Gender Equity Matters, Now and Always

by Annie Makela, Founding Director of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Women’s History Month provides the opportunity to double-click on some of the stories and values we teach and celebrate year-round at the Scott Center. This month we’ve been sharing and reflecting on stories of women and non-binary people whose work and lives resonate deeply with our community through their embodiment of the Hillbrook core values: Be kind. Be curious. Take risks. Be your best. 

One of my favorite ways that the Scott Center has engaged students around the idea of gender equity this past year was through our summer 2020 programming. Not only did I get to teach a group of middle and high schoolers about the importance and principles of gender lens investing, I also co-designed and taught a summer camp called Empowerful Girls for eight- to eleven-year-olds. Despite the challenges of the online learning environment, I focused on the core goal of having learners leave the week with a sense of what the word EMPOWERFUL means. On the second day of camp a student shared, “So you mean it’s when I feel powerful and then I share that feeling with someone else?” I love that interpretation. 

We read books that shared lessons of empowerful humans who have fought for equality and justice. We watched videos about SDG #5: Gender Equality. We created lists of things that made us feel empowered and powerful. The students loved that the word was made up and therefore allowed us a small, entrepreneurial experiment. What definition would we write to submit to the Oxford English Dictionary? If we were going to create an Emoji to match the definition of empowerful, what would it look like? (See below for camper Victoria’s vision!) On the last day of camp, I invited my dear friend and college classmate Shabana Basij-Rasikh to join us live, and she shared her story of the risks she faced to receive an education as a young girl when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, as well as her work founding and running School of Leadership Afghanistan

Victoria ’25’s Empowerful Emoji creations

Empowerful. I love this word so much it sometimes makes me smile just saying it outloud. If we were not virtual for camp, I would have ended the week with one of my favorite activities that, in bad translation, is called “Light Up This Room.” I learned it while working in Rwanda and visiting an amazing women’s empowerment organization. Seated in a circle in a pitch dark room, one woman is given a match to light her candle. Slowly that light is passed from candle to candle around the circle. Together we produce enough light to fill the room with a glow. Inevitably my flame flickers and the person next to me, whose candle is lit, carefully turns to share her light so that I can once again be seen and valued as part of the group. Empowerful. 

In this blog post, I am eager to share my light with some amazing colleagues, friends, students, and thought partners who answered three questions on the importance of gender equity. Though the idea of being in a room together to light each other’s candles has looked and felt very different this year, I hope that each of you reading this piece takes time to think about the people who have lit your candle and whose candles need lighting. Empowerful changemakers are the best sparks of hope and opportunity. 

Why does gender equity matter to you? 

Gender inequity is bad for everyone. As we know, all bias (e.g. racial, gender) hurts everyone – even those at the very top of the hierarchy – because it locks us into expectations of our roles in the hierarchy. Beyond the obvious harm it does to those below the very top of the hierarchy we have to ask, “what if do not feel like I belong in the group with which I have been lumped?” There is a price to be paid for excluding, limiting and fixing according to constructed hierarchies; what will we miss out by enforcing these arbitrary hierarchies? How do we imagine a world where we’re all treated equally regardless of our genders? — Matt Callahan, Associate Director of the Scott Center

I have a son and a daughter and I want them to both experience happiness and find success. Unfortunately for girls all over the world, data suggests they will not have equitable experiences. Even in countries with excellent gender equality norms, she will be more likely to do greater unpaid childcare and household work, less likely to be represented by a member of her gender in politics, less likely to feel she belongs in careers of technology and finance, and less likely to have a C-suite role in her career. Taking immediate action to counter COVID-19’s gender-regressive effects alone would result in $13 trillion in global GDP gains by 2030; that’s important for children of any gender! (Ten things to know about gender equality. McKinsey, 2020.) — Tori, Hillbrook Parent

Gender equity matters to me because if people are treated differently just because of their gender that will create an unfair and biased world. Also, there’s a bias that men and boys can’t cry. I don’t like this bias because you have to show your emotions or else they’ll bundle up inside you and make you angry. Once when I was in 2nd grade I wanted to cry but I didn’t because I thought people may make fun of me. I know there are people who don’t identify as male or female and I want to learn more about that. One way I could learn more about the nonbinarie community is to meet someone in that community and become friends. — Dean ‘23, Hillbrook Student

What are you doing to interrupt and fight gender bias? 

In my current role as CFO & COO at Hillbrook School, I have the opportunity to promote diverse and equitable hiring, retention and promotion within our school community. In a volunteer role that I hold as treasurer of my son’s scout troop, which is a majority of young boys and male leaders, I’m able to model and promote the importance of financial literacy and management as the scouts plan and execute outings and high adventure trips as well as fundraising efforts. They see me as a mom of one of their fellow scouts (my son) who helps prepare the meals at summer camp, but also as a leader and mentor of how to effectively manage their finances. —Margaret Randazzo, Hillbrook CFO & COO

There is a bias that girls don’t like to play basketball at school. During recess I noticed that none of the girls were playing basketball so I invited them to play the next recess. Also when I see a friend who is sad no matter how they identify, I would tell them that it’s okay to cry. — Dean ‘23, Hillbrook Student

I mentor several women at different levels in the organization at LinkedIn, including both individual contributors and managers. Another example is that there are several well-documented phenomenons about how women are treated in meetings and group discussions. I strive to be cognizant of those and help fight them, including watching for cues where I can pull a woman into a conversation and helping to make sure their contributions are heard and recognized. I attend Women in Tech events at LinkedIn and outside of LinkedIn. For example, I have had two opportunities to attend Grace Hopper Celebration. We regularly talk about the importance of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in my staff meetings and other management-type meetings. Lastly, I wrote an article about the importance of parental leave. — Chris, Hillbrook Parent

Who is a gender equity leader that inspires you? 

Chris Pruett inspires me. I got to interview him as part of a Reach Beyond Block and he shared so many great stories and examples of what allyship looks like and it has made me think differently about the role I personally can play in the work of gender equity. — Edis ‘20, Hillbrook Alum

Michelle Obama is an inspiring leader that has taught me and so many people the importance of gender equity. From the work she does with her organization, Girls Opportunity Alliance, that focuses on the importance of educating young girls around the world, to how she utilized her role as the First Lady of the United States to be an important advocate for education, poverty awareness, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating, it’s so inspiring. — Margaret Randazzo, Hillbrook CFO & COO

I am currently inspired by the poet Kate J. Baer. Her book is incredible, and her instagram Erasure Poetry underlines not only the hate women face online, but how a poet might use that as a fertile ground to explore gender equity. — Matt Callahan, Associate Director of the Scott Center

Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance (TED Talk: The work that makes all other work possible.) — Tori, Hillbrook Parent