How one small ‘yes’ can enable women to access life-changing opportunities Everywhere you look there is a rising woman. She is on the bus on the way into work contemplating when the right time is to go for the next job, she is in hospital giving birth to her first child feeling excited but scared about what is about to come next, she is sitting down to take her final HSC exam for the school year not knowing quite what she wants to do with her life. She’s there and there’s a pocket of magic bubbling away inside but she just might not have found her voice yet, and you just might not have noticed her… YET. There’s a young lady who is entering her last year of university this year. She had a start to life that no child ever should. Her father died of HIV before she was born; her mum committed suicide just days after she was born. The only legacy her parents left her, was the HIV virus. As a young child, she lived with her Grandmother in their local village. As time passed and knowledge of her condition spread across the community, those around her began to reject her, she was ostracised in the only place that she could call home. Afraid of losing her home and livelihood, her Grandmother took her to a home that cared for 60+ children with very similar starts to life. Before the age of five, Am had lost her parents, been gifted a deadly virus, and kicked out of the village she called home. She arrived at her new home at the age of 4 with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She had low self confidence and suffered depression from an early age as a result of the cards life had dealt. She will forever carry the sadness of losing her mother just days after she was born. She was a rising woman, but was yet to find her voice and realise that she could flourish in this world. Over the last 18 years, she has received love, care, safety, security and a family to call her own. Living with an incredible woman whose life mission is to fight for these children’s rights, she has had access to education and has been able to complete school and is currently studying a Bachelor of Humanities and Social Science degree at university. She is in her third year and will look to take an internship in year 4 to practice her business and English skills. In our eyes she is flourishing; sadly in the eyes of the country she lives in, her medical condition closes doors on opportunity. In 2019 she was encouraged to reach out and ask for help after receiving rejection after rejection during her time applying for internships. No one could see the rising woman that was bubbling under the surface, they could only see the box that was ticked on her medical paperwork indicating she had HIV. Within days of reaching out, we were able to make contact with some connections in the hotel industry, who had no hesitations about supporting these young leaders of tomorrow. She was asked to put together a short video introduction and within the first 30 seconds, the General Manager of a very reputable hotel chain, gave a very big yes and promised to pay minimum wage and provide flexibility for returning to her home town each month for medicine. As an intern there is no expectation to be paid and she didn’t even ask for money, but he saw the potential in her and the value she could bring, and he made a decision to pay her. This interaction between rising woman and this hotel general manager shows us that equity is possible. Whether it’s age, disability, race, sex, or intersex status, the foundations are the same. As we head into International Women’s Day in March, we are faced with the age old conversation about gender equality. If gender equality is the outcome, and equity is the action we need to take to get us there, then why, in 2020, are we still struggling to bridge the gap both here in Australia and across the globe. “Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs”. It is a level playing field for all men and women. Why haven’t we arrived there yet? This is not a conversation about “fixing” women. Women are not broken. There is nothing to fix per se. The conversation needs to be about empowering our rising women, our leaders of tomorrow, to take ownership and step into their power. It’s about helping those who are yet to find their voice, gain the confidence to seek out what they want. As champions of rising women we should be focused on giving them the skills and tools to be better leaders, better role models and importantly we should be nurturing their future growth not hindering it. Let’s operate from a place of authenticity and genuine championing mindset where we take action we believe in to achieve gender equality in our workplace. Take that hotel General Manager for example: He not only embraced the opportunity to bring this woman into his organisation, but went above and beyond to offer fair wages and flexibility. We’re not asking organisations to favour women over men. We’re not asking our male and female leaders of tomorrow to be the same; we want them to have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities, that’s fair, that’s gender equity, and the result of that is gender equality. We’re not asking for another policy or procedure to be written. We are simply asking all humans regardless of gender to take action – if we don’t have male champions sponsoring the action, if we don’t have female champions stepping up the the plate to change the conversation, then we really are not going to progress beyond what our grandparents and parents started 100 years ago. Let’s not constrain these rising women from reaching their full potential; instead let’s get behind them and empower them to rise to positions of power, become change makers in work and life, be better leaders, role models and people. The battle is not over for this rising woman, but she has stepped off the starting block having found her voice, and with a tribe of people cheering her on from the sidelines empowering her and giving her confidence to continue using her voice, she will thrive in an environment that has been pretty cruel to her up until now. Once an aspiring teacher, her passion for learning was reignited when she finally heard a very big YES. In years to come we will see her confidence soar as doors continue opening for her. Her health issues won’t go away but as long as we keep stepping up and fighting for her, as long as she continues to use her voice, she will go on to live a wonderful and successful life full of spark and opportunity.