W4 spoke with Mariela Dabbah, inspirational leader of The Red Shoe Movement, about the challenges that women face in the workplace and what her movement is doing to improve career development opportunities for women around the world.
Why is gender equality in the workplace an issue for everyone?
Mariela emphasizes that this is a huge challenge in every single country around the world. Women own and manage over 30% of all businesses, but these tend to be micro and small enterprises and, while women sit on 19% of board seats globally, only 5% or less of the world’s largest corporations’ CEOs are women.
And yet, as Mariela says:“There is immense value in having more women at the highest levels. Tons of studies show how women at the top of organizations can improve sales, get better returns on investments, reduce turnover, etc. And it is the same with investment in women in society in general.”
How can we address the lack of women in high-level corporate positions? What can women themselves do?
The Red Shoe Movement strongly believes that corporations need to re-engage their female employees to prevent them from getting stuck in middle-management positions. Structures, policies and procedures within organisations: many of these need revamping in order to adjust to a more equal workplace. Reinventing the leadership development model and promoting women’s access to decision-making positions is crucial. This empowerment has to be a collective effort, which in turn benefits everyone.
“Mutual empowerment is crucial: no matter what age, position or seniority you have, you can always give and receive something by supporting other women. This dynamic empowers both people in the mentorship relationship. This way, you discover what your added value is, what you bring to the table, and then, with this newfound force, you can move forward.”
And, as Mariela emphasizes, women themselves can do a lot.
“These are my three top things: 1) know what you want to achieve; 2) know the unwritten rules of the game; and, finally, 3) surround yourself with people who can help you and who know what you have to offer.”
The Red Shoe Movement promotes seven main principles:
- Mentor younger or less experienced women whenever you have a chance;
- Offer opportunities to women who are eager to learn;
- Provide honest feedback to women in your network and avoid hurtful comments or unnecessary criticism;
- Cultivate your relationships with women on your team;
- Celebrate the accomplishments of women publicly;
- Refrain from speaking ill of women;
- Avoid using labels that contribute to the stereotyping of women.
What are the Red Shoe Movement’s main programs?
The Step-Up Plus program is a year-round program that provides women with resources, life coaching and support to align their personal motivations with their career goals. The women acquire the skills and confidence that helps them grow professionally. Companies subscribe large numbers of their employees to this program and individual women also sign up on their own.
To help companies engage and promote their female employees, particularly those with a diverse background, the Movement offers onsite events and training programs as well as webinars.
How does The Red Shoe Movement plan to expand and create more positive change for women?
Mariela emphasizes the need to increase the numbers of both women and men in the conversation about women’s career development. While The Red Shoe Movement began as a program directed mostly towards Latino women in the United States, it is has quickly become a multicultural platform that works in English and Spanish speaking countries with fans of their movement worldwide.
“Women are really wonderful to each other. They can create almost a sisterhood. I wanted to make sure that we tapped into that great energy. In order for there to be a larger percentage of female representation at high levels in corporate life, we have to help each other out.”
The Red Shoe Movement is expanding across the world. Right now they have fans in over 130 countries who provide insights about the challenges they face in their home countries and offer input on the best strategies for taking action. This enables the movement to tailor its approaches to each country and context.
Mariela with a shoe by Lola Ramona, one of the Red Shoe Movement’s partners
How can people contribute to the empowerment of women at work?
Mariela has enthusiastically paved the way for other women to thrive in the workplace. She encourages people to signal their their support for women’s career growth by wearing red shoes and ties on Tuesdays.
“Wearing red shoes on a weekly basis keeps the conversation alive about the benefits of having more women at the top and about what women can continue to do to get there. We remind ourselves and one another that we need to achieve gender equality in the workplace — and if we help one another, we can get there faster.”
“We have partnered with small women-owned shoe designers who are helping us take our message to the next level. Lola Ramona, Farylrobin, and Wappi are three wonderful examples of women empowering women for a better world.”
Women’s career development needs to be part of the agenda to empower women worldwide. W4 and The Red Shoe Movement invite you to join the conversation: wear red shoes on Tuesdays, live by their seven principles, and do what you can to support women to achieve a more equal representation in the workplace.