If you said “Women’s Equality Day,” you’d be right.
And if you said it’s the 95th anniversary of the date in 1920 when women’s right to vote officially entered the U.S. Constitution, you’d be spot on.
But the greater significance of this day is not about looking backward at quaint sepia photo of suffragists picketing the White House (though it is notable that the suffragists were the first people ever to picket the White House), but rather looking at the progress we can see today and forward toward the work yet to be done for women to reach full equality and leadership parity.
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A good perfect storm on Women’s Equality Day 2015
Something important deserves to be recognized along with the historical significance of the day.
It’s a perfect storm in a good way for women’s progress.
Indications can be seen in an escalating number of firsts—from Jen Welter becoming the first female coach of an NFL football team to the first two women Army Rangers to a record number of women in the Forbes Richest People list to the election of Paulette Brown to be the first African-American women president of the staid American Bar Association.
Of course, individual firsts are cause for celebration. But they are just the start.
The biggest change I’ve noticed since I wrote No Excuses is more joy as women choose and work in their professions. Participating in the paid workforce for self-realization as well as economic necessity has become the norm. And that’s a big deal.
As Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, founder of WomenConnect4Good observes, women are changing the workplace as they go to one that is likely to be healthier for everyone:
An Ernst & Young study finds that Millennial women in particular are so serious about finding work-life balance, they’re willing to relocate to find it. Millennials are also more willing than other generations to pass up a promotion, change jobs, take a pay cut, or even change careers in order to achieve more flexibility. Millennials are an influential generation, perhaps destined to be as influential in their time as the Baby Boomers were in theirs. And just as the Baby Boomers changed the face of the workplace a generation ago, Millennials are on their way to doing the same in the years to come
New work to be done
All this good news means that on this Women’s Equality Day, it’s time for women to commit to think big and act bigger in order to reach full potential to bloom. One measure will be full parity from the boardroom to the bedroom, by #25not95. That would take women from holding the paltry under 20% of top leadership positions and earning 20% less than similarly situated men to full 50-50 parity in leadership and closing the wage gap across the board.
Economic power would help alleviate violence against women that remains a scourge, and revise the dismal fact that nearly six in 10 adults who live in poverty are women.
Making some of these challenges so difficult to overcome is culturally ingrained implicit bias. This remains despite an unassailable business case for women as drivers of profits and better decision making. As a result, we still see breathtaking data such as this on how companies drain women’s ambition early in their careers.
Many of today’s challenges echo the suffragists’
If you’ve wondered what’s the difference between “suffragists” and “suffragettes,” there are parallels with politically inspired media epithets about women today, as Megyn Kelly can attest.
The word “suffragette” was coined by British journalist Charles E. Hands in an article for the London Daily Mail in 1906. He intended the “ette” as a diminutive to belittle the work of suffragists and aimed to stop their advance to parity in this fundamental act of citizenship in a free society—the right to vote.
That’s a common phenomenon because, as philosophers such as Ghandi and Schopenhauer have said in various ways about those who seek social change that upsets the prevailing power balance, “first they laugh at you then they try to kill you, and then you win.”
No one remembers Hands today, but suffrage was won, Women’s Equality Day is noted on the calendar, and the world is crying out for the kind of leadership women bring to the table.
History has what some Native Americans call “long eyes.” “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. Progress requires the vision to see what is possible and the courage to make possible what others deem impossible.
I think Eleanor would agree there is a perfect storm FOR progress today. Not OF progress. Because no progress happens on its own. We must keep our vision clear, our shoulders to the wheel, and push together to full parity and equal opportunity in a culture that values each of us.
Wherever you are, you can probably find a Women’s Equality Day event to attend. And if you can’t, why not organize one yourself?
If you’re in New York or surrounds, join me and Women’s eNews founder and editor-in-chief, Rita Henley Jensen, on Women’s Equality Day—that’s August 26 as you know—from 6—8 pm when we host a reception, discussion of the day’s significance, and end with a delightful women’s history walk around lower Manhattan. Register here. Come talk about how we’ll keep this positive perfect storm blowing strong.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.