Being a woman in America in 2016 is an experience riddled with dichotomy. In some ways, things feel more equal than ever. Many women are now the primary breadwinners in their households. Women are more likely than men to enroll in and graduate from college. And yet, women ― particularly women of color ― are paid less and are far less likely to hold leadership roles at work. One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. Despite a female candidate now favored to win the Presidency, misogyny is alive and well. In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Like most social issues, awareness is the first step to solving them. The rise of feminism in American cultural conversation is an encouraging trend, whether it’s about “Leaning In” or #blackgirlmagic. For many people of an older generation, “feminism” is a complicated and often dirty word. It conjures up images of bra burning, man-hating women of an era gone by. But it shouldn’t be. Because of our collective unconscious bias against women — and speaking plainly, pretty much everyone who isn’t a straight white man — can only be addressed if we can acknowledge it. There are promising signs that the next generation of Americans will help lead the way. While there’s been much hand-wringing about over-policing of speech on college campuses — criticism that’s not without validity — young Americans are more attuned and committed than any other generation in history to creating an equal playing field at home, in the workplace, and in public life.
Of course, this forward thinking hasn’t reached every corner of America. Female leaders, particularly those guiding large corporations or organizations in male-dominated fields, often cringe at the level of interest in their gender. We know that women in CEO roles receive more media interest and coverage than their male counterparts, even though they are far fewer in number. And while we may not want our gender to be a topic of conversation, women who have managed to climb to the top of the ladder have a responsibility to ensure that the progress we’ve made continues to grow and reach back down to help others up. We can’t blaze new trails if the ones behind us become overgrown and impassable. Failing to acknowledge and talk about gender in the workplace and in society
enables the erosion of progress, in the same way clichéd talk about “colorblind” policies around race ignore a legacy of structural inequity that’s still unresolved today.
Today is the International Day of the Girl, the one day out of the year where we are reminded that it is important to empower girls from a young age to find their passion, and to find their voices. Whether it’s Girls Who Code, Girls Inc., or She’s the First, countless organizations are emerging that do the hard and dirty work of reaching back down the ladder to help the next young woman up. Talking — or for that matter, writing a blog post — is easy. Getting into the trenches and making real impacts is where it gets hard and where the most meaningful work is done to empower the next generation.
At MWWPR, we have an expertise in working with female leaders, and we’ve developed our HerVoice offerings to help women in leadership roles find their authentic voices as women, and as leaders, and to use those voices to advance their company’s reputation. This presents another bittersweet dichotomy: on one hand, I am proud our agency is empowering and advancing women in leadership, and walking the talk with a leadership team that is filled with strong, accomplished, and inspiring women. But it also makes me sad that in 2016, this is still needed.
Change begins with conversation, and let’s hope that the next generation of women in leadership won’t need HerVoice, because they will have found their voices long ago. Today, tell your daughters, nieces, neighbors and friends that their ideas, their voices and their passions matter. And more importantly, find a way to act. Whether it’s in ways big or small, at a local or global level, we are the change we’ve been waiting for.