There’s nothing quite like getting thrown in at the deep end, so to celebrate International Day of the Girl, held annually on Oct. 11, Plan International Canada arranged for a number of girls to take over different companies for a day.
International Day of the Girl is a United Nations initiative launched in 2012, intended to highlight the challenges faced by girls around the world. This year’s theme is With Her: A Skilled GirlForce. With the world of work being transformed rapidly, especially by automation, educated and skilled workers are needed, but about a quarter of young people globally – most of them female – are neither employed or in education or training, according to the UN.
The Canadian arm of the Plan charity, which is dedicated to advancing the rights of children and equality for girls, hoped that the idea of girls trying out leadership positions would show people that what is considered normal in our society is unacceptable.
With only about 15 per cent of chief executive officer positions in Canada held by women, the opportunity afforded to girls such as Rima Thaker could prove invaluable.
The 23-year-old York University graduate spent the day running operations at eBay Canada in Toronto, in particular helping to launch the company’s Gifts of Hope sale in partnership with Plan International Canada. The month-long online sale of 12 different gifts, such as a book, clean water or even a goat, will help support those in need around the world.
Over the course of her day, Ms. Thaker discussed e-commerce strategies with the team at eBay, including Andrea Stairs, general manager for eBay Canada and Latin America. Those meetings even drilled down to redesigning the web page that will host the sale, as well as planning various social media strategies to promote the sale.
While the day proved eye opening for Ms. Thaker, she was equally hopeful that others will look at her experience and find some inspiration of their own.
“I think it's so important to show, especially little girls and boys, that girls can be leaders and they can be CEOs,” she said.
She added that initiatives such as International Day of the Girl “can show that normal right now is girls being denied equality. This shouldn’t be the case and it needs to change.”
Having studied health management at York, e-commerce was not necessarily a natural fit for Ms. Thaker. However, she found in discussions with Ms. Stairs, who originally studied medieval history at university before heading up a technology company, that career success doesn’t always come in a straight line.
Lillian Kasulis had a similar experience to Ms. Thaker, but instead stepped into Gary Wade’s role as president of Unilever Canada last month.
The 19-year-old from Ajax, Ont., spent her morning in meetings going through statistics and discussing how the manufacturer of personal products is doing as a company, while in the afternoon she spoke to the entire company at a town hall meeting.
“I just shared my sentiment that I wanted girls everywhere to gain the confidence to pursue their goals, no matter how big,” she said.
“I hope that we can celebrate the power and potential of girls on International Day of the Girl and really acknowledge the barriers that girls face around the world and in Canada,” she said, “but to also just make a commitment to stand up for girls and not accept what is considered normal right now, which is that girls are denied equality.”
As the organization that initially championed International Day of the Girl, it was only natural that Plan International Canada took part in it, too.
Aloka Wijesundara, a 17-year-old high-school student, took over the running of the charity for a day, standing in for president and CEO Caroline Riseboro, who accompanied Ms. Wijesundara. As someone with thoughts of going into international development as a career, Ms. Wijesundara had a keen interest in the proceedings.
Born in Sri Lanka, she moved to Toronto about six years ago, and was shocked at how spontaneous business leaders have to be, able to juggle their daily schedules to react to the demands of the business.
“I really got to learn from the best that day and I got a lot of insight into how to be an effective leader and also, as a girl, how to navigate [the business] landscape, as well,” she said.
On this International Day of the Girl, Ms. Wijesundara says the occasion is an important opportunity for reflection, as well as turning attention to the future.
“It’s acknowledging a lot of incredible progress that we’ve made in terms of making our society more equal, but it’s also recognizing that we also have such a long way to go because there are still a lot of issues that girls face in Canada and around the world,” she said. “But I think overall, this day more than anything to me is more hope.”