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Women in Leadership

The Long Road Ahead to Gender Equality

Photo: Courtesy of Lindsey LaMont

It’s been a hundred years since women earned the right to vote, and if we don’t continue to push for progress, it could be another hundred before true equality is achieved.

August of 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Since that landmark legislation, waves of feminist activism in the ‘70s, ‘90s, and 2010s made progress in the fight for equal rights for women. Today, in what might arguably be called the “fifth wave” of feminism, the movement has expanded to include more diversity and appears to have more momentum than ever.

So after all this effort, we have to ask: How much progress has really been made after a hundred years? 

Despite representing 50.04 percent of the American labor force, only 7.4 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, only three of whom are non-white. For every dollar earned by a male worker, a white woman still only makes 82 cents, a black woman 62 cents, and a Latina woman just 54 cents. In the highest earning sector, technology, only 26 percent of computing-related jobs are held by women, with only 3 percent of these held by Black women, 6 percent by Asian women, and 2 percent by Latina women.

And what’s more, the Global Economic Forums’ annual Forecast on Equity now states that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years

Another hundred years

There are myriad reasons why the United States lags so far behind on gender equality.

There has been little progress on the law making and public policy front that directly affects women. For example, the United States does not grant paid maternity leave, forcing women to choose between starting a family or advancing their career.

In addition to policy, there are numerous cultural and systemic barriers to women’s economic progress. Because women still tend to handle the majority of household and child-related tasks, it is more difficult to apply for an elite job where long hours are expected. Most senior corporate positions and board roles are occupied by white men, and the tendency is to fill open positions at this level with “like candidates,” meaning other white men. Men also benefit from established formal and informal professional networks that generate job leads and early career mentoring. 

Improving the odds

Let’s not kid ourselves — there is still a long road ahead, but women still have opportunities to better position themselves to achieve high level executive positions and support other women along the way.

Number one is networking. Meeting women who have successfully forged a satisfying career for themselves, along with those still striving, is an invaluable way to both spot opportunities and to get your name out there. That network can also provide mentors and advisors who can help you along the way. 

When you become a leader yourself, don’t forget about your female colleagues. Offer a helping hand, make sure that women’s names (and not just white women’s names) are on the short list when recruiting, and offer advice when asked. Actively create assignments for women on your staff or in your company so that they can shine and be noticed and promote their achievements. And if you can, look for opportunities to introduce women-friendly policies within your organization. 

Additionally, and it may seem obvious, but support politicians who openly support women and policies that will help in their advancement.

We don’t want to wait another hundred years for true gender equality.

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