Plan International Canada and #movethedial, two organizations who share a focus on empowering women and girls, are forming a partnership aimed at finding new opportunities to amplify each other’s strengths and new ways to advance the cause of girls’ and women’s rights and opportunities.
To highlight the synergies between the two organizations, Plan International Canada Board Member (and Chief Operating Officer of SAP), Leagh Turner sat down with Caroline Riseboro, President and CEO of Plan International Canada, and #movethedial CEO & Founder, Jodi Kovitz, to chat about why their partnership will work, and what their personal experiences as pioneering female leaders has been like.
Leagh Turner (LT): I’d like to kick things off by asking you both what excites you about this partnership between #movethedial and Plan International Canada?
Jodi Kovitz (JK):
I see true alignment between our organizations and our people. Plan has done so much incredible work to empower women and girls globally; it feels like the next logical step is to build on Plan’s work by highlighting #movethedial’s strengths and bringing those women and girls into the possibility of working in STEM, tech, and the new economy more broadly.
Caroline Riseboro (CR):
I’m excited to give ‘partnership’ a new and innovative face. At our cores, Plan and #movethedial are working for the same thing: a world where everyone has the right to realize their fullest potential. Plan International Canada is working to empower girls both globally and here in Canada, while #movethedial is focused on the tech industry specifically and women leaders there.
I feel it’s really important to partner with organizations other than the ‘usual suspects’, because unusual partnerships will lead to revolutionary ideas, which will bring real change!
Part of the benefit of #movethedial is your focus on what becomes possible in the new economy, which is a world where roles aren’t defined based on gender. Plan’s expertise is in understanding how much more we can all be when we don’t have to spend time fighting harmful stereotypes and norms.
How do you think technology and innovation in the new economy can break down barriers to female empowerment?
I see this moment in time as the next industrial revolution. When you look at the full picture – the work that organizations like Plan International Canada are doing, the courageous women’s voices of #MeToo, and the voices of so many other powerful people of all genders, all coming together to say “Time’s Up”—we’re at a pivotal moment. Right now, today, we can truly move the dial for the girls of the future by building on the momentum of our collective voice.
Just to add to that, in Plan’s work, we’ve been finding that when we are able to engage girls and young women in emerging economic sectors, like technology, STEM, and code, we see that there are fewer entrenched gender norms. This new economy presents an opportunity to level the playing field and see leadership opportunities for women, both locally and globally.
LT: It’s clear that the two of you make a powerful partnership. Shifting to the more personal now, what brought each of you to the work that you do?
I have a nine-year-old daughter and I would like her to live in a world where a person’s gender has no bearing on their opportunity for success. That’s what motivates and inspires me.
My unique position in the midst of the tech industry presents the chance to be part of the change that needs to happen here, now, and quickly. But, if women’s voices aren’t listened to and heard, we’ll never do this properly.
During my career, I’ve had the privilege of travelling all over the world. I’ve seen the challenges the women and girls face globally, and everything connects back to a root cause of gender inequality. The opportunity to address those root causes – how and where gender equality starts, and to fight for it – this is what brought me to Plan.
Many people in Canada think that the issues Plan battles – like gender inequality – are resolved here. But they’re not! They may present differently or be less acute, but the same foundation of valuing girls less than boys is there. Like Jodi, I have a nine-year-old son and I want to create a world where he can thrive, of course, but also – importantly – where everyone can thrive.
LT: You’ve both said this is a pivotal moment – that we’re seeing the fourth industrial revolution. Can you speak more to this?
Let’s talk economics in Canada, and why now. Our economy is shifting and we need to think about its future. The changes, in terms of how we all use technology, mean that there is an unquestionable, dire need to innovate every single day. If we, as a country, don’t actively include, engage, develop and inspire the entire talent pool from the very beginning of the pipeline, I fear we will not be able to continue to thrive on the global stage.
In addition to that, on a global scale, I think that the great equalizer of the future is the ability to participate in creating technology at every level of society. Historically, women and girls have not been able to participate because they have had limited access to education and resources. This is why I believe code has such a remarkable role to play. It is the only global language. Anyone anywhere can learn to speak it and innovate with it.
I would just add that we’ve been working for 100+ years to drive gender equality. In Canada, we find ourselves uniquely positioned to play a leading role globally. The movement for gender equality has governmental support. We have a Prime Minister who openly declares himself a feminist, and who recently issued a feminist budget where the word ‘gender’ was mentioned more than 300 times. We also have the evidence, with a McKinsey Report showing that women add trillions to the economy, and a 2017 CIBC study, which shows that more women on boards produces better profits. The point is, we’ve run out of excuses. We have to act immediately. The moment is now and the urgency is real if we want to achieve what we’ve set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
LT: I’m going to close this on a personal note. Can you talk specifically about any obstacles you may have faced in your own career and how you used them as fuel to drive forward?
I don’t think there is a female leader who hasn’t faced an inordinate amount of obstacles – and it’s an on-going challenge! Despite years of going high when others go low, I still get shaken by comments or behaviours that are linked to my gender—from the small things, such as people being surprised that someone young and female can be a CEO, to the bigger things, like having your voice ignored or interrupted in a meeting of high-powered male executives. As leaders, we have to decide whether we use those comments to motivate ourselves, or let them hold us back. In my case, I said to myself that there are millions of girls and women around the world who face this pushback – and worse – daily. It’s my duty to continue on behalf of them and the organization I represent. I take my shock and anger and turn them into the drive and determination to rise above, and become better.
LT: Jodi, I know you feel the same, but can you speak to some gender-related obstacles you’ve faced during your career?
When I started #movethedial’s work, I had a number of people ask me what I was doing, and question what right I had to do it. I was always shocked when those questions came from women. I think the lesson I learned is: when you know in your heart that what you’re doing is impactful and important, you have to find your own inspiration and motivation. You have to create your own north star, and follow it every day.
Caroline and I both, I’m sure, have been undermined in front of large groups of people, have not been supported, and have been questioned throughout our careers. The key is that we both fundamentally believe in what we do.
But I still believe we need to find the right people to help us make a difference. Caroline is one of those people for me, and I think I’m one of those people for her. And we’re both working to send this message