This is a story of a long road, a very long road. On 7 February 1971, women were granted the right to vote and stand for election in Switzerland. They emerged from a long struggle that began in 1893 when the Swiss Federation of Working Women demanded the female vote. Vaud was the first canton to allow this right to its female citizens in 1959, but it would take another ten years before voters agreed to share this right with their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters.
But where does gender equality stand today? Should we celebrate this anniversary? Do the advances in women’s rights in 2021 deserve this celebration?

Current data shows in organisations that women still face very pale, male, and stale beliefs. Thus, we are reminded that equality doesn’t just magically come about after a vote, but that women have to continue the battle and show much courage.
Research findings have confirmed that while men are expected to be influential, self-assured, and accomplished, women are expected to be kind, understanding, helpful, and heartfelt. But these qualities or soft power are often not rewarded in organisations? Not just by men by women too.

“Once we have seen something we cannot un-see it,” and my generations saw women supporting, aiding, serving, and not leading in positions of power and authority.

So much has been documented about women and leadership. You cannot avoid reading about cracking the code, shattering the glass ceiling, joining the top table. Both on an economic and a social level, a great deal of research confirms the benefits of greater female inclusion at all organisations. This is not just for real for productivity but also equality and stability. As women, how gender will influence our perceived capability and ability is based on the other’s experience.

Indeed, there has been a shift in the last few years. Women are starting to be seen as viable contenders, and I say starting because there is still much progress to be made, not just in organisations but also in schools and at home. Women’s ability to cultivate competencies, such as collaboration and empathy, as a means of authority is an essential leadership quality needed for today’s climate. And leadership is something we all do every day, not just in professional life. Leadership is about our collaborations with others, our aptitude to encourage others, and guide others toward a common goal.
I noticed very early on in my career that coaching women leaders was different, and indeed, our society is still profoundly filled with masculine archaism in its values and structures. When I heard women’s stories of a struggle holding critical top management positions despite having an equivalent experience, I was stunned. I listened to their stories of being better and being treated differently because they are women, and I realised that moving the needle would take much longer than we hoped.

Women are the future. We must not separate but celebrate each other.

Their stories of being treated differently from their brothers, of men having enormous power in their families, were also very familiar situations. And these women were Indian, Swiss, Irish, Brazilian, French, German, British, South American, Italian, all over the world.
Despite living across the globe, they found they had all learned similar coping skills to protect themselves. I appreciated how deeply they and I had all internalised these self-limiting beliefs; not good enough, not to sparkle too brightly, and what was appropriate behaviour for a girl.

When I had finished my studies, married, working in London, and later on in Geneva, I recognised gender preconceptions were not solely confined to my community. Like other “pushy” women, I was labelled as a go-getter and, dare I say, ambitious? However, these traits were not perceived as positive attributes; instead, it was a mishmash rehash of women’s long-standing stories across the globe.
Women who are achieving incredible things are still getting very little exposure. We still lack strong, successful female role models in business, sports, medicine—in all areas. So here is the work for us all, to focus on the real issues and show up and stand for excellent female role models. We are all unsung heroines and need to raise the consciousness of women’s achievements.

Find a female mentor, a female supporter, and absorb all the power and knowledge she can give you.

My call to action is we as women, have to think about our own beliefs about women. Because I find it difficult to grasp that some women of my generation still judge other women and determine what is right or wrong for us, they seem to be the arbiters of whether women should work after having children or whether women can have it all, and if so, how does she do it?
These are the real challenges. Women need to encourage women whatever they decide. That means if you choose to stay at home and look after your kids, you are no more or less than the women who choose to pursue their careers wholeheartedly. We all make different choices, and we as women need to respect each other’s choices.

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Madeleine Albright

And there are those women who choose to stay-at-home, as I did for a while during my career. This is the group I am worried about because the work of stay-at-home women has never been esteemed. We all look at these women very differently. Social demands make mothers feel like they can’t win. Only you can decide what’s best for you and your family when it comes down to it, and that’s what matters. The decision as to whether you should return to work or stay home can be difficult on many levels. Consequently, I urge you to think before making judgements please be mindful not everyone has the luxury of choosing between staying home or working and not everyone wants to have a career.

If all your life you’ve been exposed to messages, consciously and unconsciously, that white skin is beautiful, you will unconsciously make these associations, and these will impact your decision-making and your choices, but if you become aware of it, you can slow down the process.
Working against the odds is hard enough, but we need to do like women to be their best to lift each other up and not criticise each other. That is the only way we are going to advance. When someone has your back, believes in you, and provides a safe place for you to thrive, who knows what you can do?

There is plenty of room for us; the time is now! We need to take our place and take the space.

Women are the future. We must not separate but celebrate each other. Find a female mentor, a female supporter, and absorb all the power and knowledge she can give you. There is plenty of room for us; we need to take space and our place.

Reference: How To Get Out Of Your Own Way


  • Sunita Sehmi

    Organisational Dev I Exec Leadership Coach I Author I Mentor I

    Walk The Talk

    Org Dev Consultant I Exec Leadership Performance Coach I DEI Warrior I Author I Mentor I Work smarter I Live better I Think deeper. With over three decades of expertise in multicultural environments, Sunita brings a unique blend of Indian, British, and Swiss heritage to her consultancy, fostering a deep understanding of organisational contexts and her clients. Sunita’s insights and expertise are tailored to elevate your leadership.