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3 Ways to Empower Women at Work: On International Women’s Day and Beyond

How to cultivate networks, financial literacy and confidence that level the playing field for women.

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BY Rana el Kaliouby - 07 Mar 2019

how to empower women at work

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

March 8th is International Women's Day: a time for us to celebrate women's successes and contributions. More importantly, it's a call to action to continue the fight for gender parity.

Inequality exists in nearly all corners of our society, but the tech industry in particular is still a "boys club" in many ways. Women make up less than 20 percent of tech jobs, and hold less than 5 percent of leadership positions. Equally concerning is the fact that female-founded companies receive less than 3 percent of all VC funding.

As a female founder and CEO, this is something I've experienced first-hand; and, I feel a responsibility to use my platform to enact change. Here are three ways that we can level the playing field for women.

1. Promote financial literacy for women.

Historically, women are less likely to be financially independent than men (though recent studies suggest that's beginning to change!). This was true for me growing up in Cairo, Egypt. For most of my life, I was financially dependent on my father, and then my husband. Suddenly, a few professional and personal milestones later, I found myself single, in America, and unsure of where to start in terms of managing my finances.

We need to promote financial literacy for women from an early age. We don't have to wait until women are wealthy or own businesses before having these conversations, as ensuring education early on will enable women to understand how money flows, and see themselves as asset owners. This needs to happen in academic settings, but it's also on us as women to be good mentors to young people.

Investing in financial education pays off--literally. When women are financially independent and successful, they're able to invest in organizations and other women that they believe in. There are some inspiring examples of powerful women doing this already, including Melinda Gates, whose fund Pivotal Ventures is dedicated to empowering women and people from diverse backgrounds.

2. Create our own networks and opportunities.

Whether you're a CEO or just starting your career, it's a well-known fact that networking is one of the most powerful tools to have in your arsenal.

We know this to be true, and yet, in conversations I've had with other women, it's clear that we often lack the networks and opportunities that our male counterparts have. If you consider the fact that there are drastically fewer women in tech and leadership than men, our pool of potential peers to network with is naturally smaller. So we need to take a more active role in cultivating our networks.

That's not to say that women should seek female-only networks, but it's helpful to partner and connect with women who can advocate for you, and who have experience navigating the unique challenges that we face as women. These connections can translate to a network full of people you can tap into for new job opportunities, advice or mentorship. On a larger level, this can mean financial gains for your company, more women on boards, and more career paths--all you need to do is take time to build those relationships and speak up in asking for what you need.

Affectiva recently hosted a dinner for women in tech and A.I., including founders, CEOs and investors. It was so powerful to see the strength of our community once we came together. I'm already starting to see synergies and connections with these women that will only continue to grow.

3. Close the confidence gap.

Contrary to common belief, women are actually just as confident as men are. Still, we express that confidence differently. At the recent female founders dinner we hosted, people shared stories of being more modest in selling themselves and promoting their companies. I've certainly caught myself doing this, too.

For example, in investor meetings, my instinct is to be conservative and use phrases like "I think" or "I believe" when discussing future plans. I--and other women--should feel free to be more scientific and assertive when talking about growth. It's totally acceptable for my male counterparts to do so, and they don't use the same subjective language I mentioned - they state their case as facts. If we want the same outcomes as men, we need to project our inner-confidence outwards, even if it's uncomfortable at first.

For International Women's Day 2019, I challenge you to take one action that can help a woman you know to be successful. It could be something small, like passing along a job opportunity. Or perhaps you could host your own local gathering of female founders or professionals in your field.

 

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