michelle: she’s one of us

No less than ten thousand people - young students, business people, not to mention all the political elite of Montreal - came to see and hear the former first lady of the United States talk about education and female leadership at the Palais des Congrès yesterday, as part of the Bell International Leaders Series organized by theChambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain (CCMM).

It’s very hard not to feel intimidated by Ms. Obama’s pedigree. She’s a passionate advocate for women's education, health and empowerment. A speaker extraordinaire who galvanized troops at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She’s a Princeton and Harvard law graduate. And on top of all that, she’s an icon for fashionistas around the world. Michelle Obama manages to wear all these hats with grace, intelligence and authenticity. And yet - and this is where her true talent lies - she still manages to pass for one of us. She’s just a woman like all others; a mother, a sister, a wife, a student, and a professional, who had to make a name for herself. In doing so, she had to tame her doubts and fears, truly believe in her chances and build her self-confidence. Because, according to her, everything starts from there.

michelle obama women in business  bell international leaders

transforming girl power into real change

Her speech is not new though. Let’s go girls, the sky is the limit, believe in yourself. We’ve heard all these clichéd motivational quotes for female empowerment before, whether from Oprah Winfrey, Ivanka Trump and even Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who was also present at the evening to give a welcome address. Despite all the efforts of influencers and organizations that support feminist causes, the battle for gender equality is far from over.

The Canadian workplace is no different. Here are some worrisome statistics:

  • according to the most recent Statistics Canada data, Canadian women earn 87 cents an hour for every dollar earned by men;

  • in the technology field, only 5% of companies have female CEOs and 53% of companies do not have female executives;

  • in 1987, only 20 percent of people working in STEM fields were women, a figure that has reached only 22 percent today;

  • women represent only 21.6% of the board of directors according to the Financial Post 500 ranking.

According to Ms. Obama, the solution does not lie in politics, or in hollow and cheesy formulas. This is what a movement like #metoo has thrust into the open: change can only come from the field, from men and women who confront themselves, their prejudices, their personal stories and who dare question the status quo. "Are men ready to add seats to the table, or even to give up their own seats, to make space for women?" "How hard are women willing to fight and speak up to claim the place they deserve?" Michelle Obama asked, while intensely staring at the room.

Those are very valid questions. Because if one cannot hide behind reassuring thoughts such as it’s other people’s business, it’s the job of the government, or well, it’s just too complicated, one becomes responsible, complicit in upholding a faulty system that persists over time. But there is another avenue, and that is to become an agent of change.  Michelle has chosen to become just that. Now it’s up to me, you, and men and women everywhere to follow suit.

about the author

Marie-Noëlle Morency - Communications Manager

Since I was a little girl, I have always enjoyed reading and telling stories. I am very luck, that, in my current role as Communications Manager at Randstad Canada, I get to work every day at finding, crafting and sharing stories that are informative, inspiring, and thought-provoking.

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