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Whose history will you change?

Published 28th March 2018

WiNIT

With our focus this month being on the theme of women, we are pleased to share this insight into how you can affect change in the world, as well as the workplace. Thank you to Dawn Repoli, Executive Director and COO of WINiT, a network of women and men focused on the career development, visibility and promotion of women in the travel, meeting, event and exhibition industries.

"Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women” - Maya Angelou

A few months ago, I was on an international flight back to the US. I noticed a young woman boarding the plane with two other women. The younger woman took her seat, which happened to be right next me, and I immediately sensed something was off about the young woman and her companions. Over the course of the flight, through her broken English and my limited Spanish, I grew more and more certain that this young woman was a victim of human trafficking. I struggled with the decision to say something to the flight crew. What if I was wrong? What if I created a problem that didn’t exist? Letting my intuition and knowledge that our partners at ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) continue to promote and share, I notified the flight crew about my concern. Through their subsequent observations, they agreed. The plane landed in New York, and a full-scale investigation took place, confirming my suspicions about the safety and security of this young woman. Seeing the elation and relief on the face of that young woman as she was escorted off the plane by US authorities, free from her captors and hopefully toward the process of being reunited with her family, was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Saying something is a choice

The choice to say something can make a real and lasting impact on the lives of others. This experience has given me a new lens through which to see so many things, personally and professionally. As the executive director of a non-profit focused on changing the careers and lives of women, I encourage every one of our members and leaders to consider how they can personally step up, be present, and use their voice and actions to change history - for others and for themselves.

Consider how many times you’ve witnessed or been involved in a situation in the workplace where the opportunity to influence someone’s experience or, ultimately an outcome, has presented itself. You saw something. Did you say something? If not, why? Did you fear it would have an impact on your own professional or personal reputation or progress? Fear is a very powerful emotion, one that many people struggle to move past, but when harnessed, it can affect significant, positive change. In reality, most situations you face where you must overcome your fear of saying something will leave you feeling more empowered, more fearless.

Whether it’s recognising a colleague’s efforts, negotiating your own salary increase, or voicing that a person is being overlooked and treated unfairly, so much progress can be realised through simply speaking up and taking action. Here are a few steps you can take tomorrow that can change the course of history for women, even if it’s one woman at a time:

  • Nominate a colleague for an award or accolade
  • Sponsor a more junior professional to help ensure she is visible and considered for growth opportunities
  • Engage in conversations with women and men about the importance of increasing visibility and opportunities for women
  • Institute and champion a “see something, say something” policy – informally or with the support of your HR organisation

With International Women’s Day now past and Women’s History Month coming to a close, I invite you to pause to reflect on the incredible number of women and men who have changed the course of history for women. Their legacy has paved the way for progress, but others must serve as stewards of that legacy, maintaining the momentum and forward movement toward gender parity. One of the most valuable lessons my experience with the young woman taught me was that small but great steps really do have the power to drive significant change. You just have to take the first step!