I was reading a report by McKinsey and Company on Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work. It reminded me of all the articles I read when I started researching my book seven years ago. The statistics, problems and calls to action were the same. Women are vital to corporate success, yet little has changed to meet their needs, honor their strengths or trust them to hold top positions unless there is a crisis.
One question continuously asked is why women don't stay in corporate positions long enough to earn the top executive positions. We know many don't leave to raise babies. Many leave out of frustration, disillusionment, loss of hope and sometimes sheer boredom. If we know this to be true, why aren't there thousands of women working together to change the corporate environment?
At the 2012 Women in the World Summit, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee asked, "Where are all the angry American women?" She was referring to the lack of women willing to stand up for their reproductive rights. I heard her words as a call to action for women to speak their mind in our companies and organizations as well.
If not enough women stand together, the problems will never stop. In fact, as Shannon Kelly declared in her post, The War On Women is a War Against Everyone, there is a movement intent on taking us back to times when problems were worse.
I am amazed.
When I teach diversity in my leadership classes, most people claim gender issues no longer exist. The women, if there are any in the room, either say nothing or tell me privately about their struggles to be recognized as a leader. Yet they won't share their frustrations publicly. They don't want to do anything that might to damage their personal progress.
I don't understand.
We tell women they can pursue any career path they want. Yet when they become engineers or politicians, they face a blatant, not just subtle, discrimination. The shock often sends them running to another career, disillusioned by the society that said they could achieve anything if they worked hard enough.
We still need changes in economic, political and social structures to utilize the talents of women. Yet when I am standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, everything screams at me to be more attractive, care about a Kardashian and cook better for my family.
Work is now an integral part of women's lives, either by desire or need. Companies with a percentage of female leaders in the boardroom do better financially. Why aren't leaders listening to what women need to feel valued and fulfilled? Are women not loud enough?
A group of women's rights activists have come together with lawmakers to make changes. Where? Buenos Aires. They call it the Women's Parliament. They were formally acknowledged last year and now they are transforming their most important initiatives into legislative bills. The idea for the group was first mentioned to lawmakers in 1998. It took 13 years to win official approval. The women never gave up.
Umair Haque wrote a blog post every American woman should read called, Declare Your Radicalness. He said we are "...the inheritors of the legacies of adventurers, grand risk-takers, plucky pioneers, those with the courage and sheer impertinence to defy a status quo that tried it's damnedest to stop them from creating a future that was brighter than the drab present they refused to settle for."
Where are all the radical women who won't stop until the future is brighter for all women?
Whether or not you thought Anne-Marie Slaughter threw feminism under the bus, she made a powerful call to action in her viral Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can't Have it All, "If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behaviors as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decided to, and we have many men who will stand beside us."
In response to Slaughter's article (there were over 2,400 comments online), Rebecca Traister wrote in a piece in Salon, "There are miles to go before feminism sleeps... We are still very much in the midst of reversing eons of gendered injustice." She also notes that "backlash politics" is pushing against the strides we have made. If we give in now, how many accomplishments will be erased?
Are you willing to stand up and fight? Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Claim your power. Many women I meet say they don't feel they have the power to change anything. Lauren Stiller Rikleen says in Power Strategies for Women the first step women must do is to get comfortable with the pursuit of influence and power. They will accomplish more by learning the nuances of influence and enjoying the impact they have when they wield their power than just relying on their accomplishments to speak for themselves.
- Clarify your vision. What does the world you want to live in look like? How are businesses operating so that people not only have lives, but are enjoying their lives too. Instead of trying to fix what is wrong, we need people who can paint a picture of a future that inspires others to follow and fight for.
- Work step by step to bring your vision to life. Change is incremental; it takes a lot of little steps and ideas spoken before the tipping point is reached. We can't give up now.
- Find people who aren't like you to align with. The broader your network of advocates, the greater your influence and ideas. The more people of different backgrounds come together, the greater the possibility for creative ideas to emerge.
Can you get angry enough to change this pathetic situation women still face at work? The decision is yours. As Martin Luther King said, "The right time to do the right thing is always now."