Source: Forbes | Margie Warrell
Summary: The case for the social and economic empowerment of women far transcends the importance of social justice and its siren call for greater gender equality.
Women may be graduating from U.S. colleges faster than men (3:2), but American women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and fill only 14% of Fortune 500 boardroom seats!
In Australia, which has one of the highest educated female populations in the world, the needle on the gender wage gap has hardly moved for 20 years, with women citing a lack of affordable childcare as a major deterrent to returning to work after having children (some women work for as little as $3.44 an hour when they return to full-time work after having children.)
In China, where Mao once famously declared that ‘women hold up half the sky,’ only 13.2% of married women have homes in their own names and the gender income gap is widening. The sad reality is thaendt one has to look very hard for good news stories when it comes to gender equality. (If you’ve got one, please send it my way!)
I could go on listing the disturbing statistics for women around the globe, but I hardly need to. There is still a massive gender gap, even in the most educated and advanced countries, despite the compelling economic case for greater gender equality in business, government, community and society at large.
Which begs the question: Why, fifty years since the feminist movement took flight, do women still lag behind men on nearly every parameter?
There is a complex web of social, cultural, institutional and economic factors that contribute to the current status quo for women around the globe – whether in American boardrooms or African market stalls. However, the case for the social and economic empowerment of women far transcends the importance of social justice and it’s siren call for greater gender equality. It’s about harnessing the full quota of talent, creativity, emotional intelligence and ingenuity that women possess in abundance to ensure a better future for everyone – men and women alike. Closing the gender gap isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do!
Given the status quo, we are right to look to those in positions of power and influence to proactively champion for change at a policy and structural level. However, we cannot, and must not, rely on them alone. Rather we must each take personal responsibility for doing what we can, however little it may seem, to forge change and stand against gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping when we see it.
To that end, in marking this year’s International Women’s Day I invite every woman reading this article to consider what more you can do to advance yourself and other women to become stronger catalysts for change. And to every man (yes, you’re an equally important part of the solution), I invite you to reflect on where your biases may be perpetuating the challenges women face, and to not only encourage the women you work and live with to confront them more boldly, but to take on some of those “women’s chores” and offer the practical help so many women find in such short supply on the homefront. As a working mother of four, I know too well that sometimes those little things (like emptying the dishwasher!) can make the biggest difference.
Women, Own Your Value!
I’ve written previously in this column about the confidence gap between men and women, which research has shown can hold talented and capable women back in every field of endeavour. Accordingly, women must stop buying into the false beliefs that keep us from taking up Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to lean in, back ourselves and stop underestimating just how much we can accomplish (and juggle) when we put our mind to it.
In Mika Brzezinski’s book Know Your Value, the c0-anchor for MSNBC’s Morning Joe shared how she kept settling for a lot less than what she wanted and tolerated a salary that wasn’t even covering her monthly expenses as co-host of a top-rated morning show. Eventually she realized that to be valued by others fully, we must first value ourselves. Too many women devalue what they have to offer, sell themselves short, and talk themselves down. If you’re guilty of it, stop it. Now. Diminishing yourself serves no one. As Robin Fisher Roffer writes in The No Fear Career, “When you feel your confidence slipping, resist the urge to give up and courageously show up.”
Embrace Ambition, Pursue Power
My belief is that as women hold more power, we won’t be changed by that power, but we will change the nature of it. However, to accrue power, we have to embrace ambition and set our sights high. Of course not everyone aspires to be CEO or President or even join the ranks of senior leadership. Yet too often we downgrade our ambitions because they seem, well, too ambitious. The reality is that you must first think bigger before you can act bigger. While it’s risky to set out toward a huge goal, the greater danger is in setting your sights too low. As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “If your vision isn’t so big that it scares you a little, then it’s not big enough.”
Ask For More
It’s a rule of life that you will rarely be given more than you are willing to ask for. Amy Pascal, the outgoing Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures, offered a helpful insight for women who feel underpaid and undervalued. “I run a business. If people want to work for less money, I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and say, can I give you some more?” Which is precisely the point – if you want more, you have to exit your comfort zone and ask for more. Sure you may not get it, but at least you know where you stand. If women everywhere asked for more, the wage gap would soon narrow. Own your value and insist on being paid for it.
A Cornell University study of starting salaries for MBA graduates from Carnegie Mellon, males were earning $4,000 more than females. Yet only 7% of the women (compared to 57% of the men), had asked for it – setting men on a much higher income trajectory than the women they sat beside in college. So don’t assume people are mind readers. Don’t sit around collecting gold stars assuming hard work and brains alone will land a pay increase or a promotion.
Dare To Rock The Boat
If all you do is try to get along with people, you’re selling out on the full value you have to bring. Sure, your boss or colleagues may not always agree with you if you push back or ruffle a few feathers. Some might even think you’re being difficult. But being someone others can rely on for a candid, even if not politically correct, opinion can open doors to opportunities that will never go to those without an original thought who choose to play it safe in silence.
When all you do is ‘go along to get along,’ you deprive others of the value your perspective holds. Everyone is worse off. So while no one likes someone who’s pushing their opinion down others’ throats, sometimes it’s important to speak up, and share what’s on your mind, lest group-think prevail.
Refuse To Be Intimidated
“Women must not let themselves be intimidated,” said Debbie Kissire, Vice Chair of Ernst Young, when I interviewed her for Stop Playing Safe. It’s a sentiment shared by many women who’ve worked their way to the top, often in male dominated industries. It’s also why many other women tolerate behavior and circumstances that many men never would.
As I share in this video, whenever you find yourself feeling intimidated by others, remember that your feelings don’t stem from who someone else is being, but from the story you hold about yourself in relation to them. Then stand tall and speak up in the knowledge that you are every bit as worthy as anyone, and everyone, else. Period. You teach people how to treat you!
As a coach I’ve met many men who excel at self-promotion. Yet I can count on one hand the women who are comfortable with it. Too many women wrongly equate ‘blowing their trumpet’ with conceitedness. It’s not. In today’s world, taking responsibility for getting on someone’s radar is crucial. Humility is a virtue, but over done we can miss out on opportunities that get laid at the feet of those who aren’t so reticent to put themselves forward. After all, the more people who know what you want, the more who can help you get it. For ways to promote yourself without feeling like you’re bragging click here.
Embrace Bossy, Don’t Run From It
Women are natural caretakers and are innately strong at building relationships. Yet we can also be very reticent to do anything that might disrupt these relationships. If you are always nice, you will sometimes be too nice. It’s about balance, not bitchiness. Which is why, on this one point, I strongly disagree with Sheryl Sandberg and her #BanBossy campaign. We don’t need to #BanBossy, we need to #EmbraceBossy – encouraging young women to be more resilient, sure enough in themselves to handle being called bossy or a bitch on occasion. (Though please note, if you’re being called either on a daily basis, chance is maybe you need to balance your assertiveness with a little more caring. No-one responds well to feeling pushed around.)
Lift as you climb.
Women often lack mentors and sponsors, relative to men, as they forge ahead in their careers, build their businesses and navigate the challenges of pursuing a aspirations outside the home while raising a family. Research by McKinsey found that having a sponsor, mentor, or advocate - male or female – at a senior level can make all the difference as the competition and pressures mount higher up the organizational ladder. These people help us make wiser, smarter and more strategic decisions when those decisions matter most.
It’s therefore important to continually look about and see where they can support other women – whether to make an introduction, offer advice, nurture ambition, encourage them to get off their own back and lean in, or to call out discrimination when we see it. When we empower women to do more and be more, we don’t dilute our own power, we strengthen it. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Risk Failing & Falling Short
While women may be innately more risk averse than men, that doesn’t give us an excuse to avoid taking risks. In order to achieve great things, we have to take a risk and simply take a leap of faith over the crevasse of fear and self-doubt we often wrestle with. As Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia wrote, “Changing the world, like living your own life well, requires a sense of purpose, the courage to pursue it and the preparedness to risk the most public of failures.”
What matters most is not whether we have failed or succeeded, but that we’ve had the courage to try. Nothing worthwhile will be achieved if you’re only ever playing it safe. And so we must risk falling short in our efforts to achieve what we want as well as to create a more fair, just and equitable world and workplace.
Sometimes I am accused of being a ranting feminist. So be it. The fact is that I’m really just a humanist – passionate about doing what I can to create a world where all people – men and women alike – have the opportunity to use their talents, pursue their passions and make the difference their difference can make. By focusing on what is within our control – working on ourselves and those in our immediate environment – we will be able to grow our power, expand our influence and create a more equitable world where women don’t just have equal opportunity to be and do whatever they want, but that they believe they’re no less capable than any man. That’s the world I’m working toward. How about you?
Gender equality is an issue for EVERYONE. Only when those of us with the power to speak up, step up, lean in & call out discrimination do so, can those women born into cultures that deprive them of power ever hope to exercise theirs.
Margie Warrell is a women’s leadership coach and bestselling author who is a regular keynote speaker at women’s events globally. Connect on Facebook and Twitter and or check out her two bestselling books Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage.