Changing Perspectives: On International Women’s Day 2024, here are 3 actions for allyship

Pawena Kaniah
By Pawena Kaniah | 5 March 2024
Pawena Kaniah.

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiences to inspire us all to change for the better.

When I entered the Australian media scene not too long ago, I was excited to attend International Women’s Day (IWD) seminars and conferences.

Discussions at these events spanned from the progress of women in high-paying roles to parental accommodations, the gender pay gap, and recognising imposter syndrome and the confidence gap. Break-up circles buzzed with brainstorming activities, focusing on action-oriented themes for the next generation of women in the workforce post-barrier-breaking. The shift towards making workspaces safer and attuned to the needs of women —menstruation policies, accommodations for miscarriages, and postpartum return-to-work support — was palpable.

Yet as I walked away from a conference in my first year, a sense of being drained, empty, and dejected lingered. When a colleague asked for my thoughts, I realised what was missing. I felt unseen. The workshops were about women, but not about women of colour.

Four years on, do I feel more included? Honestly, not until I deliberately position myself and vocalise my lived experiences – which is an emotional labour asked of me that others don’t have to face.

Emotional labour: a personal perspective
What type of emotional labour, you ask? I’ll illustrate with a recent networking event where the conversation took a turn towards activities like golf outings and wine tastings, seemingly out of sync with my generational reach.

A colleague enthusiastically suggested, “Let’s plan a golf outing next weekend! It’ll be a blast!”

I replied, “Honestly, I’m not familiar with golf. How about we explore something different?”

Feeling the sting of isolation that often accompanies exclusion, I couldn’t help but reflect on the exclusion from these pivotal networking opportunities that women of colour often encounter, hindering not only professional connections but also the chance to establish vital relationships.

My journey in the media industry has been a constant negotiation between my cultural identity and the expected mainstream professional demeanour. This perpetual toggling has become an emotional labour, creating an internal conflict that forces me to question the balance between authenticity and assimilation.

Bridging the gap: actions for allyship and advocacy
As a people manager, I would like to offer three examples of actions I consciously apply to contribute to provide allyship and to advocate, while reminding myself to get better when it comes to including women of colour.
1. Giving platform to the “meek, timid, and more polite” voices in the room. People managers should always be willing to stand up for women who may be struggling with imposter syndrome and self-doubt and strive to create a safe environment in which they can speak their mind. Preventing someone from being overlooked isn’t only about coming in to allow someone to finish their sentence when another interrupts, it’s also about reading the room to recognise that someone has a body language that is screaming to be heard and needs some encouragement.
2. Disengaging from boys’ locker room talk. It can be hard to call out and challenge insensitive and distasteful language, especially when it’s happening unconsciously. Yet, it’s a point of reflection: if I’m being included in this kind of talk, why is that? What about my visible stances sent the message that I was okay with derogatory or demeaning language?
3. Listening to varied lived experiences and being empathetic. To really listen – not just hear – is an act of inclusivity. No single experience is universal so paying attention to someone’s lived experience is important.
I used to believe celebratory dates such as International women’s Day held no meaning. But I have learned over time that they do in the grander scheme of things.

Allyship requires ongoing education and self-reflection. We must continually challenge our biases, assumptions, and stereotypes and strive to learn from those who have different experiences and perspectives. I suggest taking the time today to reflect on our own biases and actions and commit to being better allies and advocates for everyone in the media industry.

Pawena Kaniah is Strategist at iProspect

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