Putting the Spotlight on Girls and Gender Equality with Caroline Riseboro

We’ve all heard the saying, “Girls are made of sugar and spice, and all things nice.” But when you take a step back to really think about it, this saying is pivotal in conditioning girls to act and speak in a certain way – a way that is nice, sweet, likeable, harmonious, and most importantly, unlikely to cause any conflict.

In order to drive any lasting change and defy a longstanding system, one will inevitably cause a commotion. With women in Canada only making up 21.6 percent of Financial Post 500 Board Members and only 9 percent named as executive officers of Canada’s top 100 publicly traded companies, the time for disruption is upon us.

gender equality the ace class

One fierce woman who is making waves across Canada is Caroline Riseboro. Riseboro has built a career for herself all rooted in empowering women and girls. As the first and youngest woman to be named a SVP at World Vision in the agency’s history, Riseboro knows a thing or two about paving the way. Currently serving as the President and CEO of Plan International Canada, Caroline’s work is having a lasting impact on young girls across the country (and around the globe) and is helping to shatter stereotypes and bridge the gap towards gender equality. Riseboro fully exemplifies what it means to be a female leader who is passionate, ambitious, empowering and committed to amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized and vulnerable.

In celebration of International Day of the Girl, The Ace Class is profiling strong, real and fierce women who are encouraging girls to rise up and reach their full potential. A true advocate for girls, women and youth around the world, Riseboro is fearless in her pursuit for gender equality – and she isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers along the way.

ACE: WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BEST STRATEGIES TO EMPOWER GIRLS?

Caroline Riseboro The Ace Class

Caroline Riseboro: “Listen to them. Too often girls are shut out of the decisions and conversations that impact their lives and will define their world. But every day girls and young women are defying this normal. They’ve got this. What they need from us is our support, belief and hope. What they need from us is to help amplify their voices and truly hear what they have to say.”

“We need to stop thinking of vulnerable and excluded women and girls simply as beneficiaries of change, but instead as change agents with stories and solutions to share. This goes beyond empowerment. It means truly shifting long-held power dynamics and imbalances, so girls can find, harness and exercise their own power.”

“It’s also critical that we work to unleash the power of all girls. This movement must be driven by and for girls of all diversities, abilities, and backgrounds – not just the privileged few.”

ACE: WHAT HAS PLAN INTERNATIONAL CANADA DONE IN THE PAST TO CELEBRATE AND SUPPORT INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL? and what do you HAVE PLANNED FOR THIS YEAR?

CR: “In 2009, Plan International Canada led a two-year campaign calling for an International Day of the Girl. In December 2011, with unanimous all-party support, the Canadian government led the United Nations to officially declare October 11th as International Day of the Girl. This day is part of our DNA and marks a moment of celebration, reflection and recognition for our organization.”

“In 2016 we launched our award-winning Girls Belong Here initiative, which saw girls step into the role of powerful leaders, including stepping into the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017.”

“This year we are calling on Canadians to support girls around the world to defy normal, and fight for girls’ rights and gender equality around the world. Every day in Canada and around the world, girls are denied equal opportunity to become leaders, to make decisions that affect their lives, to raise their voices and be heard – and we have come to accept this as normal. To rally Canadians behind this call to action, we have some exciting activities and announcements in the works – so definitely stay tuned and check out what we’re up to on October 11th.”

ACE: WHO INSPIRED YOU TO DO THIS WORK AND WHY?

International Day of the Girl

CR: “In my line of work there are countless heroes, most of whom never receive accolades or fancy titles, who inspire me daily.”

“But above all – I am motivated by the women and girls I meet when I visit the communities Plan works alongside. These women and girls are among the most marginalized people on the planet. But they have a power and voice that cannot be dimmed or denied. They are, and always will be my inspiration.“

ACE: PRIOR TO WORKING AT PLAN, YOU WORKED FOR WORLD VISION CANADA WHERE YOU BECAME THE FIRST AND YOUNGEST WOMAN IN THE AGENCY’S HISTORY TO SERVE IN THE SVP ROLE. HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU ACCOMPLISHED THIS?

CR: “I felt proud. It was more than just a career achievement, I was breaking ground for the women in my sector. And yet for that same reason, I felt a lot of pressure to succeed, to not let down the young women who were now looking up to me at the organization and the broader sector. It becomes larger than yourself.”

“I think sometimes people view women trailblazers as ruthless and ambitious, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a trailblazer, you feel good for about two seconds, but mostly you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. You’re driven to continue to blaze a trail for the women and girls who will come after you, so they don’t have to encounter the same obstacles and hurdles you did.”

ACE: YOU’VE SAID YOU’RE MORE HOPEFUL THAN EVER THAT WOMEN CAN ASSUME POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP AND BREAK GLASS CEILINGS. HAVE YOU EVER FELT YOU WERE HELD BACK FROM A ROLE OR OPPORTUNITY BECAUSE OF YOUR GENDER?

CR: “Definitely! Just earlier this year I was at a meeting with government officials and high-level representatives from the sector. I made a comment and I was completely ignored. When the man seated next to me said the exact same thing, everyone listened to him. So even when women reach that executive level, whether as a CEO or board member, or even as a political leader, they all too often still face discrimination and derision. That’s why we must keep fighting to tear down these behavioural norms and stereotypes that undercut and erode women’s abilities and powers.”

ACE: YOU HAVE A SON. HAS YOUR WORK INFLUENCED HOW YOU HAVe RAISEd HIM? WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’D LIKE TO TEACH HIM ABOUT GENDER EQUALITY?

International Day of the Girl

CR: “I think my work has helped him grow up with a much more global mindset. Every day he sees me talking about issues and challenges that most kids his age aren’t necessarily exposed to.”

“He’s only 10, but he often tells me that ‘He’s proud of his mommy for trying to help children all over the world.’ What I hope to impart to him – and I think it’s rubbed off – is challenging the concept of what’s normal or accepting the world for what it is. I want him to have the confidence and courage to challenge the predominant way of thinking, and help make the world a better place, even if that goes against the status quo.”

ACE: WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE GENERATION OF WOMEN BEHIND YOU?

CR: “Non-discriminatory laws and policies and gender parity in specific sectors are clearly not enough. The research Plan has conducted has shown us that to transform attitudes and change the rules of society there must be a specific focus on power which, today, remains largely in male hands. These unequal power relations often remain invisible and internalized. Until they change, nothing else will.”

“It is not enough to make basic changes like hiring more women – we must ensure that the right conditions and support structures exist at all levels for them to thrive. Discriminatory gender norms can be challenged, power imbalances between women and men can be changed, but they must be confronted before young women arrive in the workplace because they start at home, continue at school, and pervade every area of our society.”

“If not tackled, the stereotyping that holds girls back and places often unrealistic expectations of being tough and strong on boys, wanting to restrict us all to a binary identity, continues down the generations.”

“We also need to find a way to begin engaging men and boys in this conversation and work together, because we cannot change these systems alone.”

ACE: WHAT’S THE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF AND WHY?

CR: “To embrace challenges and failures as learning opportunities, and not take them too personally. As a woman, and especially a young woman, if you want to defy the status quo or break ceilings, you will undoubtedly face failure along the way. You must repurpose these moments as opportunities to build strength and resilience.”

ACE: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU WISH YOU HEARD AS A LITTLE GIRL? WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU THINK YOUNG WOMEN NEED TO HEAR TODAY?

CAROLINE RISEBORO THE ACE CLASS

CR: “I read a quote by Steve Jobs recently that really resonated with me, ‘If you want to make everyone happy don’t be a leader, sell ice cream’.”

“Women and girls are always conditioned to be nice - to be liked above all else. This is something I have personally struggled with. At the same time, men and boys are taught that to change the world they should be prepared to ruffle feathers.”

“I want us to encourage girls to unapologetically ruffle some feathers, to defy normal.”