The image of women in leadership has drastically transformed from what it once was. There was a time when society could not envision a woman at the helm, let alone a female candidate bidding for political power. While the current face of leadership in Barbados is evidence of the strides women have taken to reach greater heights, there is still the alarming fact that women are grossly underrepresented in leadership and governance.
The LeadHERship Institute was launched this year on the premise of addressing this underrepresentation with strategic interventions focused on governance, collaboration and empowerment. With collaboration at the core, the team is led by Ms Roshanna Trim and supported by Ms Taitu Heron, Ms Krystal Yearwood, Ms Khrystal Walcott, Ms Melisa Belle, and Ms Saamiya Cumberbatch. Together, we work to achieve the Institute’s overarching goal of building skills and removing barriers that may impede women’s advancement through programmatic interventions.
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we are challenged to #BreakTheBias, but many of us do not see where biases exist. The expectation that women must fulfill the primary responsibilities for childcare while working limits women’s participation in the workforce. The cultural norm that sees women engaging in unpaid care work for children and the elderly and spending longer hours on the job than their male counterparts is a stumbling block in the race to a gender-equal world by 2030.
Though we celebrate our first female President, second female National Hero, and a female Prime Minister, and the announcement of paternity leave for fathers, alleviating the imbalance of women as primary caregivers, we also must expand our focus to women in leadership and governance.
Leadership remains one of the cornerstones of gender bias insofar as men dominating leadership and decision-making roles, whether in politics, economics, religion, or otherwise. It is not only considered normal but natural. Democratic strengthening has not grown at an optimal pace to level the playing field, with only 20 per cent of the island’s Parliament comprising women. When there is gender bias in governance, decisions are made primarily by one group, omitting a more inclusive process of decision making that includes data, analysis and solutions which reflect the diversity of the population.
At this stage of Barbados’ development, the bias must be broken in every sphere of life to achieve the vision of gender equality. It means the recognition of male privilege and the ability to have difficult conversations with a just and peaceful resolve. It means that women are no longer silenced in dominant spaces but, rather, given freedom of expression and room to thrive. As a new Republic, now is the time for Barbados to cultivate an environment that empowers young women to lead, aspire and innovate; and most importantly, to be valued as change-makers to improve governance. This is the gap the LeadHERship Institute will fill in the future as we collaborate with a network of women’s organisations to equip women and girls to become authentic change makers.
This article appears in the 2022 edition of our International Women’s Day feature. Read the full publication here.