To coincide with International Women’s Day, seven female Shopify Plus merchants explain what this year’s theme #ChoosetoChallenge means to them, and what women in business can do to change inequality and challenge the status quo.

  1. Talita White, CEO, Esther & Co

Whether it’s leading a business and team like Esther & Co. or how I live my life, I choose to drive progress and a better world for all, White says.

“It’s not just about equality anymore, it’s about making sure it can be a positive experience for everyone. Equality for all is so important. But I think we’ve moved from that and can raise the bar higher to a better, positive experience across different backgrounds and gender identity.

“When I started Esther & Co in 2004, I had to break down some barriers, particularly when trying to create and foster relationships with male leaders or counterparts that may have had a more dated view. The best advice I can give others in this instance is to stay true to yourself. I embrace my femininity and its strengths including compassion, empathy, nurture, listening and resilience.

“Be the voice of what you want to stand for. Start thinking of the legacy we’re leaving for the next generation of women in business and continue to drive firsts. Start more conversations to shift opinions and create change.”

  1. Karina Irby, Founder, Moana Bikini

#ChoosetoChallenge is something I live by every day, particularly in regards to expectations and societal norms in the swimwear industry, when it comes to body shape, body size, perceptions of ‘flaws’, ethnicity and race, sexuality and gender, Irby says.

“Everybody has a bikini body and, unfortunately, it takes us brands and people like us to actively choose to challenge social norms surrounding this industry to make change and foster acceptance.

“I think society’s expectations and assumptions about women is where there is most opportunity for positive change. There are still far too many outdated and archaic expectations surrounding women, their stages of life and what they are expected to have achieved by certain ages that need to be broken down and re-constructed.

“There are so many decisions in life, if made by a man, are celebrated and applauded, but if made by a woman, clash with society’s expectations and assumptions of what is ’normal’ for a female. This needs to change. No female (or male) should be judged for their choices in business or personal life.”

  1. Anna Ross, Founder, Kester Black

As a vegan beauty entrepreneur IWD means taking the right road, even when it’s the harder road to take, and not accepting the status quo, Ross says.

“Trust your gut. So many times I have taken advice from others. It costs a lot, never seems to work, and always leads me further from my path. I have had to unlearn a lot to take my business to the next level.

“My business is niche, so it doesn’t work like most other mainstream businesses. I gained our customers by doing what I wanted and running things how I thought they should be run. So when we tried to run it like a mass market machine, there was an uproar from our incredibly loyal customer base who actually like the fact that we’re different.

“When it comes to encouraging women in business leadership, we need to stop waiting for someone else to see the hard work we are doing and show them. Don’t wait to be told, present fresh new ideas and concepts and take the opportunity to explore and test. Push staff and teammates and encourage them to grow. Challenge and support others so you can get the best out of them.”

  1. Rachel Mellers Smith, Founder, Apero Label

#ChoosetoChallenge is such an important message and pledge for change, Mellers Smith says, because women are extraordinary, capable, complex and wear about a hundred different hats in a single day.

“The idea that women deserve lesser than men in any capacity is simply wrong, and even in the 21st century society inequality is still all around us. It’s important to educate the men in our lives and empower women to speak up, be bold, dream big, and know their worth and capabilities.

“This idea that we need to be tough, emotionless and brutal to get some skin in the game or be successful is not right. Businesses are made up of people and the more empathy, compassion, and understanding you can show to those people, the more they are going to feel valued and invested in your business. Emotions are part of life and expressing them and having healthy professional conversations should be encouraged more in the workplace.”

  1. Michelle Hu, Founder, Etoile Collective

Achieving overall gender equality is the cumulative effect of every individual workplace and household, whether you’re in a room of two or 200, staying silent only contributes to the problem, Hu says.

“Leading with emotions doesn’t make you a weaker leader, it makes you a compassionate and caring one. And that the sign of being a ‘successful’ leader isn’t that your team executes tasks out of fear from you, but out of respect. Confidence is borne from self-assurance, knowing your worth and not settling for less.

“At large, I’ve seen a lot of women doubt their ability and talent – It’s as though our innate response is that we’re not enough where in actual fact, there are tremendously talented women across every field. We need to encourage women to stop freezing at the site of opportunity and start stepping into the void, because that’s where the magic is.”               

  1. Iris Smit, CEO, The Quick Flick

My goal is to shift the perceptions of traditional beauty and empower everyday people through self-love and acceptance, Smit says.

“Challenging the status quo is at the core of everything I do. Whether in my personal life or business life, I don’t accept anything with an ‘it will do’ attitude.

“Change and empowerment comes from the community voice, by standing up and saying that we need to do better, and by fostering an ongoing conversation around implementing change we will continue to shift the narrative.

“Public figures and leaders need to take action and use their voice to represent others. The Quick Flick was involved in making key changes in abolishing the Tampon Tax. By giving women from all walks of life a voice and a platform we can show our support and camaraderie.

“Additionally, I think we can become more aware of the gender stereotypes we learn subconsciously at an early age and question whether they are true for us. My advice would be to take off the mask and own who you are.”

  1. Alice Williams, Founder, Ovira

#ChoosetoChallenge means voicing my concerns and questioning the status quo, Williams says, because we have so much power as individuals, and we need to start using this power to demand structural changes from governments, businesses, and other individuals.

“Challenging the status quo sounds a bit daunting but we have so many opportunities on a daily basis to challenge the world around us – in our work environment, our universities, our schools, our own households. I believe that even small actions have a big collective impact.

“Ultimately, it means being an advocate for yourself and for others and not accepting less than you deserve – there’s no more room for inequality, gender and racial bias in any sphere of our lives.

“We’ve seen improvements when it comes to parental policies but there’s more businesses can do to ensure that we have equality in the workspace. I’m talking gender-neutral parental leave policies, offering equitable parental leave and creating flexible work hours and arrangements for parents.

“We still need to address the super gap for women because they are generally working fewer hours and are more likely to take part-time work so this discrepancy, combined with lower wages, results in lower retirement savings balance. Continuation of contribution payments during maternity leave (even if partial) is a great step in the right direction.”