It’s Leap Day!
February 29 is the every-fourth-year calendar adjustment for the Gregorian calendar’s imperfections. The extra day appended to February inspired a leap of vision and blazing hope for women in 5th Century Ireland, when St. Bridget persuaded St. Patrick to declare that a woman could do what was then the unthinkable: ask a man to marry her.
At a time when a woman was, for all practical purposes, owned first by her father and then by her husband, marriage meant not love but economic survival for her and her children. No doubt many seized their one chance to override gendered power norms and choose their own fates. Unheard of!
Leap Day was codified in 12th century Scotland (again initiated by a woman, Queen Margaret). The tradition continued, highlighted by merry belittlements to remind women of their lack of power the rest of the time. For example, women on the prowl for a husband were to sport red petticoats as fair warning so the poor beleaguered men could see them from a distance and dash in the other direction.
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Leap Day privilege now seems an amusing anachronism. Though women still prefer the man to do the asking, the majority of men and women think it’s perfectly fine for a female to propose marriage.
True, such self-reported data masks how far women have yet to go to achieve genuine parity. The next norm-changing leaps must be women taking their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors of the economy, creating or earning wealth that places the female 51 percent of the population into power balance with their male counterparts, and winning election to political power positions that shape our lives in ways large and small.
Effective leadership and actions that create fundamental social change are rooted in the language of power. If women are ever to complete their staccato journey to equality, they must join that discourse with full throat. Clucking our tongues when we hear that women earn 79 cents to men’s dollar won’t change a thing.
Nor will the saints intercede this time; indeed the onslaught of anti-choice bills by the political right have hardened to 5th century proportions, making the phrase “barefoot and pregnant” relevant again. And poverty’s face is disproportionately female.
Know Your History and You Can Create the Future of Your Choice
The day after Leap Day, March 1, marks the first day of Women’s History Month . This year, rather than looking backward, a leap forward in thinking is in order.
By learning about our past, we can once and for all overcome the invisible and visible barriers to gender parity. We can choose to break the old patterns and we can make new ones.
I believe now is the right time in history for women and men together to equalize gender power in politics, work, and love.
Here are three strategies for taking the leap forward to create the future of your choice: value yourself, define power on your terms, and think bigger.
It’s painful to know the wage gap can largely be attributed to women not valuing themselves sufficiently to risk asking for more. Timidity in negotiating entry salaries and promotions multiplies geometrically to cost women on average half a million to a million dollars each over our lifetimes.
But in an opportune turn of the business case, organizations have good reason to court women. Those with more women in leadership make more money, according to McKinsey and Catalyst. Similarly, female legislators work harder and get more legislation passed than their male counterparts.
So no worries about asking for what you deserve. Employers need you more than you need them. Document your accomplishments, research their worth, and ask for what you deserve.
Define Power on Your Terms:
Power unused is power useless.
You can’t win political office if you don’t run. You can’t get into the C-suite if you don’t ask for the promotion. And you can’t sit down after an advance and expect the forward motion to continue. Professional women who opt out of the workplace claiming “I choose my choice” compromise their financial futures and make it harder for the next woman up for promotion to convince the boss she won’t leave when she has kids.
Women understandably resist the traditional definition of power: power over others. But power is what we make it. When I suggest women change how they think about power from oppressive “power over” to expansive “power to,” I see their faces relax as they embrace it—for their own good and the good they can do for others. Innovation comes from the more expansive kind of power, and a more collaborative model of leadership–one reason companies with more women in top leadership perform better.
Think Bigger, Then Bigger Still:
The leap to economic parity begs for bigger thinking. Like Women Moving Millions in philanthropy , the PaxEllevate Fund that invests with a gender lens. Golden Seeds and other angel investors increase access to capital for female entrepreneurs, Goldieblox shows girls they can become engineers, and we all can put our investments and purchasing power to reward companies that promote workplace equity and invest in socially responsible businesses that improve life for women and girls. And red petticoats are a fashion statement rather than a symbol of husband-stalking.
This Leap Day can be the moment about which future generations will say THAT was the moment of blazing hope when women changed the trajectory of history into a future more prosperous and flourishing than any the world has known.
So, Leap already.