As I was struggling to finish this post, notices began straggling in: All around the globe, events for International Women’s Day were being canceled due to inclement weather. I’d long before told friends that the post I was going to write would have the headline “International Women’s Day needs to end,” and lo and behold, Mother Nature herself seems to have agreed.
Uma Thurman, jaw clenched, struggling to compose herself when asked how she felt about women speaking out about inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
It seems as though the last twelve months have done more to uncover and address the inequities that women have faced than the last fifty years, and yet it’s exhausting to think of how far we have to go.
We don’t need to plan extensively for an annual day centered around women, we need action on a daily basis to make equality a reality. This event has been going on for over one hundred years – it’s time for change.
Instead of talking about how we can make a difference, let’s look at some ways how we can actually do it.
Accountability: Demand it
We’ve been told that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and sitting here as a woman in 2018, it’s hard to disagree. We’re finally part of a society that recognizes the injustices of inequality and is racing to address them. It’s so more than time for this that countries are passing laws to assure that the scourge of imbalance is legislatively done away.
Iceland passed legislation to address the pay gap between the sexes. It now requires employers in both the public and private sector to pay men and women equally for the same work.
In Great Britain, organizations with more than 250 employees must publish on a website the differences between what they pay women and men. As Amelia Gentleman writes, “If you work for a company that employs more than 250 people and you haven’t looked at the site yet, set aside some time and prepare for your eyeballs to spring from their sockets.”
It seems that change begins to arrive much more quickly when companies are forced to publicly reveal “not only a 49% hourly pay gap – meaning women earn half as much as men on average – but also a 72% gap in bonus payments.”
SAP committed to having one in four management positions filled by women, and they’ve achieved that. They are also committed to increasing women in leadership by one percent annually, with targeted goals of 28% by 2020, and 30% by 2022.
Ask questions. Demand answers. More importantly, demand change.
Teach your children well
Bias begins at a very early age. “The top of the social funnel begins in our education. What both girls and boys are taught in the classroom is a stimulus for how we will work with our peers throughout our careers,” pointed out Tesni Fellows.
We put undue pressure upon girls at a young age to strive for perfection, while we encourage creativity and leadership traits in boys by allowing them to try and fail.
“We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave, says Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. “To truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half of our population.”
Saujani recounts her run for Congress, and how within crushing defeat, she found empowerment.
“On Election Day, the polls were right and I only got 19% of the vote. The same papers that said I was a rising political star now said I wasted $1.3 million dollars on 6,321 votes. Don’t do the math! It was humiliating.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is not a talk about the importance of failure. Nor is it about “Leaning In.”
I tell you this story of how I ran for Congress because I was 33 years old, and it was the first time in my entire life that I had done something that was truly brave, where I did not worry about being perfect.”
Though evolutionary adaptation once required us to make speedy decisions in order to survive, it’s now time to evolve and make conscious and considerate decisions not rooted in bias, especially when we are teaching our children what they can and cannot do or become.
If you don’t believe that encounters within school can have a lasting effect, consider this information from the Harvard Graduate School of Education:
“..despite the gains that women have made in professional and political life, teen girls face a powerful barrier to leadership: the biased perceptions held by their own peers. In a survey of nearly 20,000 students, the report found that 23 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys preferred male political leaders to female. Only 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys preferred female political leaders.
And in terms of students’ preferences for leadership on their school’s student council, students overall were least likely to support giving additional power to the student council when it was led by white girls, and most likely to support giving more power when the council was led by white boys.”
If we want to build a world where equality is the norm, we have to start by teaching our children such.
Self-assessment can be a painful thing. When we reviewed the images on the website that I manage, we were stunned to find that they conveyed some pretty incredible gender bias, and we are now actively working toward eliminating that bias, one image at a time.
It’s not an easy task. When I lamented about it on Twitter (where else?), iStock replied, pointing me to their Lean In project with Getty, where they have created a special collection “devoted to the powerful depiction of women and girls, families of all kinds, and men as caretakers as well as earners.”
While I appreciate this effort, I also find it maddening that in 2018, it’s desperately needed. The optimal solution would be that instead of needing a special collection, we could search “CEO” in stock images and find returns with women featured, rather than having to search “Female CEO” and still getting page 1 returns of men.
The ultimate measure of equality is that we don’t need to think about it anymore.
It’s time: Men, make it happen
Despite having known what I was going to write about in this post, it’s taken me a long time and a lot of thinking to figure out how to compose it. Frances McDormand delivered a summary of it, in a much more eloquent and powerful manner, during her Oscar acceptance speech.
She asked all the women in the room who had been nominated to stand up and look around. The visual was at stunning. Throughout the sea of people, a lone woman here and there was standing, most clearly choking back emotions as they realized that even that night, on a night when they could celebrate their accomplishments and breakthroughs, that there was still such a long way too go.
“Look around, everybody. Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” McDormand said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.”
As I’ve said before, since we still live in a world where men are disproportionately placed in leadership positions over women, whether we like to admit it or not, they play a crucial role in leveling the playing field.
We’ve come a long way over the last year, but the true celebration of International Women’s Day will be when we don’t need to have it anymore.