Are We There Yet?
Sometimes we celebrate recognized days, but we don’t always know the story behind them. Some, like Women’s Equality Day this Friday, August 26, seem automatically acknowledged by most, with no urgent need to explore its history. For those who don’t know, this day was first marked in 1971, in honor of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which made it possible for women to vote:
“WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States;
and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex…”
The proclamation highlights the pervasively oppressive climate to which women were subjected, and as I reflect, it’s clear we’ve come a long way, but there is still far to go.
Access does not mean equality
Positive changes in society have pivoted the role of women from what’s outlined in the 1971 proclamation, as evident in the vast number of women who have shattered glass ceilings and paved the way for others.
This year, history was made by the swearing in of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to hold this highly esteemed position. She and many other women have been successful in roles and are occupying spaces that not too long ago were only available to men.
However, receiving access is just one part of the journey toward equality. There is still a question of whether women truly feel equal and whether they have a sense of belonging or inclusion once they do:
- According to PwC research, 85% of female millennials prefer working for companies with strong employer policies on diversity and workforce inclusion. However, 71% report that even though companies talk about diversity, opportunities in the workplace aren’t really equal.
- For every 100 men promoted to managers, only 85 women are promoted. This gap is greater for Black women (58) and Latinas (71). Thus, at the beginning of 2020, women held just 38% of manager-level positions versus 62% of men.
- A study on flexible work hours showed that men are perceived more favorably than women when seeking work/life balance.
- Studies show that when women are hired only to fill quotas, it harms the relationships between co-workers.
- Mothers of young children, especially when they are “gender only” (the only person who identifies as a man or woman in a group) in the organization, face more challenges and difficulties at the workplace.
- Female leaders have performed better but fared worse as a result of the pandemic.
Based on these statistics, it begs the question, “What equality?” The experiences of women in the workplace are still vastly different from those of men, and issues of equality and equity remain unresolved for many organizations. Why is making progress so difficult?
- Firstly, a shallow DI&B focus and adoption of accompanying initiatives can be more undermining than they are inviting, which makes them counterproductive. In providing a false sense of concern and maybe even hope, it further harms marginalized groups when these programs don’t lead to change.
- Pausing to reflect on your own contribution to the problem through hidden biases can reveal blind spots that are creating barriers instead of tearing them down.
- Lastly, remaining curious about the experience of others by acknowledging and respecting difference helps bridge gaps that prevent a sense of inclusion and belonging. In working through each of these, one will find we are all a lot more similar than we are different.
Purposeful and impactful DI&B programs are just the first step toward creating an organization that is truly equal, in every aspect of the word. Genuine interest and investment, readily and frequently expressed by leadership, is crucial to driving change.
Despite this bleak picture, women of today are stronger, fiercer, and more determined to live in a world where there is no disadvantageous distinction of experience. Women yearn for the ability to not just be employed by organizations or be present, but also to thrive there, just as their counterparts do.
Each of us contributes to the problem, intentionally and unintentionally at times. And equally, we can all be part of the solution. On this year’s Women’s Equality Day, I invite you to reflect on where we were as a society, where we are now, how far we have to go, and the role you intend to play.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our thoughts on Caribbean-American Heritage Month through the experiences of 10 leaders who shaped the world. Read the blog here.