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#QuiltDialogues: Dr. Sarah Degnan Kambou on Women in Research



Our third advisor, Dr. Sarah Degnan Kambou, is the President & CEO of the International Center for Research for Women, a global applied research institute using data to advance a progressive agenda for gender equity and social inclusion. We love her energy and optimism, and this International Women’s Day, we asked her what she would like to #ChoosetoChallenge.


Quilt AI team: How has COVID impacted women?

Sarah: If we look at global statistics across key domains such as health, education, employment, and economic security, on the aggregate, women as a population have been making gains in communities around the world. COVID and the economic and social disruption that resulted from the pandemic, has set back women’s overall status because lockdowns have exposed the underlying gendered and racial fault lines in society.


I was disheartened when I read a few weeks ago, that one in four women were thinking of leaving their jobs or scaling back given the overwhelming burden of family care. This exodus from the world of work speaks to an immediate and acute impact of COVID on women’s status. It also generates a longer time crisis of whether, how, and when women choose to return to the workforce.


Whether it is managing homeschooling while teleworking, or struggling to raise enough money as a market vendor to feed your family, the impact of COVID on women’s status has revealed enduring unacceptable inequalities that we must address moving forward.


Quilt AI team: This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. What would you choose to challenge in your industry, i.e. research?


Sarah: Today, as a woman who, against the odds, has been able to rise to serve as an executive of a not-for-profit business, I choose to challenge systemic barriers in the workplace that block meaningful engagement of women and their upward mobility.


From this year’s annual report on women and work, McKinsey found that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 white women are promoted. For women of color, the gap is much deeper, with only 71 Latino women and 58 black women promoted for every 100 men.


To flip the script, we must shift mindsets. We must challenge systems. We must invest in women and girls and we must start now.


Addressing systemic barriers can seem overwhelming but we can and must start somewhere. What better place to start than in the workplace?


Mentoring can be a powerful way to disrupt business as usual and challenge inequitable power structures. Those mentored by experienced managers and leaders will be better equipped to navigate and even reshape structures in place. And through this mentoring, leaders gain valuable insights into the role power and privilege play within their organizations, and how they themselves may perpetuate them.


We must work together to institute meaningful change, create space for personal reflection, learning, networking, and coaching.


On this International Women’s Day, I choose to challenge the system barriers that women face in the world of work, and I challenge all of you to do the same.


We must walk the talk, ensuring women, especially women of color, have more opportunities than those of us in executive positions did when laddering up.


On this International Women’s Day, what will you do?


Read our other IWD 2021 interviews and blogs in the Quilt.AI Magazine.

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