How we can inspire inclusion across society

By Nina Ogwo, transformational coach, TED speaker, author

"If you can't stand the heat, you leave the kitchen". Those were the exact words of the lecturer, as he looked sternly at me. The words were directed solely at me as I shifted from one foot to the other. I wasn't given the chance to talk or explain what had happened. Just those harsh words hurled at this young lady struggling to fit into what was assumed then as a world of men…the school of architecture. 

The idea of inclusion was far from his already biased mind. Rather, he believed the few of us ladies who dared to defy the odds and remain in the discipline would not be able to withstand the pressure.

Trying to walk through what seems like a solid wall feels impossible. Making sure everyone feels respected and supported, no matter who they are, can feel just as tough.

That is what inclusion is about - creating a world where everyone gets a fair opportunity, no matter their background, gender or identity or social status.

There are a number of areas where inclusion is still needed in order for women to have a bigger seat at the table.

Workplace: Workplace inclusion can be achieved by making sure women get paid the same as men for the same work and that they have the same chances to climb the career ladder through career advancement and leadership roles. Unfair treatment can be stamped out by combating workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment at work. 

Education: Every girl and woman deserves a quality education. They should have the same opportunities at a good education as boys. This is necessary for proper inclusion and empowerment. That means pulling down existing barriers to education like gender-based violence, economic constraints, cultural norms and biases. 

Politics and leadership: More women need to take the front row in politics. For inclusive governance and representation, more women need to get involved in leadership and decision-making processes. Women's voices are needed, and their ideas fairly represented. Women's political participation must be encouraged, barriers to women's political engagement addressed, and support provided for leadership development.

Healthcare: Women's health needs are unique, and they deserve healthcare that respects that. Every woman deserves quality healthcare that meets their specific needs. This is important not only for their well-being, but also for inclusion. Avoiding discrimination in healthcare settings and promoting gender-responsive healthcare policies and programs will also aid inclusion.

Media and representation: Women's representation in the media industry should be encouraged. Promoting gender-sensitive reporting and storytelling, and avoiding discrimination in media content will ensure more women get involved in media. The media is a powerful tool for promoting positive roles and the image of women. Regular showcase of the diverse roles of women in media and what they are able to achieve, helps enable inclusion. Telling the stories of women who have broken glass ceilings and achieved major milestones in their careers can challenge stereotypes, gender-biases, and discrimination.

Technology and innovation: Enabling women's inclusion and participation in technology can promote innovation and economic empowerment. This can be achieved by providing equal opportunities in technology-related careers, promoting women's entrepreneurship, participation and leadership in science/tech fields, and by addressing biases in technology design and development. Providing women with the same chances in science and technology fields can help break the biases that generally hold them back.

Why inclusion can be challenging

Inspire Inclusion

Inclusion can feel difficult at times. 

Stereotypes: Old ideas and biases about what women and girls can or cannot do hold them back. Societal expectations can dictate certain roles or behaviors for women, which can hinder their full participation in various settings.

Barriers in the system: Structural inequalities within institutions, organizations, and systems can create barriers to inclusion for women. This can include issues like unequal pay, limited access to leadership positions, and lack of support for work-life balance. Such rules and traditions can keep women from achieveing their ambitions. It is time to level the playing field.

Culture and Society: Sometimes, traditions and norms stop women from doing what they desire. This can range from restrictive cultural norms around women's mobility and autonomy to social norms that prioritize male voices and perspectives. 

Dealing with differences: Some women face additional hurdles because of race, background, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, and further aspects. 

Resistance to change: Resistance to gender equality and inclusion efforts can also pose challenges. Some people may not seek change. Some individuals or groups can resist efforts to challenge traditional gender norms or redistribute power and resources.

How women can help drive inclusion 

Believing in oneself: Women can build confidence in knowing and valuing their worth.

Speaking up: Women raising their voices against inequity and standing up for what is right and equal is key.

Building bridges: Connecting with other women who share similar values is key in creating spaces where everyone feels welcome.

Challenging the status quo: Breaking stereotypes and showing the world women's strengths and capabilities is key.

Leading and mentoring others: Stepping up, taking charge, and helping others find their path is also important.

Spreading the word: Inclusion should be a no-brainer. Speaking out, championing diversity, and making sure everyone is part of the picture is required.

Addressing many of the above aspects can help achieve true inclusion and make the world a fairer, more inclusive place where everyone has a chance to shine and maximize potential.

About the author: Nina established the Boundless Women Network that empowers adolescent girls and young females through capacity-building and personal leadership. In addition to weekly training and conversations on life skills, the network offers mentorship and counseling services to its members.



IWD Toolkit

Join the global IWD Community