In March, the world united to celebrate International Women’s Day. I’m sure I’m not alone in being really excited about how the legacy of that symbolic event filters through to woman’s lives on a day to day basis, but also how it can be a driver for change in other very high profile events, like the Olympics. Therefore, I’m especially thrilled to see Seiko Hashimoto recently elected to President of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, while Tamayo Marukawa succeeded her as Japan’s Olympic Minister. With Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, there are now three women holding key leadership positions in the organisation of the Games.
This is fantastic news in the broader quest for equality, and for me personally; as a woman in technology, I have been paying attention to the subject of female leadership for some time, and I believe we should strive to give women more opportunities because when women are fairly represented, you’re closer to achieving the goal of having a truly diversified team. That’s one of the reasons I think Tokyo 2020 will have a lasting legacy for women globally, while helping to support all the exceptional awareness already created by International Women’s Day.
Equality requires the commitment of men and women
Despite that though, I think it is important to have men involved when addressing the whole gender equality cause, and to consider what role they can play in order to honour the concept of equality. The fact is that men are part of the equation. It is only when men and women are working together as equals that we will be able to achieve greater things for all of society. However, it’s important that we pay attention to the balance – which historically has seen more men in positions of power than women – to ensure that the valuable voice of women is heard loud and clear.
Great female role models should be celebrated
This year’s International Women’s Day centered around “Women in Leadership”, which is a wonderful theme. That’s why I think it is truly inspiring to see Seiko, Tamayo and Yuriko in their respective roles. Having women like them in senior leadership positions shows that the ‘glass ceiling’ that has prevented many women from achieving their goals, can be shattered. It also sends out a powerful message to all organisations that they need to revise their assumptions or preconceptions of not only what women can achieve, but what women’s expectations are in the modern workplace; that is, they expect the same opportunities as their male counterparts, and if they’re not going to get that, they will take their skills, talents and abilities elsewhere, to more progressive organisations.
Looking more broadly at other women leaders on a global scale that we can draw inspiration from, we saw Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, show exceptional leadership at the start of the pandemic. Her ability to understand the pandemic’s social implications – as well as the medical ones – while empathising with the struggles and challenges her nation was experiencing, was a masterclass in decisive leadership matched with real compassion.
A legacy like no other
Of course, if we take into account the unprecedented pandemic we all experienced in the last twelve months, arguably the Olympic Games are even more significant this year and I think that they will have a powerful legacy for Japan and for the public in general.That’s because despite the challenges and tough times brought on by COVID-19, the pandemic has also brought out the best in many people. For example, we have seen so many acts of kindness as people work to help and support family, friends, neighbours and even strangers through the pandemic. We have seen the tireless efforts of medical professionals and those responsible for developing the vaccines. You could say that COVID-19 united us all.
Putting a spotlight on equality
I am especially excited that in Tokyo, for the first time ever, there will be at least one female and one male athlete in every one of the 206 teams and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Refugee Olympic Team participating at the Games, thanks to the IOC changing the rules to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony. It really is important to have this equal representation put right in the spotlight and I believe that the Olympic Games can play a role in further advancing gender equality on and off the field of play.
That’s because the Olympics is watched and loved by tens of millions of people across the globe, and it is one of the most powerful international platforms you can use to focus on equality in a way that creates a lasting impression and – critically – one that will drive societal change. That’s why I think Tokyo 2020 could well be a turning point for equality and I don’t think I will be the only one cheering loudly when I see a man and a woman proudly carrying their flag during the opening ceremony.
Even off the pitch, sport can be a transformative force. Over the years, so many sporting heroes have used the power of their voice and influence to raise awareness of issues that are overlooked, bringing those issues to the forefront in order to push for change and a better world for all. As a leading cloud service provider, Alibaba Cloud has always believed in the importance of women’s empowerment and technology as a force for change to unlock greater opportunities for the development of women. We see an emerging role for technology companies to address the gender gap by increasing access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers for women as well as ensuring equality in the pursuit of senior positions in the industry. We see this as a fundamental social responsibility that is at the same time in our best interest. After all, greater gender diversity is good for business… but it is even better for society.
The hard work starts in the workplace
Therefore, I think it is important to address gender bias and has Alibaba taken considerable action to avoid prejudice and stereotypes in the portrayal of women and men. I believe thatthe pursuit of equality for women is about removing systemic barriers and providing a pathway for women to self-determine and achieve their full potential. We are proud that women represent almost half of the Alibaba Group’s workforce, with female executives’ representation at 34%.
We have been fortunate enough to work with non-profit organisations to provide training and cloud computing resources for African women engineers, to help them along their career paths towards engineering and other practical subjects.
From a wider perspective, everyone has a role to play in ending gender stereotypes and preconceptions because gender inequality is a problem for society; that means all of society – whether that’s governments, education institutions, workplaces, and the media – have a responsibility to address the issue.
Technology unites us all
More broadly speaking, I’m especially proud of what Alibaba has achieved in its ability to support the Olympics. As the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, Alibaba Cloud wants to use our cloud computing technologies to build the infrastructure backbone of the Games, enabling an easy, secure and seamless experience for all stakeholders. In collaboration with the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), Alibaba Cloud introduced a more powerful and efficient way to broadcast the Games, called OBS Cloud. OBS Cloud helps extend the reach of global sporting events to more audiences, while helping broadcasters further digitize their operations wherever they are. It is a platform which allows broadcasters to receive content remotely on the cloud and even to work on this content remotely on a cloud basis. Leveraging the platform, broadcasters can do a significant proportion of their jobs – from post-production to commentary – from their own countries.
As a Worldwide Partner of the Olympics, we share a vision with the IOC of using technology and sports to level the playing field and create equal opportunities for women. We believe technology will make the Games more inclusive and accessible to people of different genders, races, and ages around the world.
Selina Yuan is the General Manager of International Business Unit at Alibaba Cloud Intelligence