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#ChooseToChallenge for International Women's Day

Since 1911, International Women's Day has been dedicated to celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. But it’s not just about the past: today also marks a call to action for gender parity, inclusion, and human rights. In the words of Reni Eddo-Lodge, “The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people, and it can be rebuilt in a way that serves all, rather than a selfish, hoarding few.”

Here at JCI, we are committed to equal pay, equitable spaces, and inclusion as part of our office culture. In honor of this year’s IWD theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we’re spotlighting the brilliant women on our team and what this day means to them.

Being a woman is one reason why I #ChooseToChallenge. I choose to challenge hegemonic concepts every day by unapologetically presenting my identities. Being a woman in a male-dominated environment is an unfortunately normalized experience for many of us, especially non-cisgender women and women of color. This is one of the most superficial elements to the fundamental adversity we face in our daily existence which is compounded by factors like race, socioeconomic status, and physical and mental ability.

As a woman in science, I have experienced my fair share of male colleagues dismissing and patronizing me in my line of work. Through firmly asserting our identities, we must show the world that our identity cannot be restricted within a box. I call my fellow women to embrace their identities, no matter how unconventional they may be. Work out in the gym for strength and confidence without the worry of “bulking up like a man.” Stick by your decisions and demonstrate that your expertise is what got you there. Wear as much or as little makeup as you like to make you feel complete. Continue to shatter the stereotypes imposed upon us and show the world what a real woman looks like!

I’ve spent the majority of 31 years trying to find equilibrium. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback that I was “too much,” of one thing, yet “not enough” of another. Rather than pushing back, I solved the issue by apologizing. Two words dominate my vocabulary and they are “I’m sorry.” I apologize for any and every thing, even if it was the fault of someone else, because my self-perception was that no matter what or who it wasit was probably on me simply because I exist, imperfectly. Society demands that women be kind and politeand those who are not are ‘intimidating,’ ‘bossy,’ or referred to as expletives if they attempt to break free from what is deemed as acceptable, feminine behavior.

Unlearning this and trying to remove “I’m sorry” from my vocabulary is incredibly difficult, but I’m working on it. This year, I #ChooseToChallenge the happy medium. I am taking up the space I have earned and deserve to fill, and I won’t apologize for it. Like so many other women, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fit into a mold that is uncomfortable, inauthentic, and have tried to model my personality off of others. And because I have a weakness for Disney, I’ll close out with this: in Frozen II, Elsa sings “Show Yourself,” a song about searching for something that would explain why she was who she was. The song says, “You are the one you’ve been waiting for,” which means that Elsa doesn’t need external validation to accept and love who she is, and she absolutely doesn’t need to apologize for it. Happy International Women’s Day everyonemay you find peace in existing outside of the happy medium because you are who you are waiting forimperfections and all.

#ChooseToChallenge reminds me that women’s rights must begin at birth and continue through an entire lifetime. I came of age in the 1970s, a time of great change and upheaval in the women’s movement, but a time of enlightenment for me. I rebelled against patriarchal ideas and constraints, only to find more of them at every turn. It is only now, with the support of millennials and Gen Z, that I feel optimistic that things may really change. As the mother of two boys, it was really important to me to show them and teach them that women are just as powerful, smart, creative - literally “just as” as them, while also celebrating differences.

My challenge has always been to hold on to my feminist beliefs as society/motherhood/work so often pushed me to let them slide away. I choose to celebrate the advances we have made while also supporting people and groups that push for continued greater equality. We are never too old, or too entrenched, to change.

Women are fierce advocates for others, but sometimes we forget to advocate for ourselves. I have been guilty of this. Growing up, I learned the importance of being humble and not “bothering others”. There is value in being humble, but it is also important to stand up for ourselves and recognize the value and worth we bring, whether that be in the classroom, at work, and any space we enter.

This year, I #ChooseToChallenge by advocating for myself and encouraging other women to do the same. Speak your truth, ask for that promotion, apply to that job, say no, take up space, share your accomplishments, and dare to take time for yourself. Reclaiming our worth is reclaiming our power. And in this dominant patriarchal culture, we cannot afford to lose any of it. Luckily, we are not alone in this. Women uplift other women and empower each other. And I look forward to celebrating this month by doing just that 24/7.

On this International Women’s Day, I #ChooseToChallenge outdated notions of strength. It’s 2021 and the idea that showing up both at work and in my personal life as a repressed version of myself to avoid coming off as “too emotional” or “too much” no longer sits well with me.

As a highly empathic and emotional person, I grew up thinking this was a weakness. But over time I come to learn that women who show up as their whole selves anywhere they go are some of the strongest people out there. Empathy and showing emotions make us human. It’s a strength and nothing else.

International Women’s Day stirs my memories of the formation I received from the first institution: the family. True allyship and equality means that parenting should fall to parents, not just to mothers. I've been encouraged by the rise of the term girl dad in recent years. I #ChooseToChallenge girl dads to support their daughters to be independent thinkers, to educate themselves, and gain financial independence. My father taught me from a young age to be independent and set the standard for my own life. Not only did my father encourage me to be independent financially, he supported in the fundamentals that build determination, focus, and a solid work ethic. My father used his talents as a coach in baseball and soccer to encourage me to set goals and work hard to accomplish them. My father was a girl dad that helped me to establish competitiveness and the inner fight to achieve my desired goals. This translated into all aspects of my life and can be seen in my academic studies and achievements, my determined work ethic, and my contribution to the community as a volunteer in the legal field.

When I think of similar examples of the benefits a girl dad has in the formation of young women, I recall Kobe Bryant and his relationship with his daughter Giana. Like my father, Kobe Bryant encouraged his daughter to pursue her dreams and worked with her to develop the skills necessary for success. He instilled in his daughter the Mamba mentality. On International Women’s Day, I remind fathers everywhere of the contribution they can make in the lives of their daughters to become vibrant strong women capable of achieving great things. My father gave me the direction and confidence to strive and work hard to be the woman I am today.

For me, #ChooseToChallenge is about asserting that you’re good enough. We hear statistics about women only applying for jobs if they feel like they meet all the listed requirements, while men will apply even if they only have half. We are conditioned to question our own competence and play down our own skills. I won’t pretend to have solved imposter syndrome, but I will say: fake it ‘til you make it. I landed my first full-time job after the interviewer asked me why do you want to work here and I said because I’d be good at it.

I’ll give you an example: I started translating as a hobby while in quarantine. I first heard about the “three percent problem” a few years back—how less than three percent of books published in English each year are translations—and that struck a chord with me, because for all the talk about diversity in publishing, we’re limiting ourselves if we only stick to authors writing in English. And when you dig deeper into the three percent problem, you find that women are also translated less than men, and that fewer women are doing the translating. Obviously, there’s a structural element to this imbalance, but there’s also an element of self-silencing. So I shoved aside my own complexes (I’m young, I’m not professionally trained, etc.) and just started churning out pages. Happy to announce that my first translation, an excerpt from Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan’s Song of Bread, was just accepted by the Columbia Journal. We can do so much more than we think.


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