by Jill Zelmanovits
Girl Guides of Canada – CEO – Keynote Listener
When it comes to creating a more equitable world for girls and women, lately it feels like we’re always taking one step forward, and two giant steps back. As equality has our attention on International Women’s Day, I’m incredibly proud as the CEO of Girl Guides of Canada to belong to an organization that has always put girls first. At Girl Guides, we believe in a gender-balanced world and creating #BalanceforBetter. We’ve seen firsthand that when girls have an all-access pass to opportunity and leadership roles, it can propel them to amazing things and make a real difference as they navigate a world that puts plenty of barriers in their way.
Helping girls see themselves as leaders – and anything else they want to be
Girls have told us all about the ways that inequality is holding them back. As our GGC Women in the Workforce report reveals, one in four girls aged 15-17 in Canada report that they don’t know any female role models who have their dream job. And one in four don’t feel motivated to pursue their chosen career because they are concerned they’ll be compensated less than their male counterparts. As one girl told us: “It’s hard to strive for excellence if you know that no matter how much work and effort you put in and how great you are, a man will always be paid more.” That’s exactly why at Girl Guides, we know how important it is to empower girls to strive to be everything they want to be.
One of the most powerful benefits of Guiding is the opportunity for girls to connect with women mentors from all backgrounds. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, from every imaginable career field. Every week, they help girls unleash their potential and see that girls can and SHOULD make a difference in the world. They inspire girls to not only see women as leaders, but also to see themselves as leaders. Of course, our volunteers often tell us they get just as much from these connections as girls do – they become change catalysts , one girl at a time.
How Guiding is helping re-shape the talent pipeline
We know that girls of influence become women of influence – community members and global citizens who go on to be innovators and leaders in their fields. Guiding empowers girls to be builders of their own future – in whatever career trajectory they choose. In a world that constantly whisper shouts at girls to dial it back and tone it down when it comes to expressing their ideas and aspirations, Guiding is that place where girls know they don’t have to hold back. Where there are no limits and where every leadership opportunity is open to them. It’s like their own personal talent and leadership incubator – where they can test out who they want to be and how they want to make their mark on the world.
Of course, #BalanceforBetter isn’t “just” a women’s issue – it affects everyone. In fact, gender inequality is bad for business and the economy. We know that women are currently underrepresented in many industries and at every level of corporate Canada – and that the gender pay gap is a persistent reminder of economic inequality. But while women and girls are inordinately impacted by unequal representation and unequal pay, industry is missing out, too. Workplaces stagnate when it’s the same old ideas, perspectives and experiences brought to the table. When half the population isn’t represented, there really isn’t any representation at all and it’s impossible to have real innovation or progress.
Ultimately, it can’t be just up to girls and women to crack and shatter the glass ceiling of inequality. We all need to step it up and start chipping away at gender inequality. We need to expose girls to diverse, amazing leaders and give them a chance to test-drive their budding leadership skills. To encourage them to turn up the volume on what they have to say and crank up their personal ambition dial. That’s what will create a better balance that we’ll all benefit from.