WLC 2023 - Presiden't Speech

Good morning, everyone.

Welcome to AMCHAM T&T's 9th Women's Leadership Conference in commemoration of International Women's Day. What a wonderful turnout we have this morning here in person!  It warms my heart at the response to this conference.  We surpassed the number of registrants we were anticipating so we apologise to those of you who tried to register over the last few days, but happy you could still join us online.  So a very warm welcome to you! Next year, we will have to book a bigger space!

You know we started this conference almost a decade ago, with a singular aim: we wanted to amplify the voices and concerns of women and girls in our society while simultaneously celebrating their achievements. 

I think this is so important especially as we gather here today to actively support and embrace equity to create a fair and equal world. So often in the past, when we have these discussions, we allow the weight of the issues to overshadow our progress. We also tend to forget our innate power to create opportunities out of seemingly hopeless situations. 

Today, I would like to rewrite this narrative. Our stories should not be described and defined solely by struggles and hardships. While this is our past, it doesn't have to be our legacy. We are not helpless victims. Women and girls have always held the power to cope, survive, transform, and build back better even after every major life crisis or conflict. It is who we are.  It is what we do.

So, we must keep invoking and tapping into these powers to tackle gender inequality at all levels of our society from politics to the world of work, in our schools, and in our homes. 

Now while I remain ever confident in our ability to effect change, make no mistake, I do not mean to imply that this is a job solely for women. 

Changing mindsets and combating structural and institutional biases require every male, every female, every nonbinary person, every employer, every employee, and every leader today to step up and work together to build a fairer and safer world for ALL.

Gender equity is the business of EVERYONE. This is no longer a struggle or fight that belongs to only half the world's population. If we are going to provide opportunities for all of our daughters to reach their fullest potential and ensure that they are safe and respected wherever they go, then we must accept that we each have a part to play to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out justice and inclusion in all spaces. 

It’s also important that we identify, highlight and celebrate our progress and achievements to inspire the next generation of young girls. 

You may be wondering what we have to celebrate. I want to tell you we can start by looking at the many glass ceilings women have already broken to leave their indelible marks right here in our own country. For a young nation, it’s a testament to our progress and growth that we have already seen women ascend to the highest offices and positions in our country: Prime Minister, President, and the most recent examples - our first female Police Commissioner, and second President - show how far women have come and how much they have achieved. 

So, we do have every right to be proud and to feel empowered because of what we have accomplished. And as I look out at the many diverse and dynamic women sitting in our audience today, I feel confident that the future remains very hopeful for our next generation of girls and young women because I know it is right here in this room where we will find the future leaders who will take us to even greater heights. 

But even as we celebrate our progress, we cannot ignore the realities that still face us.  

And what are those realities? We read headlines about "Period Poverty" existing in Trinidad and Tobago according to a recent study that said that women are unable to access basic and essential items such as menstrual products. While this is concerning, I am thankful that at least this is getting highlighted because there are many issues facing women that are not spoken about and are still viewed as taboo.  For example, where is the research into the physical and mental effects of perimenopause and menopause on women in the workplace?  It is so not spoken about that I’m not even sure women understand them, far less men!  We need to change this!

And what about violence perpetrated against girls and women? 307 women were killed in the past six years from violent confrontations attributed to domestic violence and gang-related activities.  307! And these are the cases that sadly, ended in murder, it is not counting the number of violent acts committed against women and girls that are both reported and not reported!

And in the field of technology are we increasing spaces and creating more opportunities for women and girls?

If the future looks more digital, then we need women to participate in the design of technology products and content. Women are currently significantly underrepresented in this field. The digital gap continues to hinder progress and significantly impacts women and girls’ access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. 

Winning the digital race means we must bridge the digital gap and leverage technology and innovation in a way that secures gender equality to protect the future of every woman and girl in preparation for this new world. 

In my address at this very conference last year, I cited the abysmal figures of women on boards listed in the local stock exchange.  A year later this dial has not moved! 

So I ask you, are we paying attention or is our gendered lens blurred to these realities that women face? 

And we can't pretend we don't know what women both want and need and what they value most, in the workplace. They want fair and transparent pay schemes, rewards based on merit, and the elimination of bias at every step of the hiring, training, and promoting processes. Remember, women aren't demanding to be paid more than men. They just want to be paid fairly!

They require jobs that are more fulfilling and will allow them to have a voice while maintaining respect and safety.

They want to have a choice in when, where, and how to do their work, especially coming out of the pandemic. Hybrid work offered greater flexibility that empowered women to have more of a say in their schedules in how and where they accomplish their work as they navigate the complexities of balancing work, family, and personal responsibilities.

So, there is no mystery to solve here and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We already know the answers and the solutions are available. All we need now is more leaders stepping up to create opportunities for women to maintain their worth and live within the freedom of their own rights to make their own decisions. 
We also need leaders who are willing to make a difference in the workplace. You know, as much as I love seeing how packed this room is with so many amazing women, one thing remains unmistakable – and that is the lack of men. 

I’m not entirely sure of the reason for this. It could be that companies wanted to give first preference to their female employees to attend this event – which is fantastic. However, if we aren’t inviting men as allies into the room, then we are limiting the speed with which we make a difference since currently, men continue to occupy leadership spaces and hold the power to enact change. 

So, as much as I will enjoy meeting and interacting with each of you today, I want to send a request to all of the companies and organizations that are represented in this room today. Next year, I want you to actively match the number of women you invite to this event with the same number of men. 

We need to understand that this isn’t a male versus female issue. The issues we address today will require the full commitment and participation of everyone showing up to address discrimination, combat stereotypes, and promote peace and equality. Therefore, we need more men who are wise enough to listen, strong enough to stand with us, and brave enough to champion change and progress. 

My vision for the 21st-century workplace is a place where we promote agency so that all employees are more likely to stay engaged and committed to the organization.
It should be a place free of sexual harassment and safe for the participation of all.

It should be a place where we build connections and support each other through coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship for women. 
It should be a place where we eliminate unconscious biases to show more empathy, appreciation, and respect for every individual's unique lived experience.

We must take the lessons learned today to inspire changes in our workplaces and society so that we don’t fail the next generation of girls and women who will inherit these problems.
That’s why I want every girl and young woman watching and listening today to recognize and believe in their worth and value. Remember you hold the power to become the author of your life and the agent of change to determine your desired future. Never let fear deter you from chasing your dreams, from speaking out against injustices, and from lending a helping hand to your sister who will one day follow in your footsteps. 
Finally, always remember that anything big or small can be accomplished once we work together, see each other as one, and move in a direction where everyone benefits.  I believe this starts when in every aspect of our lives, we embrace equity.
I do hope you enjoy today's conference, that it will be one of fellowship and I know that our speakers will inspire you to create the changes for our collective future success.

Thank You.

WLC 2023 - Keynote Address by U.S. Ambassador Candace A. Bond