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Lessons Learned While Rising for Justice in Brazil

We are passionate about creating an IT environment that is a more welcoming place for minorities and underrepresented groups. One way we do that is by working hard to bring more women into technology. You know what happens when we succeed? A revolution!

1 Billion Rising is a global movement that highlights a common and daily problem: violence against women. Its message: 1 in 3 women are or will be raped in their lifetime. This number is too big to ignore. In 2013, Thoughtworks Brazil joined ​​the first edition of 1 Billion Rising. At that time, we were able to bring statistics and incredible facts about violence against women in different cultures, such as gang rapes, arranged marriages between adults and children, genital mutilation and many others often unknown to us.

In 2014 we continued this movement, albeit with a different focus: the daily problems women face close to home, from cat calls on the street to lower wages to being objectified by the advertising industry. Here’s how we organized the week-long event.

Step 0: Involving everybody
We reached out to our Leadership Team (including Legal, Finance, HR, and other leads), as well as project leaders and influential people within the offices to educate them about the cause. Moving forward, this wasn't going to be a movement made by "a couple of women,” but part of the company strategy. Men were not only welcomed to be participants of it but they were encouraged to be part of the driving force, offering not only their help but full support. From these discussions, we could understand better the gaps, hence knowing which themes to approach and who to invite.

Step 1:  Demystifying feminism
We started the week at our Porto Alegre office with the basics: demystifying feminism. Even as one of the organizers for this event, I once confused Feminism as an extremist ideology and anti-men. Big mistake! We discussed how feminism is, in fact, anti-sexism and that sexism is a disease that negatively affects all genders. Machismo (Male chauvinism) perpetuates the myth of women as inferior than men, destroys their self-esteem and compromises their success. The value we add to a company when we help all our colleagues to understand this simple premise goes beyond any measure.

Step 2: External speakers to widen the lens
Throughout the week of activities, we invited external guests to speak about their experiences in the fight to create awareness around the subject. The organizers for the "Marcha das Vadias" (SlutWalk), for example,  visited our office in Recife to talk about their amazing movement. We also discussed the abuse of the female body (trafficking of women, the illusion of the perfect body, productization of women) and the pernicious use of the Internet to promoting this sexist culture.

Step 3: Opening dialogue internally
As a way to empower and strengthen Thoughtworks' ideal of gender equality, we held a workshop (open to all employees), in which we defined ways to remove the barriers imposed by stereotypes and empower women .

One particularly interesting activity involved collecting anonymous reports from women within Thoughtworks regarding sexist situations that had resulted in discomfort, either in or outside the work environment. I have to say, the result was amazing!

We were all a bit worried about what people's reactions might be, given that the situations discussed were so common, yet at the same time so personal. Anything could have happened, from revolt to empathy. Luckily we have awesome and sensitive people, full of empathy, who really understood and reflected on these reports. It was energizing to hear our colleagues thanking us for being given the chance to understand why some compliments can be offensive, and why we feel even smaller for “no apparent reason.”

Lessons Learned:
One of the greatest lessons we took from this movement was that we are each responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy environment for all. That to be present in a situation where someone subjugates another person - either through offensive words or more subtly -  also makes us responsible. Therefore, we must take on the duty to prevent situations where women (you can include any oppressed minority here) are forced to remain in silence, feeling that  their voice is not worth as much as another’s.

Some points that we can share here (and potentially can make any company a safer and more inclusive place for women) :

  • If you are in a meeting and notice that your female colleague has something to say, you should not have to give her "permission to speak", but think of a way to make it more comfortable for her to bring her opinion to the table - perhaps making room for those who have not spoken yet;
  • Do not condone disrespectful behavior in the office or in your personal life;
  • Do not reinforce silence and, where possible, serve as a voice for those who do not feel comfortable to speak up;
  • Do not allow your friends to do anything to any woman that you would not like them to do to you or to a woman you love. Whistling at a woman on the street (a simple example of a very serious invasion of privacy) makes us feel less than dirt;
  • If you're afraid of being robbed in the street by going out at night, you should know that a woman has much worse fears.

Taking this short list into consideration will help create a safe and respectful environment for everyone, but do not limit yourself to just these points: talk to your female colleagues and friends, understand what makes them feel fear, shame or anger, and start to change your actions towards them. Maybe soon we will have many more conscious men, more confident women and, maybe, even happier people?

Learn more about 1 Billion Rising.  

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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