Last month, the four of us served as Edelman’s global delegates to the International Women’s Forum (IWF) Cornerstone Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The event connects women leaders around the world to celebrate advancements, discuss or debate current challenges, and identify opportunities to drive change and get us closer to equality. This year’s theme, “Voyagers & Visionaries,” looked at the role of women across industries – from film and fashion to technology, sports and architecture – to acknowledge how far we’ve come, and more importantly, to discuss how we can shape a future where women are not just represented but are front and center.

Over three days filled with inspirational speakers and actionable takeaways, there was one aspect that stood out: a piece of advice shared by Edelman’s own Chief Client Officer Lisa Sepulveda on our first evening in Barcelona. “Start by asking, ‘Can I?’” Lisa said. Little did we know these two words would be the overarching theme for the next few days; a common thread applicable to every session; and a simple call to action that we could take back to our respective homebases.

Start by asking, “Can I?”

When it comes to questions that advance your career, we often default to asking for a raise or promotion – conversations that are difficult to have. But the truth is, there’s a better way to start.

Asking the simple question “Can I?” opens the door to untapped opportunities, challenging ourselves to forge a unique path in whatever industry we choose.

Can I take the lead on this project?
Can I push beyond my comfort zone to hone my skills in unchartered territory?
Can I mentor a junior female employee?
Can I share my story or experience to inspire others?
Can I do more to advance women around me?

It’s a question that has shaped Lisa’s career at Edelman, and it’s a question that many speakers at the IWF conference also credit for their advancements.

Misha Nonoo, an American-based fashion designer known for her eponymous line of women’s wear, asked: Can I create a sustainable fashion brand that shapes the future of fashion and consumer shopping?

Eva Franch i Gilabert, a renowned Catalonian architect, asked: Can I change the way buildings and spaces are designed to facilitate in-person human connection and collaboration in a technological society? Can I be the first female director of the London Architectural Association?

Zuzana Vaněčková, a youth advocate and past member of the European Youth Forum Board, asked: How can I push for change and ensure that transferable skills gained outside of formal education are recognized and job training programs are expanded?

Individual Action, Collective Support

In the town hall session closing out the conference, attendees were encouraged to “do one thing” after returning to their respective roles and regions. Each one “thing” can be big or small – an individual action that, in some way, supports the advancement of women.

The town hall focused on ensuring equal access to education for girls around the world. One attendee suggested hosting a women’s film club where you attend screenings of female-directed films or documentaries, supporting their work financially. Another encouraged posting to social media to call attention to the misrepresentation of women in the news. And her colleague suggested, simply, sharing your personal story and experience of overcoming obstacles.

Individual actions like those listed above will help spark necessary conversations and ignite interest, but it’s collective support from a diverse community that will ultimately build momentum. That’s where the IWF comes in. The membership organization, and its annual conference, demonstrates the true power of a global network – when a group of leaders ask the question “Can I?”, they can create opportunities that will transcend challenges.

Amelia Graviotto is account coordinator, Buenos Aires.
Jess Chong is senior manager, Kuala Lumpur.
Laura Hornbuckle is vice president, Energy, Washington, D.C.
Rylee Irwin is account director, Digital, Toronto.

International Women's Forum