Alone, I have a limited impact on the world today. Collectively, we are living proof of the difference and leaps of improvements we can make to forge women’s equality for future generations.
In the final leg of YWLC’s International Women’s Day event, we spoke to giants on whose shoulders we stand on today and dive deeper into what being an ally means with Alan Ho (VP of International Marketing at DataStax), Christine Amour-Levar (Founder of Women on a Mission & HER Planet Earth), and Corinna Lim (Executive Director of AWARE).
Checklist for a good ally
We are still far from having attained a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. In a near-universal anecdote for speakers across various industries: whenever she goes to meetings, conferences, or events, almost certainly she will be one of the few women in the room.
So, calling attention to the people who have made it to the room. How can you become a good ally for women’s rights?
In exploring the definition of an ‘ally’, Alan and Christine refute the connotation of “us [men] against you [women]” as if in combat. For Alan, allyship is a way for individuals to become collaborators through common goals. The intended outcome is for women's participation in the workforce.
Christine looks at allyship as a lifelong commitment. “Supporting people who have no voice” is a critical imperative for an ally who recognizes privileges in their personal lives and takes concrete actions to elevate people who may have barriers in front of them.
Corinna sets up the context for the antonym of ‘ally’, describing sexism as a thinking that women are inferior to men. A good ally is someone who is “aware of their own privilege and wants to make a difference”. Equally as important as their own intentions are, an ally is also “open to listening to the group of people they are supporting”.
Real stories to drive change
As a start, Alan shares insights as a volunteer at She Loves Data, a non-profit social enterprise that helps women from diverse backgrounds become data and digitally literate. With a focus on opening up job opportunities for women who want to re-enter the workforce, one of the priorities was to develop a safe environment for teaching with unrestricted access to learning tools. Over 1,000 women have benefited from the program in the last 12 months.
Christine gives a candid lowdown on her two NGOs: Women on a Mission & HER Planet Earth. Focusing on fundraising and advocacy, Women on a Mission returns the money raised to existing charities that have programs in place to support women who are affected by violence such as female survivors of war, domestic abuse, and human trafficking. HER Planet Earth vets charities through environment-focused lenses that empower women with livelihoods that are very compatible with nature. For example, earmarking funds to support women in Kenya who care for rescued baby elephants who are a huge part of the local ecosystem.
Giving highlights of AWARE, Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group, Corrina describes various services provided such as a women’s helpline and a new workplace harassment and discrimination advisory. “If we can’t change [government] policies, we will train the community,” she shares, with an example of plugging a systemic gap through providing training workshops for leadership and HR to handle workplace harassment cases.
Myth that women do not support women
All eyes were on Alan as the moderator tackled the next big issue: are there women who are actively against women? He disagreed. At She Loves Data, he recognized that in a predominantly male tech environment, he worked with a majority-male volunteer group as trainers.
Throughout her global career, Christine reflects on why it was mostly men who helped to give a leg up on the career ladder, thoughtfully attributing it to the fact it might be that it was also mostly men who filled up leadership positions. “My personal experience is that women definitely support women,” Christine says, matter of fact, “I have made it my life mission to encourage women to support other women who are in need. […] And I do believe they take concrete actions [towards this goal]. They even climb mountains with me to show that they will go beyond writing a cheque.”
At this point in time, AWARE is a wholly women-run organization. Drawing from her experience at AWARE, Corrina gave a fresh perspective that both men and women can be guilty of enforcing patriarchal values. For some women, if put in a very competitive and male-dominated industry, there is a possibility of a slippery slope: in successfully navigating various challenges on their own and rising to the top, they willingly perpetuate the system without “making it easier for any other women that come after me”. According to research from AWARE, Corrina gives a magic number of having at least 30% of women in the workforce to avoid cultivating such an unhealthy working environment.
Any last thoughts on enacting changes in the communities we are in?
The Journey Starts with asking questions — asking yourself what you care about & what you want to take a stand for.
Know Yourself to navigate your own privilege — be open to listening to the experience of the people you are supporting.
Being an Ally is a lifelong commitment — to support people with no voice; to take concrete actions & bring others along in the journey.
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Moderator: Caren Tso