed out how technology learns from biased information and inequality presence in our society, thus replicating or creating new bias, and how we need to hold organisations accountable.
Finally, Dita Formánková spoke about how companies can encourage equality in the workplace by diversifying candidate talent pools, addressing systemic biases, eliminating gender pay gap inequalities and ensuring leadership accountability. She provided some examples on how companies can address stereotypes and biases in selection processes and highlighted the importance of creating a safe environment where women can voice their views and concerns in all companies. “We are all aiming for an equitable and inclusive environment, where all voices are heard and have the same access. Only when we achieve representation from minorities, we can benefit from diversity and build more innovative resilient teams.”
The panel tackled some very interesting questions from the audience including what we can do to fight bias starting at a young age, the role social media plays in helping women being heard, the consequences of positive discrimination and how women can feel more confident in male-dominated industries.
Overall, the panel expressed hope regarding the new generation, where young women and girls around the world feel like they have the capacity to make change and are not asking for permission to speak out on this. But they all felt there was still much to be done.
In the words of Dunola: “It is one thing to invite someone to a party, and another one to go up to them and invite them to dance. You can feel when something is done just to tick a box and when you actually feel welcome and are part of the fabric of the community. Especially in the workplace, where people give their time, expertise, energy, the onus is on the organisation to go from diversity to inclusion, that is where true confidence, talent and contribution can come from.”
You can watch the full panel discussion here and subscribe to the Avast Foundation’s YouTube channel to see a special IWD playlist summarising some of the key statements.