THE BLOG

Gap Helps Girls Roar

07/11/2016 12:11

I have been working at Gap Inc. for over 30 years. While I've spent time in many different aspects of the business, my time with the company's social investment programs has been a particularly inspiring experience that has deeply fuelled my personal passion. The stories I've heard and the people I've met cannot be paralleled. It's because of this work that I've been able to gain a unique insight into the lives of women around the world - seeing first-hand the challenges they face, including in the workforce. Although 80% of garment workers are female, most senior roles are held by men. Having met the women and heard about their hopes for the future, it was clear that it was a lack of opportunity, not ability, that was preventing them from advancing. This is why we decided to launch P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) in 2007.

The continuing goal of the program is to give women critical skills for navigating life both at work and at home. Over time, we've seen that the coursework and discussions help unlock new possibilities, shifting their perception of themselves and what they're capable of achieving. After validating the positive impact the program was having on the lives of women working in garment manufacturing facilities, in 2013 we made the decision to expand the program to community settings.

Throughout the design, development and implementation of the P.A.C.E. program, I have been lucky enough to meet many of the women who have gone through the program. As a part of a recent partnership with Vogue, we travelled to Sri Lanka, where we manage community programs on tea estates. We chose to tell the stories of these women because of the unique disparity between the country's literacy rate, which is quite high, and the literacy rate for women on tea estates, which is significantly lower.

During the filming we spent time getting to know the women, their families, their communities and their stories. I was thrilled to hear that many of the women credit P.A.C.E. for a boost in their confidence and that this has helped open doors in other areas of their lives. These women are the backbone of their communities, which is why it is so important to help them believe in themselves - strong women build stronger communities.

We also spent time talking to these women about their daughters. Many years ago, I asked one of the first P.A.C.E. graduates in India to reflect on her experience. Among the personal growth she'd experienced, she shared how much value she thought the program would bring to her daughter's life and what it could do for her daughter's future. These women in Sri Lanka shared the same desire - what they want for their daughters is a bright future, a future with limitless opportunities - not unlike what any of us would want for our children. This is the sense of shared humanity we wanted to highlight through the documentary.

This is where P.A.C.E. can help. In September 2015, we announced that we would be developing a curriculum for adolescent girls. The first programs will launch this fall in India and Haiti Next year the program will be expanded to other countries including Sri Lanka. All of this is a part of our commitment to reach one million women and girls through P.A.C.E. by end of year 2020.

I hope that through this expansion, young girls will develop a strong belief in self. They will determine their own sense of beauty and reach beyond the things that traditionally may have been available to them. I hope they will see the possibilities and set a course to achieve whatever possibilities they seek.

Ultimately, when I think of P.A.C.E. and P.A.C.E.-like programming I think of them as social movements. A social movement that allows women - wherever they are in their life journey, whatever economic stability they may or may not have, whatever level of education they have obtained - to gain new insights, new knowledge, to fulfil their dreams and realize their full potential. To be a part of this social movement, to see the appreciation of those that participate, as their eyes are open to new possibilities, and to know that you played a role in their new awakening is beyond explanation, it's like knowing you have fulfilled your own destiny. These women are not only inspirations to their family, community, and society, but forever in my life and whatever I do now or in the future, they will be an inspiration to me.

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