Today is International Women’s Day. I am at work. Pretty much like every other day. And while many will taking a stand by participating in the Day Without a Woman, I won’t be. I have an important client meeting, and I am not willing to opt out of it, even to take a stand.
As a working mom of two almost grown-up kids, I’ve chosen to opt out of all kinds of things in order to balance work and family. Important and interesting client assignments. Business trips that were not mission critical. After hours social events with my colleagues where I may have met a great mentor or developed an important relationship.
This is what it means to be a woman with a career and a life in 2017. You have to opt in, and opt out of all kinds of things. Sometimes we are opting out by choice or circumstances. And other times, someone else opts out for us – and not with our consent. We’ve all been there.
I’ve had it better than most. Starting with a great education in an all-girls high school where the School Sisters of Notre Dame believed wholeheartedly that we could do anything. Gender wasn’t an issue. They expected us to achieve. And we did. My Holy Angels classmates are amazing, accomplished women. Gender parity was such an engrained part of how we viewed the world, I was pretty surprised to learn that the whole world didn’t see me, or my colleagues, the way those Sisters did. And like most of you reading this blog, I’ve experienced situations where men in the room thought I was only there to order lunch or take notes. Or male colleagues relegated me to tasks of organization, because that is a “girl’s job.” Personality traits and behaviors that are celebrated in male colleagues have been presented to me as issues with my “management style.” This experience is disturbing not because it is special, but because it is universal and common.
I am proud to work at an agency that values and promotes women. We proactively told our team to say we supported anyone participating in the Day Without a Woman. We launched a new service called HerVoice last year specifically to support women in leadership roles with their unique communications needs. Public Relations is an industry dominated by women, particularly on the agency side. But if you look at the very top echelon of leadership in our industry, and even at my own agency, it’s still men. And mostly white men.
It hasn’t all been bad. As one of two daughters, I had a Dad who told me he would put me up against any boy, any day and bet on me. For pretty much anything. I am grateful for the generosity of inspiring women who’ve mentored me along the way, including clients who flipped the service model equation and taught me so much, both by example and collaboration. I’ve been inspired by younger women, who sought me as a mentor not realizing that they were also teaching me a thing or two.
Yet I sit here trying to write a blog for International Women’s Day that says something that hasn’t already been said, by me, or by women far more eloquent, inspiring and accomplished than I can ever hope to be. Yet we still aren’t really heard. I am tired of writing about gender parity. Tired of fighting for it. And frustrated that it seems necessary to write this yet again. I worry that by working today, I am somehow selling out the sisterhood. Will this be another way to pit women against each other? The working moms vs. the stay at home moms, and now the women who participated vs. the women who just went to work, as always.
An MWWPR study at the end of 2016 painted a very bleak picture. 83 percent of Americans think women are not as effective at managing financial results of a company, even though the data clearly shows that women in leadership and on the board improves financial performance. Media coverage of women in leadership shows continued emphasis on “soft topics” and commentary on their appearance – topics rarely discussed with their male counter parts. Women are still paid 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. And women in the C-Suite are still a novelty. And one-third of HerVoice survey respondents believe it will take 100 years for the Fortune 500 to reach gender parity in the workplace.
So today, we take a stand on the importance of women. And while many pay lip service to the concept, these are the “alternative facts” that remain reality.
Maybe the Day Without a Woman will make a difference. My view is we already have too many days without women. Where women are physically present, but their voices are not truly heard.
There are lots of ways to take a stand. Some will participate in marches or protests. Others will tackle issues of gender discrimination in their own small corner of the world, be speaking up and speaking out. Others will work to mentor and create opportunities for other women.
Find your voice. Take a stand. Write a blog. I can’t keep quiet, and I hope you won’t either. I first heard this song during the women’s march – these women practiced over the internet and met for the first time in Washington D.C. Something about both the anthem, and the way these women came together spoke to me. If you aren’t sure what to do today, maybe just play it, sing along and share it with a woman who inspires you.