Cavelle Joseph got people in Trinidad and Tobago to talk about gender equality in the workplace more than a decade ago and she still hasn’t shut up. “I am not a docile person,” she readily confesses. “There is so much to be done to ensure that there is parity. There has been some movement but not enough.
” Today, the fearless human resource executive is still pressing for progress and her voice continues to ring loud and clear in multiple forums, championing for women to enjoy the same opportunities as men for remuneration, promotion and advancement in whatever field they choose.
While her current post as human resource executive at the National Insurance Property Development Company Limited spans all strategic aspects of the business – from general and administrative management, to training, employee and labour relations, conflict resolution and consultancy skills – she began her career volunteering. As an ambitious young lady, Cavelle embarked on a legal career after graduating from the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies with a degree in economics and law. However, on her return home to Port of Spain, she got involved in the family business and found her calling.
“I realized I had a passion for people in the work space and I developed a love for HR [human resources] and I decided to pursue my Masters in HR and I volunteered . . . with an organization that assisted people who were HIV-positive.” For eight years she served as the board secretary for South AIDS Support and got her appetite wet for dealing with issues relating to protocol and governance.
Her track record for excellence preceded her and she landed the post of fund raising director on the board of another organization, where she developed mentorship programmes for young girls. “That was my introduction into the women’s movement.” Cavelle transformed the low profile organization, raising significant funds to underpin its expansion, and at same time took up a new role— speaking out on issues affecting women.
“I started to speak on several platforms. I began as an advocate for sexual harassment legislation so I did a number of panel discussions, then I joined the movement to end child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago.
The organization became more active and vocal during my tenure and I was invited to speak on a number of platforms, morning television programmes, and in other media.” That introduction has long since bloomed into a relentless passion that led Cavelle to serve in various capacities at home and abroad where she has helped to shaped critical programmes and policies to advance the cause of women.
She currently sits on the board of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies Advisory Board and the Industrial Relations Advisory Committee, among others. Cavelle is also an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Human Resource Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago and was a former president of the Association of Female Executives in Trinidad and Tobago. She has delivered presentations at the World Human Resources Development Congress and is listed among the 100 most influential global HR practitioners. Her success on the corporate ladder and beyond has, however, not shielded her from the challenges women all over face daily.
“Being a woman, there is an expectation of how you should be. Sometimes when you are vocal and you have a male manager and a male board, sometimes even with your fellow women, there is this expectation that you must be quiet and docile and not say much and go along with the status quo, as opposed to contributing and having a different opinion.
“I am a vocal person and therefore there are times when they sideline you and not provide you with opportunities versus other managers. I have experienced being victimized for standing up for what is right.” Undaunted, Cavelle has met every threat head on and uses her experiences to better defend the rights of women. In a frank assessment of the current state of affairs as it relates to the treatment of women in Trinidad and Tobago, Cavelle says there are commendable pockets of progress but, sadly, lingering failures.
“We have certainly seen some ceilings being broken. For example, in T&T we did have a female prime minister and now we are preparing to welcome our first female president. So we do have one or two women in terms of those that have cracked the ceiling. We have a number of women being appointed judges; a number of women who are doctors, engineers; and women entering careers that were traditionally male dominated.
“However, when we look at boards and women serving on boards . . . you may have one or two women on the board. Statistically, women are graduating, they are coming out qualified but yet these opportunities are not being made available to them.” She is also concerned that there remain unfair practices in other sectors that undermine and belittle women. “Especially in the warehousing type of environment that is not unionized, there is inequality in the pay; same thing in construction—a female labourer and a female welder are unlikely to make as much money as a male. “When you look at the whole issue surrounding domestic workers as well, that is another category of women severely abused by their employers.
Not only emotionally, they are not even paid what is due to them—the minimum wage, contributions towards National Insurance.
They are sometimes also the victims of sexual abuse by the husbands or people within the households as well. That is a special category of women that are exposed.” What infuriates Cavelle most, though, is rampant domestic violence. “In Trinidad and Tobago, rates of domestic violence are very high. I don’t know if because we have had progress in one way we are seeing repercussions with how men see this and are reacting in a violent way. We have to understand the psychology of what’s happening and do some research around it to determine what is happening and why this violence is so prevalent, because it threatens us when our young girls have to witness this form of violence at home. It shapes their lives and sometimes they themselves become the victims, whether they are abused sexually or physically.”
Cavelle remains determined to turn the tide and she wants to see more men joining the fight to make a real difference. “I do believe women are talking to each other but we are not talking to the men. We need men to champion some of these causes; we need men to go out there. It is a whole mindset that needs to shift and we cannot do it by talking to ourselves.”
This International Women’s Day she urges women to break the silence and to ditch complacency. “We have to be willing to speak up, let our voices be heard and be willing to take bold moves. We are seeing the #MeToomovement; these things happen for a reason. No longer should we be contented with our lot in life. That would be my advice more than anything else because we do have a number of young girls coming up looking at us and we have to be that voice.
“We have to understand that we play a key role in the world and no longer be willing to sit back and be pushed aside or cast aside, we have to willing to speak up now. Rise and be heard.”