How every City Girl could Press For Progress

Having spent most of the morning of International Women's Day caught up in the social media bubble, I felt compelled to write some thoughts of my own on the subject of closing the gender gap. This was originally published on the City Girl Network site, but I wanted to share it with my readers on here, too.

If we keep going how we're going, it'll be 217 years before the gender gap closes. 

217 years. That's around 7 generations away, if we're going by the average age of having children at 28 - and, let's face it, that number will get older every year.

As many may be aware, this prediction was revealed in the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, inspiring the team behind the International Women's Day organisation to use their platform to encourage advocacy on a global scale. 

"We can't be complacent", their mission statement says.

No, we can't.

This is an incredibly exciting time for women. The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have opened up household conversations about sexual harassment. The #WhereIsMyName campaign gained global support in fighting the stigma around using the names of Afghan women in public. 

Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan scrapped a law that enabled a rapist to be exempt from punishment if he married his victim. 

Then there's This Girl Can, Our Time Now, Hunger For Freedom, Period Poverty, She Votes, Ask Her To Stand, Upskirting and so many more campaigns fighting for the rights and equality of women worldwide.

It's exhilarating, empowering and fuelling positive change.

And it's undeniable that the thousands of 'women empowerment' initiatives out there are pressing for progress, as International Women's Day is encouraging us to do. 

But having spent the best part of two years building a community of young women, I fear that even with these incredible initiatives in place, I won't be alive to see the gender gap close. 

Frankly, my conscience will not allow me to stay quiet about this. 

 Taken at the Bristol Girl Christmas Party, by Sophie Carefull

Taken at the Bristol Girl Christmas Party, by Sophie Carefull

For those who are unaware of the City Girl Network, it's a social network created to empower, inspire and support young women to call their cities home. It's all about making friends, connecting to where you live and combatting loneliness. 

With our first birthday as a business coming up next week and with all of the International Women's Day content floating around, it's safe to say I've spent a lot of time reflecting. 

I'm a 25-year-old female entrepreneur creating a tech start up. It's disruptive, innovative and forward-thinking, as business jargon would call it. I'm one of the 17% of women marching through this male-dominated stomping ground. 

However, there have been countless occasions when men have disregarded me as a part of that space. It's not been accepted that I'm working on an MVP - as so many start up educators actively encourage - so my innovation plans aren't listen to. Many assume it's a not-for-profit or a charity because "that's what women do". And the thought of it being anything other than just a little project is difficult for some to grasp - I'm pretty sure that Mark Zuckerberg didn't get any of this shit.

My attitude to these remarks is a "prove them wrong" mentality, but it's infuriating that I've built a 'customer base' of nearly 4000 people with an MVP product, but male techies with just an idea and zero customers are welcomed into the club.

To be absolutely clear here, there are a lot of men who've shown great support to the City Girl Network. But I feel it's important to call out the behaviours of those who don't - to raise awareness and help other tech women experiencing this.

That being said, this is not the greatest reason why I'm concerned. My concerns stem from the conversations and anecdotes shared within the network, both online and at every meet up.

What I'm referring to here is everyday sexism. 

 Taken at the Brighton Girl Coffee Meet Up, by Lucie McAdams

Taken at the Brighton Girl Coffee Meet Up, by Lucie McAdams

Our meet ups have seen countless conversations over equal pay, cat calling, upskirting, bum squeezing and reluctance over going for better jobs. Discussions that are absolutely vital. 

However, the fear comes from how integrated and casual these conversations are introduced. 

We don't meet up to talk about feminist issues. We meet up to make new friends, get to know each other, talk about our city and share work, travel and relationship advice. They're conversations that promote individual lifestyles. 

But at the majority of our meet ups, you'll find a group of girls strategising how another girl could approach her company over equal pay, pay rises, promotions or even harassment. There have been countless conversations over streets we shouldn't walk down, bars we shouldn't go to and businesses we shouldn't support because of discomfort and mistreatment. 

These stories aren't being shared to raise awareness or turn us all into activists - they're just stories we're sharing with girlfriends. 

The thing is, whilst there are plenty of campaigns out there trying to combat these very issues and doing an incredible job at shouting for the rights of women worldwide, we're not all activists. 

We're not all confident enough to stand up and call people out on their bullshit. 

And even when the incredible activists amongst us succeed and legal changes are made, it takes far too long to infiltrate in society. Unwanted boob touching is sexual harassment, yet the majority of cases end up being just a story to share over coffee. 

Everybody interprets change in different ways. Some personalities shout loudly until the job's done, the majority are more subtle. And whilst the loud voices could change the law, it's the subtle ones who can change the norm.

 The very first Bristol Girl group photo, taken by Sophie Carefull

The very first Bristol Girl group photo, taken by Sophie Carefull

The International Women's Day organisation is right: collectively, we can all play a part. And, in my opinion, what would cut down the years is a quiet revolution. 

My favourite moments around the City Girl Network have always stemmed from success stories over pay rises, promotions, equal pay and saying no to uncomfortable situations as a direct result of conversations that have happened in the network. That, for me, is a quiet revolution.

It's the 'empower, inspire, support' that we champion so passionately, encouraging women to say "of course, you can ask for more money" and "you can wear what you want". It's the subtle questioning of a girl who's doubting her capabilities at work and in life.

The more you say it, the more it'll stick.  

And, all the while, the quiet revolution should be fuelling the game changers with social shares, donations and introducing others to the cause. 

We absolutely need to press for progress. We need companies like Vodaphone with their 'Connected She Can' campaign to help pave a brighter future for women. We need, more than ever, for the activists amongst us to shout as loud as they can. 

But we also need to fuel our daily conversations with the belief that the gender gap can close. 

Then maybe, just maybe, the predictions for 2235 will come to light sooner than we think.