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How the women of Kobo #ChooseToChallenge

By Tracy Nesdoly • March 08, 2021Big Ideas

The road toward change is long.

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a German socialist and rabble-rouser calling for women's and workers' rights, proposed that March 8th be set aside each year as Women's Day, to commemorate those first struggles for equality and fairness. The idea was adopted by early feminists worldwide, and here we are. International Women’s Day 2021. Celebrating, but still struggling.

Each year the organizers propose a theme for the day, and this year that theme is “choose to challenge.”

Challenge? Challenge ourselves or the world more in an already profoundly challenging time?

Well, yes. Tough as our pandemic- and polemic-ridden world may be, this is no time to sit back and wait. From the IWD website come these words: “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So, let's all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world?”

Good question.

We asked the women of Rakuten Kobo to share with us what they choose to challenge now, what gives them the strength to take on such a challenge, and what the new world order would look and feel like.

"Books helped me understand and see. I choose to challenge the world through words, through literature."

Here are some of the insights we gleaned:

Camila Cabete Machado is the senior manager of Kobo’s business in Brazil, a country wracked with strife and turmoil. She chooses to challenge a status quo that is grounded in deep social issues, not simply gender-based ones. “I have faced many challenges since I was a kid, living in a place with terrible social problems,” she said. “I decided at the age of 14 that I should do something. Inspired by my mother, I’ve worked in social programs, studied history at university, tried to understand my own country better and the world.

“I can say books saved my life. Books helped me understand and see. I choose to challenge the world through words, through literature.”

In fact, Camila began a podcast called Disfarces to amplify women’s voices in Brazil; she uses any opportunity she can to talk about human rights, women’s rights. “I choose to fight against the fascist forces I see using strong voices of opposition, love and compassion. It’s not always possible to fight back, but I try very hard.”

Based in Canada, product marketing specialist Christine Ampagoumian pledges to continue to challenge gender stereotypes that threaten to hold women back.

“While it is very clear that women have made such big strides in closing the gap, and we have a female US Vice President now after-all (!!) I think it is still my duty to push the boundaries in my everyday life, and be an example of that. For me, that takes the shape of daily reminders to myself that I am equal to my male colleagues in tech, and that my perspective and recommendations are valid and strong.”

Those words chimed for Xhovana Treska, senior systems administrator and one of a relatively small number of women in technology. “I feel that gender stereotype issue every day, and when my four-year- old asks me why there is only one girl puppy and five boy puppies in Paw Patrol, it shows me how much there’s still to do.”

Busting a different kind of stereotype is the challenge Alyssa Andino, marketing campaign production team lead, wants to take on.

“I want to challenge what success looks like, sounds like, and feels like,” she said.

“There are parts of me that I’ve definitely changed in order to conform to the typical picture of success, which skews toward things like being extroverted/authoritative, white, and male. There’s a part of me that was raised to believe that I can reach a certain (albeit ceiling-ed) level of success by conforming to that behavior. But that’s not fair to anyone else whose identity will just never meet that standard. Even if I do go far, it just reinforces this status quo of “this is what it takes to succeed”.

"I want to challenge what success looks like, sounds like, and feels like"

“So, I want to challenge that: why can’t our definitions of success and leadership also include softness and vulnerability, more quiet but cautious consideration, and collaboration not competition?”

That’s a conclusion that came to technology delivery manager Swetha Chandrasekhar as well. “One of the most common words of advice offered to professional women is that we are ‘not confident enough’, that we need to be more bold, assertive and self-assured like men. This sends the message to us that this personal trait is one of the key reasons holding back our career advancement in the workplace. When women are expected to converge to the stereotypical leadership mold, we need to be aware that organizations forgo the valuable benefits of diversity.”

Lorena Landini, Kobo marketing manager for Europe and based in Italy, has also chosen to challenge the status quo with something like a combination of “fake it ‘til you make it” and “walk the talk.”

“The challenge is to constantly act exactly as if equality were something already acquired and not something yet to be achieved,” she said. “I’d like to see more women think this way and behave this way. Assume the power. Give ourselves any kind of possibility.”

Lorena said she hopes to be a living example for her five-year-old niece. “My wish is that she can dream to be anything at all, that all options are equal and open to her: to be a truck driver or a model, a bricklayer, or a tailor, an engineer or a housewife, or to invent a new job that doesn’t exist yet. Just using her brain, her dignity, her confidence that she has every right to stand up for herself. And that all of this is something she can take for granted, not as a battle to fight.”

"I choose to challenge the voice in my head that causes me to overthink my actions, doubt myself and my abilities"

But for some of the women at Kobo, the challenge for IWD 2021 is a more personal one, that of changing one’s own mindset. Recognizing that for whatever reason, we sometimes hold ourselves back regardless of whether there are outside forces working against us.

“I choose to challenge my self-esteem issues,” said Vanessa Deroo, training and development specialist based in the UK. “No more self-sabotaging – or, a little less self-sabotaging than usual. Instead, I want to work on a feeling of contentment, and accepting that I am enough.”

Silencing that inner saboteur is a goal and a challenge for marketing specialist Erica Carusi as well. “I choose to challenge the voice in my head that causes me to overthink my actions, doubt myself and my abilities, and sometimes convinces me to change course, even when I'm headed down a path that the logical part of me knows is the right one.”

Ruth van Gessel, Kobo Originals and catalogue manager for the Netherlands, agrees. “To me, it’s always the most important starting point to challenge yourself, instead of things or people outside of yourself. I try to challenge myself to stay flexible and forgiving to myself.”

Said Delina Garcia Silverio, customer experience product manager: “My challenge is to allow myself and others chances to simply try, and to show grace when things don’t go our way, to show gratitude and patience.”

Challenging oneself to be the change we want to see, challenging the status quo, challenging a world order is a tall order. One that takes a village, and often a village of like-minded people.

“I learned that we have to lean on others, that no woman is an island. The world now shows us more and more the power of community and change,” said Beatriz Simonini, content sales lead based in France.

But the strength to keep fighting, to keep up with the challenge, where does it come from? From within, and from without.

“I find my inspiration in my family first, as the respect I have breathed in from my family since childhood has shaped my thoughts and behaviors, has allowed me to make mistakes, learn, test my stubbornness, as well as my ability to give up. I find inspiration in the great men and women around me, who work every day to achieve their goals and to realize their desires with serenity and joy of life,” said Lorena.

“Good examples in my everyday life are leading me to have courage and to act with freedom and confidence.”

She says we will know we’ve won the battle, that the challenge has been met and won, “only when all of this can be taken for granted, with no need to fight for the obvious.”

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