International Women’s Day 2020
Yesterday, it was the International Women’s Day. Its theme for 2020 – a gender equal world #EachforEqual – aims to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. That took me back to the time I joined Environics.
14 years ago, I felt like being one of the rare species – a woman in the CBRN field and a cell biologist with expertise and educational background in natural sciences and business, working among the majority of male engineers. To tell you the truth, I could have never imagined to end up being a part of a CBRN society, but I am glad I found this specific path. It has offered me professional challenges and growth, and introduced me to numerous interesting places and people worldwide. At that time, I had only eight female colleagues, and the management team of the company consisted of men only. To date, this situation has not changed much, except for the fact that we have had a female President/CEO since 2012. In customer visits, trade shows and conferences, I noticed the same phenomenon – most of the persons I met were men. Well, I have never considered this problematic, since I do not evaluate people by their gender, but take them as human beings in the first place. And I felt myself welcomed as a new member of the team. I think for most of the time, I have been treated as an equal professional in the whole CBRN sector, but of course operating in different countries and cultures with people from different generations means also facing stereotypes and certain attitudes towards women, both in the personal and gender level, no matter what your real profession is. Believe it or not, even in these modern times, as a woman, you may be easily questioned and categorized, and you have to prove your expertise and value harder than men. On the other hand, your way of thinking, problem solving and leadership may confuse your male counterparts. But long live gender diversity and differences that enrich our existence, but do not exclude the gender equality.
By curiosity, I took a look at BBC News’ list of 100 Women with inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2019. From the total, 18 women represented the category “Knowledge” which included e.g. a NASA project manager, AI pioneers, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs and but no representatives from the niche CBRN sector or civil or military defense. But what can be done in order to recognize women’s contribution widely in these branches? There are some examples of actions taken in national level. The Women in Defense UK – founded by Mrs. Angela Owen – aims to promote the value of women working for the defense industry. Like she has said, gender balance will not happen by chance, but requires a concerted effort across the enterprise, changing the overall dynamics, making defense a better place for women and men and ultimately, improving its output. Furthermore, the UK governmental Women in Defence Charter has been launched to improve gender balance in the defense sector, both public and private. Today, there are 45 organizations that have signed the charter, meaning they will pledge to be the very best at driving inclusion and diversity, providing fair opportunities for women to succeed at all levels. In the U.S., Women In Defense (WID), a National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Affiliate, has engaged cultivated and advanced women in all aspects of national security since 1985. Its task is to provide its members with a business environment for professional growth through strategic networking, education and career development. It combines people from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, government agencies, academia, think tanks, associations and professional services.
But it is not a question of gender balance only – it is about the beneficial views, skills, knowledge and leadership – and sometimes about necessity – that women can provide to the defense sector that surely needs versatile and broad group of professionals. In Finland, women have always had a key role in defense. The Finnish Sisters in Arms started their contribution early in the 20th century in the Civil War, and in the World War 2, their volunteer organization called Lotta Svärd replaced the men who were absent and fighting. These brave women, engaged themselves not only for medical care, transporting, and administration, but for more military related roles like guarding, surveillance and maintenance of equipment, too. Since 1995, Finnish women at age of 18 – 29 have been able to undertake the voluntary military service in all the services and branches. Over the past few years, the number of women applying for the voluntary military service has been on the increase, which is also the objective and wish of the Finnish Defence Forces. Furthermore, typically over 50 % of the women completing the military service undertake leadership training. The role of women in modern civil and military crisis is considered essential from the society functionality, capacity and resilience point of view. That is the reason the organizations like the Finnish Women’s National Emergency Preparedness Association wants to ensure that Finnish women have safety skills needed in everyday life and emergency situations and opportunities to participate in all tasks related to national defense.
To finish, I want to borrow a few thoughts related to the theme of the International Women’s Day 2020. The message is that an equal world is an enabled world. We all individuals are responsible for our own thoughts and actions, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, the efforts of each of us create a gender-equal world. We absolutely need more women that lead the way, inspire other women and show them that various careers in male dominant sectors, science and technology, military and civil defense, including the most intriguing CBRN field, are worth considering.