Roots, Shoots, Flowers, and Girls — by Susan Popoola

I’m aware that there are quite a number of groups and organisations that provide networking opportunities, support, training and work related opportunities for women. As a result when it became international news that over 200 hundred girls had been kidnapped in Northern Nigeria, I thought that there would be messages of concern and support added to our #BringBackOurGirls campaign from women’s groups across the world. When I mentioned this to a friend, she said that it probably didn’t happen because most groups focus primarily on women at the professional level.

This has been weighing on my mind ever since. I do believe that it is important to support women and better enable them within the workplace. However, I believe that if this is where we both start and end then we are likely to develop a system whereby in 20 years time we are still working on the same issues with women coming into the workplace.

I believe that more focus and attention needs to additionally be placed on women at home and within their wider communities and within education. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are groups that do this. I do, however, believe that more women’s professional groups needs to extend their reach to Communities and Education. In my mind, the three different areas can be aligned to Roots, Shoots and Flowers respectively.

Roots and Community

I don’t know whether you’ve come across the #LikeAGirl Campaign? It aims to highlight how the term “Like a Girl’ is used to mean something bad and the negative impact that the term and other similar stereotypes have on girls as they grow.

The video that stands out for me is the Always Video (http://youtu.be/XjJQBjWYDTs) which shows how people are socialised to have a view of girls being weak when doing things such as running, fighting and throwing things. Lauren Greenfield, The filmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video states that “In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” She goes on to say that “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering.”

There are so many other direct and subliminal messages that we send to girls at home and within the wider communities. In some communities and their wider societies there are direct messages to women about who they are (supposed to be) and how they should treated – demonstrated through child marriages, female genital mutilation, rape, lack of female education. In others it’s more subtle demonstrated with girls being taught to cook and clean at home whilst boys are not. Boys going out with their dads for outdoor activities and girls going shopping with their mums with no overlap between the two.

What happens with girls at home and within their communities forms their roots.

Shoots and Education

I recently heard someone complain about an Aptaml Follow On baby Milk advert with the tagline, “Today for Tomorrow”. (http://youtu.be/f_lSZRtWGU0) The advert shows the girl in her pink dress growing up to become a ballerina. The boy in blue on the other hand grows up to become both a Scientist and a mountain climber.

Hopefully when girls go to school they will find themselves in environments whereby some of the disempowering attitudes and beliefs that they have been taught at home are challenged and changed and they will be taught that they can be whatever they want to be. Sadly this is not always the case.

The education experience therefore forms girls’ shoots so that when they reach the work environment they have a clear view of who they are and what their place is within the wider world.

Flowers and The Work Environment

These are the flowers that we then see within the work environment. I remember a lady who works for an engineering firm complaining about the attitudes and behaviours of other females. She expressed her frustration that they never stood up for themselves and complained about things and what was happening to them and being done to them in corners. She described the others as trying to be like men in order to succeed. The reality is that these flowers result from their roots and shoots. Therefore if we continue to just focus largely on changing flowers progress will always be limited.

“The best way to prepare children for their adult life
Is to give them what they need as children.”
— Tina Bruce

Susan Popoola

Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation. She is also the published author of "Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective" and "Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain" and is the winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013
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