Grace, Grit, and Paycheck Fairness – When?

The annual hooplah over Equal Pay Day is over. At gatherings around the country last month, politicians and activists alike decried the persistent 20% plus pay gap between men and women. Now what? Back to work with our heads down as usual?

Not if you’re Lilly Ledbetter.

The namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act—the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law while surrounded with the smart political optics of Ledbetter, bipartisan members of Congress, and other women leaders in red power suits—knows this:

  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation requires each woman to be persistently aware of what she’s worth and stand up for herself in the workplace.
  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation is a long haul process that requires changes to laws and policies so the system is fair to all.

The personal and the political are, as usual, intertwined.

Sure, negotiation expert  Victoria Pynchon can coach you on how to negotiate compensation more effectively for yourself. And when I speak and teach about my book No Excuses and its 9 Power Tools, I emphasize #3—use what you’ve got—to help women identify just how much power they have in their own hands, including the power to make changes in their paychecks.

And sure, as the Daily Muse pointed out, it’s good that the U.S. Department of Labor held an Equal Pay App Challenge seeking an app to educate people about the persistent problems of equal—or rather, unequal—pay.

But clearly these individual actions, as important as they are, constitute isolated drops in the deep blue ocean of needed systemic change.

Ledbetter’s new memoir, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, takes the personal and weaves it together with the political as she describes how she became a leader in the fight for equal pay.

The retired Goodyear Tire Company executive reveals how she discovered she’d been paid less systematically for 30 years because of her gender, began advocating for herself with her employer, and then realized she had a larger cause working for equal pay on behalf of all women through the courts and the legislative process.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was needed to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court decision that nullified Ledbetter’s previously successful legal challenge to Goodyear, thus making it harder for women—and all employees—to pursue federal claims of pay discrimination.

Yet as Ledbetter explains in this radio interview with The Women’s Eye, her namesake law simply put women back where they had been before she filed her lawsuit.

“Women are still lagging far behind,” she says. “You should expect and get a good day’s pay for a good day’s work.”

Although the 2007 law restores workers’ ability to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against in pay, it doesn’t solve the underlying difficulty for employees to know whether they’ve been treated unfairly to begin with.

That’s why Ledbetter’s now fighting for the next step—passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has been called the 21st century fix for 20th century laws. According to the American Association of University Women— which has been a leader in equal pay advocacy—the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much needed updated of the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act, is a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education and enforcement efforts…the bill would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

Washington beltway rumor has it that the Senate Democratic majority will bring up Paycheck Fairness in the next week or two, in an effort to solidify their party’s electoral advantage with women while further eroding women voters’ support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Blocked by Republicans in 2010 when it was last considered, the bill has been neither endorsed nor opposed by Romney.

AAUW’s Government Relations Director Lisa Maatz has concerns about that strategy: “It’s always good to see our priority issues in the national spotlight, and there now seems to be a growing call in the Senate to bring up the Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote. It would be useful for voters to know exactly where our lawmakers and candidates stand on this critical issue. But I must also say that I’m not sure it helps our cause if equal pay simply becomes partisan cannon fodder in this year’s elections, with little actual effort made to close the gap.”

I think Ledbetter would agree with me that forcing the issue is a leadership act and might be the only thing that can help the fair pay cause by making voters aware of where the candidates stand so they can vote accordingly.

Whatever happens, women and men who believe in fair pay will need plenty of Lilly Ledbetter’s courage, grace, and grit to prevail.

I’ll be tracking and continuing to write about Paycheck Fairness here, so stay tuned.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Memo to Julia Louis-Dreyfus: How Veep Can Lead Without Power

I could hardly wait to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her new life-after-Seinfeld sitcom, Veep.

As a student of women’s relationship with power, I made sure to be curled up in bed for Veep’s 10pm edt HBO premier last night, ready to soak it up and take notes on my equally charged up  ipad.

My excitement deflated minute by minute.

Entertainment Watch’s plot overview is one reason:

Louis-Dreyfus’ Vice President Selina Meyer is a veep without much influence constantly trying to gain some, a ripe premise for comedy.… In the first installment of Veep, we saw V.P. Meyer trying to advance her green initiative with the introduction of cornstarch-based utensils in government offices, a move that irritated (“outrage” being too strong a word to use for anything a Vice President introduces) the plastics lobby.

Now, I know that Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president John Nance Garner (do you even know who he was?) described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” And when Veep Meyer asks her former senatorial colleague what she’s been missing since she left the Senate to take the vice-presidency, the senator replies, “Power?”

As the tension between corn starch versus plastic utensils mounts, Veep receives repeated messages that the White House doesn’t want any mention of anything that could bring down the wrath of Big Oil’s mega lobby. The President himself is never seen or heard—rubbing the wound of Meyer’s perceived powerlessness with sea salt.

But that’s just the beginning of the narrative by which Veep renders the foul-mouthed Meyer less than influence-commanding.

Her self-presentation telegraphs “I am not to be taken seriously.” Would a vice president come to work in sleeveless party dresses, with visible cleavage, hair flopping in her face, the red power suit only worn for purposes of the official photograph?

Dreyfus acknowledged that she was styled after Michelle Obama.

“[My character Selina Meyer] is not as chic as Michelle Obama, but who could be?” Louis-Dreyfus said, explaining further that it was still Obama’s singular style that provided the blueprint for the character’s sexy, yet powerful look, “so we can move it slightly away from the square look — no offense,” Louis-Dreyfus concluded.

They model the first female vice president on the First Lady?

Please!! There’s not one shred of job description comparability, and to imply so is demeaning both to women and to whoever sits a heartbeat from the Presidency.

The entire show makes Selina Meyer look like a Palinesque dunderhead, despite never revealing her political party. Meyer gives away her power in so many ways large and small. And swearing like a sailor while thinking up schemes to cut others down to size is supposed to make her look strong enough to operate in a man’s world? I don’t buy it.

Being a leader whether or not you have the formal power doesn’t require cutting others down. It means first and foremost that you have to act like one.

Here are three ways everyone can use power effectively without being the formal leader:

Value Your Piece of the Puzzle

Everyone in an organization holds a piece of the puzzle, without which the full picture can’t be completed. There’s much more mutuality than we often perceive.

Everybody needs help now and then, even—especially—if they hold the title of President whose job by definition is impossible.

Bonnie McEwan, president of the public interest communications firm Make Waves Not Noise and professor in the Milano Graduate School in New York, told me she advises her students to “view themselves as powerful, in a constructive sense, and understand it in terms of the ability to influence for good.”

McEwan teaches her students to analyze their own personal power bases. She highlights two key sources of power within their control: referent power, the power of personality or presence, and expert power, or their abilities and skills to contribute to the work. Meyer could have a lot of fun in Veep working these sources of power out while demonstrating spunk and leadership.

Deepen Relationships

The world turns on human connections, so it’s not surprising that many experts suggest deepening relationships by getting to know people and their motivations is as key to making things happen regardless of one’s position. People like working with people they like and trust. Coming from what was apparently a highly respected Senate position, Meyer brought plenty of that to the vice presidency.

In their book Influence Without Authority, Adam Cohen and David Bradford write about Nettie Seabrooks, who as an African American and a woman, had more than her share of hurdles to acquire influence at General Motors. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that her capacity for cultivating strong relationships and avoiding self-inflicted relationship traps helped her to be effective far beyond her formal position.

Set an Agenda and Deliver the Goods

When I spoke at the YWCA Tucson’s Women’s Leadership Conference recently, a nurse practitioner approached me with a worried look on her face. “I see where our patient care could be improved significantly,” she said, “But how can I exercise leadership when I’m not the doctor and not the manager?”

It can be frightening to tell the boss something he or she might not want to hear, but if you have your facts organized and present a cogent agenda, I’ll bet you won’t just get the meeting, you’ll be rewarded. And if the information or advice you offer proves to make the team shine, or keeps the boss from stepping into a big pile of —it, you’ll build trust and your own sense of empowerment.

Like the Veep, most of us don’t hold CEO positions during most of our careers. Nevertheless, as McEwan says, “If you see yourself as the leader of your staff rather than as the follower of your boss, you empower yourself to take action. Perhaps you can’t do everything, but you can do something.”

If Selina Meyer took these three tips for leading without formal power, she’d lose the contrived punch line of Veep. But believe me, there’s plenty of Washington absurdity to create a hilariously funny sitcom about a female Vice President without making her look small, mean, and truly powerless.

What was your reaction to Veep? How have you led despite not having formal power?

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Will Equal Pay Make You Submissive in Bed?

I raise this question because today I experienced the disorienting juxtaposition of Equal Pay Day with the retro notion that women’s growing economic power makes us want to be dominated during sex.

Equal Pay Day marks the day in April when women wear red to signify we’re in the red, earning (by 2011 calculations) but 77.4 cents to men’s $1. And for African-American and Hispanic women the differential is significantly more extreme.

This marker of financial non-power came just after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker disappeared the state’s equal pay law. It also coincided with author and journalism professor Katie Roiphe’s implausible analysis of the S and M-loving novel Fifty Shades of Gray.

A paradox in her own mind, Roiphe opines:

“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace…when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.

It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness…We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semi-pornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”

Really? And whose preferred narrative do we think this zero-sum “power-over” social model is?

Even if we bought the logical framework, assertions of female dollar dominion are greatly overstated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 28.9% of wives in dual income families out earn their husbands. If my elementary school math holds up, that means more than 70% of men still out earn their wives.

And because women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men and don’t toot their own horns as flagrantly, each woman who works for pay outside the home (note the language here, Hilary Rosen) gets ever-farther behind in the paycheck race, amassing a half-million dollar average deficit by retirement age.

Here’s a dandy little chart created by Catalyst that lays it out starkly.

Men Hold the Vast Majority of Positions of Power (and Remuneration) in the United States.

Table: Percentage of Women and Men in Positions of Power in the United States, 2011

Women Men
% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 3.4% 96.6%
% of Top Earners in the Fortune 500 7.5% 92.5%
% of Executive Officers in the Fortune 500 14.1 % 85.9%
% of Board Seats in the Fortune 500 16.1% 83.9%
% Working in Congress 16.8% 83.2%
% Working in Senate 17.0% 83.0%

Sex and the Power of the Paycheck

For men, the “mine is bigger than his” ideal, whether we’re talking paycheck, possessions, or penis, isn’t mitigated by any cultural narrative of a presumed desire for powerlessness. So why should a desire for powerlessness be inherently true for women?

Which doesn’t mean women don’t experience real power ambivalence issues, as I found in my research for No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

It’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it, and there’s a big risk in upending any power structure. You lose the comfort of familiar misery. People say bad things about you. You have to actually think. To make choices and take responsibility for what you choose.

Co-option becomes rampant on all sides of this equation. The rewards of living within the patriarchal narrative are so high and the benefits of bucking it so low. Why else would Tina Brown publish Roiphe’s logically torqued submission theory?

But think about the alternative to embracing the power of the paycheck:

Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity looks like.

The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” That’s not funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of one’s financial position.

So it’s incumbent upon women to do as PBS “One-on-One” host Maria Hinojosa said as she wrapped up a New York Women’s Agenda panel on equal pay with an exhortation to action, “You have to learn to eat your fear, to turn the tables on the power relationships.”

Pay Disparity = Power Disparity

For as long as women are paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.

Economic inequality narrows the possibilities to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, sexual and otherwise, and create healthier relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.

This kind of power to, not the domination-submission framework of power over, is what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively. Even those—male or female, high earners or not—who like to be spanked now and again during sex.

I hate to throw water on Katie Roiphe’s latest feminist-disparaging theory, but I feel a lot sexier after I’ve earned a nice book advance or a fair speaking fee than during an economic dry spell. And after I’ve deposited my money, I’ve never once had a fantasy of being submissive. Not even when I’ve out-earned my spouse.

Personally, I find paycheck power—mine, that is—quite an effective aphrodisiac, with no concomitant need to be subjugated or humiliated. But I do get off on verbally spanking legislators who don’t support equal pay policies.

Here’s a link where you can use your power to tell your members of Congress to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Maybe our collective voices will whip them into submission.

Do it right now. I promise you’ll get a thrill.

And then, walk through the doors of power that have been opened for you; join me on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in a teleconference event, Sister Courage: How Movement Building can Break Glass Ceilings and Change the World. This Ten Buck Talk is sponsored by The Daily Thrive, a She Negotiates project.

Rometty’s Epic #FAIL to Lead at Augusta

Talk show bloviator Rush Limbaugh calls 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating insurance coverage of contraceptives. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compares women to caterpillars. And the Augusta National Golf Club’s perfectly manicured greens remain firmly planted among those last bastions protecting male hegemony over society’s most powerful economic and political institutions.

The all-male golf club, based in Augusta, Georgia, has failed once again to award its coveted green jacket to a woman who clearly deserves club membership—IBM’s president and CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometti. IBM is one of three major corporate sponsors of the club’s vaunted Masters golf tournament, and Rometty is Big Blue’s first female CEO.

But as much as I’ve excoriated Augusta’s male leaders for perpetuating this exclusionary practice, and as much as I believe IBM’s board is culpable for not standing up for their own CEO, I’m even more distressed over Rometty’s failure to take this unprecedented opportunity to lift up not only herself but all women aspiring to the upper echelons of corporate leadership.

NEW! Listen to this TakeAway podcast with Gloria Feldt and Nicole Neily : Accusations of Sexism for All Male Augusta National Golf Club.

Rometty missed a historic chance to “sit in the high seats,” as Frances Perkins described it when tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the first-ever female cabinet secretary in 1933, the same year Augusta National Golf Club was founded. Perkins took the challenge visibly as a woman because of her sense of obligation beyond herself. “I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered,” she said, “and so to establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

Women have advanced tremendously since Perkins’ time, not because high seats were offered but more often because women themselves opened doors, broken through glass ceilings, challenged discriminatory laws, brought their own chairs in, and risked being ridiculed in the ensuing controversy.

Rometty herself stands on the shoulders of those brave women, whether she acknowledges it or not.

Thus far, she has not. Her response to calls for comment about being excluded from the golf club have been met with “no comment.” What a shame. And what a missed opportunity to sit in the high seats on behalf of women now and those yet to come.

For until women have reached full parity in top leadership positions across all sectors, each of us—especially a woman like Rometty who has broken through that proverbial thick layer of men to earn a place at the top of a major corporation—still bear responsibility to other women to take every opportunity to push the fulcrum of justice toward greater fairness and full equality.

Kathy Groob, publisher of ElectWomen Magazine says we should call Augusta’s exclusion of women what it is: sexism.

For years, women have been excluded informally from golf course business deal-making arenas because women typically didn’t play golf and golf courses have been somewhat of an all-male sanctuary for men. The number of women golfers is increasing as women now make up approximately 22% of the golfers in the United States.

Rometty happens to be among that 22% of women who golf. But whether she plays golf or not is not the most relevant factor. The power of access and access to power are.

Because the symbolic importance of that green jacket is not about golf, as Martha Burk, the former head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is fond of pointing out. It is about power.

When power brokers hang together, they naturally do business deals together. So it’s a big deal negative for women when power-brokering sources like Augusta National hang out the “No Girls Allowed” sign.

Sure, women have single-sex clubs too, but rarely does any man clamor to get into, say, the Junior League or Business and Professional Women or even a Curves workout studios that might be conveniently located in his neighborhood. The stature of Augusta’s all-male entity comes from its power and influence that no women’s group to date is perceived to have.

And while Augusta as a private club might have the legal right to discriminate, it’s still wrong for them to exclude women. For in doing so, they keep women from accessing a main source of power in business: the human connections that are made when 300 of the nation’s most powerful business leaders bond on Augusta’s greens and in its clubhouse.

As a woman who has more than earned the right to be among them, Rometty should stand up and speak out now for the inclusion of women.

She can start by signing this petition that has been started to get her into Augusta.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Are You Angry Enough to Embrace Your Power To Act? (3 Signs You Are)

Get power-to without leaving home!

Join me for a No Excuses Facebook chat on my fanpage Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern, 2pm central, 1pm mountain, noon pacific, etc. I’ll be on video, you’ll be able to ask questions and talk with others via chat box. It’s easy. Really. And there will be giveaways! Let me know if you’re coming here.

In decades of experience as a women’s advocate, I’ve learned people can be inspired to action by one of two things: anger or aspiration.

A roiling, boiling anger is propelling women — even many who’ve never been activists before — to embrace their “power to” to take leadership and make change. They’re making their voices heard over the din of political rhetoric they might shun under other circumstances.

There was no one trigger, rather a succession of insults. I talked with Richard Lui about them this week on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. Here’s a smattering:

  • After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to speak about why contraceptives should be covered by insurance…
  • After the stunning optics of an all-male “expert” panel pontificating on women’s reproductive health before a Senate committee (also all-male because the women on the committee were so incensed they walked out)…
  • After shock jock Rush Limbaugh denigrated Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute (can one be both—don’t sluts give it away?) and demanding to see videos of her having sex…
  • After bills like those in Texas and Virginia forcing women seeking abortions to submit to 10″ ultrasound “shaming wands” (as Doonesbury dubbed them), an AZ bill requiring women to bring notes to their employers verifying they take birth control for health reasons not pregnancy prevention or risk being fired, and a Tennessee bill that mandates public reporting of the doctors by name and the demographics of each patient…

Women are rightly furious.

Why is this happening?

Writer Susan Swartz, who blogs at Juicy Tomatoes, notes, “It’s not just the warbling of a choir boy who believes that sex should only be for procreation and wants to turn the country into a theocracy. It’s a growing roar against women with one wild-eyed effort after another to attach new laws to women’s bodies.”

Hillary Clinton take at the Women in the World conference in New York recently was, “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.”

Have women finally stopped playing nice about all these “power over” affronts? Here are three signs that tell me the answer is a resounding YES!

  1. Individuals aren’t waiting for someone else to tell them to take action. They’re just doing it. Like Sandra Fluke—who now says she’d consider running for elected office. Go, Sandra, you’ve sure got my vote!
  2. Pro-woman legislators, previously silent, are filing in-your-face bills that smoke out those cruel and unjust measures that shame, blame, and make women barefoot and pregnant again. The antidotes? Requiring men seeking Viagra to first have a cardiac stress test and rectal exam or watch videos of treatment for prolonged erections to one that would restrict vasectomies to men who are at imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.
  3. Between the spontaneous petitions, thousands of smart-ass but well taken questions on TX Gov. Rick Perry’s Facebook page (“What kind of tampons do you recommend, Gov. Perry?” “I’ve been researching chastity belts and would like your opinion.”), and constant chatter about the issues, I haven’t heard this decibel level of righteous anger since early 2001.

In my book No Excuses, I urge women to redefine power from the oppressive power over, rightly resisted by many women, to the expansive leadership implied by power to.

So yesterday on my Facebook page, I asked: “Are women finally getting angry enough to embrace their power to?”

Hong Kong spa director Shoshana Weinberg asked in response: “Why does it have to be anger? Can’t love get us there?”

My answer was:

Love without using our power to stand up for ourselves got us into this pickle. Anger is a good motivator to action. But you are right, anger isn’t enough. After we get riled up by anger, we need aspiration. Aspiration to use the “power to” for good. For me, that’s another, more intentional word for love.

More on aspiration in another post. But for now, I want to know:

What about you? Are you angry enough to embrace your power to? How?

And PS: Want to talk about the concept of power to and the Power tools in No Excuses? Join me this Sunday, March 25, at 3pm eastern for a chat on my Facebook page. It’s easy! Full info and instructions here.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Wear The Shirt And Make Women’s History

“Well behaved women rarely make history” ~ Laurel Thatcher UlrichWear the Shirt and Make Women's History Photo, Gloria in TShirt

I often wear a t-shirt bearing historian Ulrich’s advice because people react with a chuckle and it starts conversations. Conversations we need because women’s history is rarely given its due.

March is Women’s History Month, so designated because history has largely been framed through the male lens, recorded by male pens, and thus not surprisingly showcases men as the protagonists and the leaders; women, if noticed at all, play supporting roles (unless of course they take “male” personas, such as generals).

Yet women were everywhere, giving birth to everyone, among many other accomplishments. I’ve often wondered whether, if women had been documenting history for the last millennium, keeping peace and making things rather than making war and destroying things would be the central organizing narrative.

Then, once history is made, it seems so normal that it can easily be taken for granted. When I asked my grandson if he would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask such a dumb question.

And Sunday’s New York Times front page boasted a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde—with little comment about what a power shift those two symbolize. Yet, as Lagarde said at the recent Women in the World conference, the global financial meltdown might not have occurred if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters—or at least Lehman Brothers and Sisters. History has consequences for the future.

Women’s History: A Revolutionary Shift

Until the 1970’s, the topic of women’s history was virtually nonexistent in public consciousness. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women first initiated a “Women’s History Week”. They chose the week of March 8 to make International Women’s Day—established in 1909 to highlight the need for a strong working women’s agenda—part of it.

The response was so overwhelming that by 1987, the entire month of March was designated as Women’s History Month by a bi-partisan Congressional resolution.

The inception of Women’s History Month marked a revolutionary shift in thinking about whose actions are worth recording. Yet most history curricula still under-report women’s history and history made by women.

When I show students in my Women, Power, and Leadership class, most of whom are Women and Gender Studies majors or minors, photos of two dozen of the most influential women in American history, few recognize anyone other than perhaps Gloria Steinem in her aviator glasses. They all recognize pop culture icons such as race car driver Danica Patrick. But few if any know about Ada Lovelace who created the underlying concepts that enabled Steve Jobs to envision Apple. She’s been called the first computer programmer.

Ever hear of her? Not likely.

History Sheds Light On Today’s Struggles

That’s why during our annual attention to Women’s History Month it’s as important to learn and to teach history as to celebrate it.

With recent legislation on the state and federal levels seeking to force women to endure jamming unnecessary ultrasound probes into their vaginas, allow employers to deny women health services, while the Paycheck Fairness Act languishes without a hearing in Congress and the motherhood penalty for female employees remains rampant, it’s urgent that women’s historic and contemporary struggles for our most fundamental rights are studied and understood.

By “wearing the shirt” (No Excuses Power Tool #6), we begin to appreciate our own history. And when we know our history (No Excuses Power Tool #1), we can create the future of our choice.

Eleanor Roosevelt realized this and that’s why she became more or less the first blogger. She wrote “My Day”, a 500-word syndicated newspaper column six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962 in order to influence policy through a medium accessible to a woman. “Without equality,” she said, “there can be no democracy.” She was more noted for her work to advance racial equality, but she clearly included women in that declaration: “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

The gravel-voiced former congresswoman, Bella Abzug, once said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

We’ll know we have social and political gender parity when women’s visibility in the making of history, and in the telling of it, will be, well, just normal.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.