100 years down, how many more to go?
Despite the right to vote, research shows gender gap may take another century to close.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS. Despite the many hardships we have experienced this year, 2020 marks one critically important milestone worth celebrating. On this day, 100 years ago, the 19th amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, granting women across the nation the right to vote.* What a milestone in our history – a century of women voters – and yet it’s hard to believe that it has only been 100 years.
As thrilling as the century mark is, I can’t stop thinking of my great-grandmother – a woman I knew personally – who was born without this right. I can’t stop thinking of the millions of women throughout history whose voices went largely unheard. Perhaps most importantly, I can’t stop thinking that though as of today, women been have constitutionally allowed to vote for 100 years, the journey to true equality may take another 100 years – or more.
Another 100 Years?
That’s right, the World Economic Forum reported this year that at our current rate, it would take 99.5 years to close the overall global gender gap, with some projections as high as 257 years. (Their definition of gender gap includes gender-based differences in various dimensions such as economic opportunity, education, health, and political empowerment.) If you’re reading this article, you won’t see gender parity during your lifetime. Your children or grandchildren, on the other hand, might – if we take action now.
On average, women earn 82 cents on every dollar a man earns. “Equal pay day,” representing how far into 2020 women must work to earn what men did in 2019, was on March 31 this year. Unfortunately – and you may have known this was coming – the outlook is even worse for women of color. In fact, equal pay day for black women happened just last week on August 13. Latina equal pay day won’t happen until the end of October.
Pay is just one piece of the puzzle. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the distribution of office housework (more often given to women) and glamour projects (more often given to men). Plus, early reports indicate that we may be heading backward in gender parity due to COVID-19’s disproportionate impacts on women. Global consulting firm McKinsey calculated that women’s jobs are almost two times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s jobs. With more child care and sick care duties falling on women, the problem is especially exacerbated for caregivers and those in non-traditional jobs.
Few of us bat an eyelash when faced with all-male executive teams, boards of directors, conference keynoters, and lately, webinar speakers and panelists. We’re conditioned to accept that all-male groups are normal – after all, they have been just that for so long. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made headlines when she remarked that she won’t be satisfied until there is an all-female Supreme Court. Like she says, no one was fazed when there were nine men on the bench.
Our conditioned blindness to gender disparity is not something we’re stuck with, though. Harvard offers an implicit bias test designed to help identify if one may in fact have a few blind spots regarding women in the workplace. (They also offer tests to uncover hidden bias in race, age, disability, sexual orientation, and more.) Knowing we have a bias is the first step in overcoming it.
To borrow RBG’s argument: will we see credit unions with all-female leadership teams? Boards of directors? All of the largest credit unions and system organizations with female CEOs? And if we do see that – I wonder how much longer until we perceive it not as an anomaly, but as “normal.”
Where Do We Start?
The research about gender parity (despite 100 years of voting) is pretty clear. The problem may be enormous, but the starting point today doesn’t have to be.
- Turn on the GPS: Figure out where you are. Take stock of your organization. Do you have a pay gap? Are your hiring practices fair? Do you assign projects and promotions equitably? Do you support working parents (especially during the pandemic)? Be sure to use data, not anecdotes. Figuring out where you’re starting from is an important first step in growing. It may be humbling and challenging to admit that an organization isn’t perfect, but adopting transparency and implementing change is critical.
- Plug in the destination: Identify the vision. Your organization is unique in its challenges and strengths. Work with your team to identify the vision and end goal for you. What does the right change look like? Diverse women making up at least half of all levels of the organization? Women who are paid equally or more than their male colleagues? Transparent and supportive advancement opportunity and hiring practices for women, and especially those of color? Events where all of the speakers are women? All of the above? Most importantly, INVITE THE WOMEN into these discussions and make sure they have a microphone and a safe audience.
- Look at the turn-by-turn: Chart your course. Now that you have a clear vision of the end goal, it’s time to set goals (SMART ones) along the way so you know you’re headed in the right direction. Make sure there is open and ongoing communication, so everyone knows what the GPS says and how their actions impact your course. Hold your team accountable to meeting and exceeding those milestones along the way.
One other thing on my mind: I often hear from men that they feel left out of discussions about gender equality. If you’re a man reading this – great! It’s true that listening to understand first is really important. But as you do that, every man also has a compelling opportunity to use his platform to speak up and advocate on behalf of the women around him. You are well-positioned as sponsors and advocates, and you can effect real change.
As much as I would wish it, the work we put in today probably won’t pay off overnight. Lasting change on this front requires instead consistent and collaborative effort time and time again: today, tomorrow, next month, next year, a decade, and yes maybe even a century from now. We may not always see instant results. Our work may not always feel effective or fast enough for our liking; I know it doesn’t seem fast enough to me. In those moments, we can find a bit of hope in history. In fact, the 19th amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878. Though it was ratified in 1920, it took more than 40 years to get there. Just like the fierce women and men who preceded us, the work we invest now will pay dividends not only for us today, but for every generation that follows us.
Today, I raise a glass (and I hope you’ll join me!) to the many intelligent, strong, talented, confident, passionate, and fierce women who came before us and who are even now working tirelessly to close the gap. Women have so many gifts to give, and the great news is that collectively lifting up women everywhere elevates our industry and entire society.**
As we celebrate today the 19th amendment’s 100th birthday, join me in committing to close the gender gap this century.
*The ratification of the 19th amendment is an important milestone, as it prohibited denying the right to vote on account of sex. However, it’s critical to note that the right to vote for all American women was still not guaranteed with the constitutional amendment. Countless women (most especially women of color) were/are still disenfranchised well after it passed.
**Research shows companies led by women often outperform their peers and are better for employees.