Tue | Nov 13, 2018

They bared their soul

Published:Monday | March 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM
From left: Diane Corrie, commercial manager Caribbean, British Airways; Professor Donia Scott, professor Computational Linguistics at the University of Sussex, and Eva Lewis.
Eva Lewis (centre), chair of Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) and director-corporate bank head, Citi Jamaica flanked by Lola Fong (left), director, Talent Management, CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank and Kwayera Archer Cunningham, who was a panellist and presenter at the conference.
Allison Peart (left), country managing partner, Ernst & Young and Bernadette Barrow, vice-president of sales management at GraceKennedy Financial Group and Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) member at the organisation's International Women’s Day Conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Monday.

It was a no-holds-barred sharing of experiences, knowledge and insight at a conference dedicated to International Women's Day (IWD), but celebrating both men and women.

Three compelling female presenters, five erudite panellists, including a male, and an audience of mainly women, but enough men to make a roar, assembled for the Women's Leadership Initiative's (WLI) inaugural IWD conference.

Held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, those in attendance gathered to 'Pledge for Parity: Speak it into Being'.

Eva Lewis, chair, WLI, opened the conference, noting that it was designed "to traverse several important and thought-provoking topics that are all, in their own way, contributing features to this overarching theme of gender parity."

Before the discussion got under way, she thanked the conference sponsors - Jamaica Money Market Brokers, Citi Jamaica, ICWI, GraceKennedy General Insurance, British Airways, Jamaica Observer and Ernst & Young, for assisting the WLI in advancing the discussion on "purposeful action towards this goal".

Kwayera Archer-Cunningham, president and CEO, ASE Consulting, started the ball rolling with a clever icebreaker, courtesy of conference sponsor JMMB.

She asked the participants to use the multicoloured modelling clay (play dough) provided at their tables to fashion their dreams which, later, panellist Michelle Sinclair-Doyley, client financial education manager, JMMB, would help them to achieve.

Addressing the topic, 'The Working woman: Is achieving balance between the family and career attainable?', Archer-Cunningham traced her early development in the United States with "a formidable Jamaican mother and grandmother", and the high standard they set for her and the balance and support they provided.

Their example of "career and family choices", and having a husband who was "an equal-opportunity partner", sharing household chores and child-rearing responsibilities, helped her achieve balance. She noted, "As women, we are confronted with male-centred/male-created organisational cultures, and our challenge is how to integrate feminine principles into structures and targets (like childcare facilities at the workplace) with care for self and families at the core."

The husband-and-wife duo of Therese Turner Jones, (representative of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and her husband, Dennis, a retired economist and former representative of the International Monetary Fund, shared their marital and career journey flipping the traditional-roles script, with her husband "managing home affairs", and their teenage daughter, while Therese, "balances" a hectic travel schedule and the responsibilities of managing her IDB portfolio and staying connected with her family. The clear message was one of collaboration and cooperation, that allows "wife, mother, employee to achieve her career goals without guilt".

Newly appointed CEO of First Global International Bank Mariame McIntosh Robinson, spoke on the theme; 'I'm wearing a dress: How to succeed and remain authentic'. She shared some insights on male/female dynamics spanning high-level jobs in male-dominated fields in the United States, Barbados, and Jamaica, navigating gender and age discrimination and "conscious and unconscious biases". She shared her six-point plan for "staying authentic" urging female bosses to "be mindful of their mindset - don't face challenging situations by reading deeply into it and becoming a victim; embrace change, make it easy for people to work with you and give you feedback; embody confidence and humility and keep egos in check; cultivate meaningful mentorship relationships and work on something you are passionate about."

WLI member and attorney-at-law, Herma McRae introduced Professor Donia Scott, Professor Computational Linguistics, University of Sussex, spoke on the topic "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: What will it take to establish a work environment where gender is a non-issue?"

The Jamaica-born Scott shared her personal journey in academia and the high-tech industry highlighted "two of the prevailing components of the gender gap - the glass ceiling and the leaky pipeline" and explored the meaning, interrelationships and driving forces behind these concepts, which have led to the disparity in how men and women are treated in today's labour market.

Panellists Lola Fong, director, talent management, at CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank and Suzanne Charles Watson, Research Fellow, Institute for Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies concurred with the recognition of conscious and unconscious bias of men and women which make women "work twice as hard as men to achieve parity at the workplace" and shared their own experiences in the cut and thrust of the academic and financial sectors.

The conference closed with a spirited panel of students exploring the theme "Respect Earned, Respect Given" and how the perceived growing lack of respect between young men and women, could be addressed and rectified. Student panellists were drawn from the University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor's Ambassadors "UWI Students Today Alumni Tomorrow", St George's College, Ardenne High School, St Andrew High School for Girls and Hillel Academy.