WE WOMEN: From left, US Ambassador to TT, Candace Bond, Scotiabank’s product delivery analyst Shamala Maharaj, Amcham president Toni Sirju-Ramnarine and Miss World/TT Ache Abrahams at Amcham’s ninth annual Women in Leadership conference on Friday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –

American Chamber of Commerce TT (Amcham TT) president Toni Sirju-Ramnarine said women and girls have always held the power to cope, survive, transform and build back better, even after every major life crisis or conflict. She said they must keep invoking and tapping into these powers to tackle gender inequality at all levels of society.

Speaking during the opening ceremony of Amcham’s 9th Annual Women in Leadership conference at the Hyatt PoS Ballroom on Friday, Sirju-Ramnarine said gender equity is the business of everyone.

“Changing mindsets and combating structural and institutional biases require every male, every female, every nonbinary person, every employer, every employee, and every leader today to step up and work together to build a fairer and safer world for all. Gender equity is the business of everyone.

“If we are going to provide opportunities for all our daughters to reach their fullest potential and ensure that they are safe and respected wherever they go, then we must accept that we each have a part to play to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out justice and inclusion in all spaces.”

She said TT should not ignore the realities that still face it, including period poverty, a lack of research into the physical and mental effects of perimenopause and menopause on women in the workplace, violence against women and girls, and the under-representation of women in technology, among others.

Sirju-Ramnarine said working women want fair and transparent pay schemes, rewards based on merit, the elimination of bias at every step of the hiring, training, and promoting processes, more fulfilling jobs which allow them to have a voice while maintaining respect and safety, and a choice in when, where, and how to do their work, especially coming out of the pandemic.

BOND SPEAKS OUT

Keynote speaker US ambassador Candace A Bond said integrating marginalised or excluded voices is not about restricting access.

“Including women is not at the expense of men. Rather, the goal of inclusion is ensuring balanced opportunity and access. Equity and inclusion are economic issues. Societies that exclude entire demographics, restrict access to opportunity, and stifle inclusion, pay an economic cost. For example, it is estimated that closing gender gaps in the workforce around the world would add between US$12 and US$28 trillion in global GDP.”

Bond said McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report found women are still dramatically underrepresented in leadership, with fewer women being promoted to managers, women leaders leaving their companies at higher rates, and being under-represented in technical roles.

“Women leaders are overworked and under-represented compared to men and they can face more bias and receive less support at work.”

She said the report showed flexible and remote work had the possibility to overcome some of the challenges women leaders face, as a majority of women prefer remote and hybrid work, and employees who can choose their work arrangements are less likely to leave.

“Millions of women and girls continue to face discrimination on all fronts, even as governments create and implement various policies, regulations, and institutions to promote gender parity. Discrimination is deeply rooted, even systemic and acceptable, in many societies and cultures. Gender equity and equality are at the very heart of human rights; therefore, it is paramount that we continue to forge ahead to find solutions and create opportunities for all affected.”

PAZOS: EMBRACE QUALITY

Scotiabank TT managing director Gayle Pazos said it was important to work together to remove barriers, increase opportunities, and improve representation for women.

“To embrace equity means to acknowledge there isn’t always a level playing field. We have different backgrounds and experiences that must be taken into consideration when determining the unique resources and support each of us needs to succeed. One size does not fit all. Equity addresses the systemic and societal systems that create obstacles that make it more difficult for some to succeed.”

Pazos listed some of the measures which Scotiabank was taking that could be useful to other organisations. These included: scheduling mandatory and continuous diversity and inclusion training for people leaders; ensuring compensation packages are fair; avoiding making assumptions and recognising unconscious biases; creating a safe space for employees to be heard and feel seen; and continuous learning.

PROMAN HEAD: LEARN & ADJUST

Proman managing director Aleeya Ali said the fact that male dominance in her industry has been changing over the years highlights the role of responsible and forward-thinking leaders in providing mentorship and growth opportunities equitably.

“My journey has been one of continuous improvement, analysing, learning, and adjusting. Often being afraid but knowing that courage and the willingness to openly say and do what others may not is often necessary. Nurturing a culture of learning and shared learning is critical to success.”

Ansa McAl chief legal and external affairs officer Frances Bain-Cumberbatch said women in the workplace are not often not given their fair due. She said many studies show they are perceived as playing a less influential role when they work with men on a group project, as the men are more likely to be assumed to be the leaders.

ADAPT & LEARN: Proman managing director Aleeya Ali speaks at the Amcham Women in Leadership conference. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –

She said there are systemic and deeply entrenched cultural factors which make it necessary for women to fight hard to be validly included, but “we must do our part by shaking it up – making sure we create space for ourselves.”

“We can be more proactive by being vocal about our achievements. Some of us still aren’t comfortable with claiming our work and accepting praise. Ladies, our contributions are a big deal, so learn to accept credit for them with humility and aplomb. We can claim sole ownership of specific and key tasks within a large project, and ensure that your contributions are clear to your male collaborators.

“We all have something to contribute, but it is not only important that we do it; it is important that we are seen to have done it.”