Promoting Gender Equity: FINCA’s 2024 International Women’s Day Event

IWD 2024

In a world where gender equity remains a critical goal, FINCA hosted an inspiring International Women’s Day (IWD) event on March 7, 2024. The virtual gathering celebrated women’s achievements, fostered dialogue, and highlighted the path toward greater inclusivity. More than 400 people from around the world joined the event on FINCA’s social channels, eager to learn, engage, and contribute. And you can watch the event at your own pace on below or on YouTube, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

The Speakers

The event featured two remarkable women:

  • Andrée Simon, FINCA’s President and CEO, whose vision for the organization centers on creating sustainable and scalable solutions that address the unique needs of individuals in the communities where FINCA operates.
  • Lucy Lee Helms, the Board Chair of Mercy Corps and former executive vice president of Starbucks, whose leadership journey exemplifies resilience, innovation, and a tireless dedication to social impact. Over the years, Lucy’s insights into corporate and non-profit realms have shaped policies and practices that foster inclusion and equality.

Inspire Inclusion: The Theme

Andrée kicked off the conversation by highlighting the need to bring women’s voices and gender equity to the forefront in critical areas such as politics and business. Lucy agreed and expanded to remark that “it is important for women who have ‘made it’ to talk to people earlier in their career about the challenges [faced]. That it wasn’t a straight line. That we all had hopes and ambitions, not all of which were realized.”

In her own life, Lucy noted that when she was a kid, no one in her family had a college degree. But she had role models in school who encouraged her. “I was a loud kid who did debate and student counsel and all those things. And someone suggested that law might be a good career for me.” It turned out they were right. After college and law school, Lucy told Andrée that “my first job was in a law firm where I was a trial lawyer again using that voice.”

Lucy also recalled a quote from Secretary of State Madeline Albright that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” And while Lucy said that it is important for women to mentor other women, it doesn’t mean accepting bad behavior. An important part of mentoring, according to Lucy, is helping people become better versions of themselves.

Gender Equity in the Workplace

Andrée and Lucy also shared how gender balance strengthens organizations and society. Andrée pointed to compelling evidence from FINCA’s work in Afghanistan. FINCA “created a women-only branch. Typically, our branches took about a year to break even and become sustainable. [The women-only branch] had the fastest break even ever across the entire FINCA network!”

Meanwhile, at Mercy Corps, Lucy is seeing the difference it makes when a company invests in its own employees. She noted that Mercy Corps has had a woman leader for the last three years who “has been very focused on diversity and inclusion of her own team.” And “intentionality,” according to Lucy, is key. Adoption of equitable workforce has to come from “the highest levels of the organization so…your executive team is not only saying it but living it.”

Lucy also remarked on the need for the commitment to be data driven and “being honest and transparent about where your gaps are. You can’t wait to share the data until you’re perfect. If you do that, you’ll never share the data.” Instead, Lucy and Andrée argued that Mercy Corps, FINCA, and others need to explain to employees, customers, and donors both where they are and where they want to get to.

Gender Equity and Cultural Norms

Drawing on her experience at Starbucks, Lucy shared a remarkable story from China. She noted that in China, some parents don’t want their daughters to take certain jobs. But unlike in the US, companies in China have much closer relationship with their employees’ parents, for example, inviting them to recognition events. This presented an opportunity. When parents got to know Starbucks “and saw how well we were treating their daughters, they became more willing to put them in roles that they might not have been before.”

Andrée Simon and Lucy Lee Helm exemplify the spirit of International Women’s Day. Their leadership transcends borders, inspiring us to champion equity, amplify voices, and build a more inclusive future. As we celebrate their achievements, let us continue to uplift women everywhere, recognizing that their strength and resilience drive progress for all.

Join us in celebrating women’s leadership—today and every day! 🌟👩‍💼🌎