#HerVisionforTomorrow: Q&A with Alicia Hammond

In celebration of Black History Month and the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s 11th Annual International Women’s Day Forum on March 5, we’re spotlighting inspiring women who are working to break barriers to pave a more equal, inclusive, and resilient future for women and girls around the world. Alicia Hammond is a Gender Specialist with the World Bank’s Gender Group, where she serves as the lead on innovation and technology. 

Recent reports indicate that up to two million American women may quit their jobs over the next year due to the pressures of the pandemic, threatening the progress made in women’s empowerment. What can companies do to help reverse this setback? 

The pandemic has been so traumatic in so many ways, but it's been particularly hard for mothers, or other people who have care responsibilities, because they're tasked with being teachers, caregivers, and also trying to hold on to their full-time jobs. I think there's a lot that companies can do to help, such as long-term flexible work policies, including options related to variable work, or reduced or part-time work—this is something I think organizations can do immediately. And then there are some more innovative approaches, like thinking about how companies can help parents pay for childcare, or other types of family leave, or incentivizing couples to better sharing care work. I think this also brings to the forefront the lack of paid parental leave at the national level in the U.S.—this is an important role that government can play.  

How has the pandemic presented opportunities to reimagine systems and help build more inclusive workplaces?

This is a crisis, but it's also an opportunity to innovate. We don't always need to be in the same location to show that we can work productively, and companies can really start to trust their employees to get their work done. The pandemic has shown that people want the option of flexibility. And of course, having technology as an enabler is really helping to expand the way we work. If we're talking about the workplace side, I think that's one of the key entry points. But I also think the racial justice protests present a critical opportunity to have an honest discussion about implicit and explicit biases in the workplace and to start tackling structural barriers through workplace policies, that go beyond one-off diversity and inclusion training. This is the right thing to do, but there’s also a business case—more diverse teams and companies outperform homogenous ones.  

The pandemic has disproportionally impacted women, especially women of color. What advice do you have for young Black women today to help them overcome the barriers they face?

I would say that they are enough. I think young black women, and black women in general, are up against so much, and it's not on them to overcome the barriers; I think it's on the rest of society to think through how we create a more equitable framework for everyone to be able to thrive. 

What is your vision or hope for the future of women and girls’ empowerment around the world?

People always say ‘pay attention to what gets that fire burning in your belly,’ and for me, the reason I do this work and what’s always been that feeling for me are issues of discrimination. When we think about gender equality, it's about making sure we have a world where women and girls are free from violence, where they have the ability to live up to their fullest potential, where they're able to access health and education, good jobs, financing, the skills to grow their businesses, and the opportunity to use their voice and become leaders. I think it's also about creating this system where we break down gender norms and roles that tell them who they should be. Overall, to me, it’s really about creating spaces for self-actualization. 

Editor’s Note: Alicia Hammond spoke on a panel, STEM: Seeing is Believing, at the 11th Annual International Women’s Day Forum. Click here to view the session.