Gender Equity Needs Action, Not a Pledge

The theme for this year's International Women's Day is "Pledging for Parity." While this pledge is a long overdue step, it is time we move past pledges and promises, and take real action to address this important issue.

According to the 2015 Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum, the gender gap won't close entirely until 2133! That is simply unacceptable.

As the founder of a majority women-owned business and a grandmother of nine school-aged grandchildren, achieving gender equity has been a personal and professional passion for a very long time.

While the idea that my grandchildren may never see the gender gap close in their lifetime is intolerable, it doesn't mean we haven't made progress.

No reasonable person is now disputing the business case for equity and inclusion. When we remove barriers that allow women to lift themselves up, we lift up our corporations, our societies, and our economies. When you take away power from women -- in the marketplace, in the workplace, and in communities -- you negatively impact each of those areas by limiting the diversity of ideas and perspectives which add ultimately to success.

That was not a view that many shared when I started my business, APCO Worldwide, almost 32 years ago. As one of the few women leaders in my profession, I was quite accustomed to being the only woman in the room or receiving regular lecturers from my male peers about why my ideas would work. Three decades later, with global success, these are less frequent but I am still surprised about how much resistance there has been to real equality.

We have also come to realize that equity is not a women's issue alone. We all know that unless men are engaged, things won't change. It will take passionate and devoted men as well as women to create the pace of change that is needed to achieve meaningful change.

Work by lauded sociologist Michael Kimmel shows that nowhere is the fact that gender equality is good for men clearer than our personal lives. Equality at home and the sharing of responsibilities for everything from housework to childrearing, creates happier marriages, healthier children that do better in school, lower rates of absenteeism and higher achievement scores for our children and even provides our children with better social skills to get along with their peers! And no one can claim that our male dominated political system has produced a healthier economy, safer world or more civil society.

The facts are there. From business to our day-to-day lives we see why gender equity is essential, and yet we accept pledges as progress. It's time to stop making excuses and start taking real action.

So what can each of us do? First, women alone cannot have this conversation. We need men to step up and join the effort. When men are involved in the discussion, they become invested in the effort, and gain a sense of accountability in ensuring that these critical goals are met. Why not start with a dialogue at home or with the men and women you supervise to think of three concrete things you can do to improve the situation.

We must also invest in gender equity the same way we would invest in any high yield asset. A recent Oxfam report outlined several examples of businesses who have thrived while making equality a priority, including: businesses prioritizing the recruitment and retention of women in their workforce; paying a living wage; and providing common-sense benefits. These small steps go a long way in empowering women to contribute to their economies and businesses in general. We need organizations to recognize and address this unconscious bias from the stockroom to the board room.

So to borrow a phrase from homeland security, "If you see something, say something."

We can each pledge that if we are in meetings where everyone looks the same, we should ask some questions about whether or not we are getting the best input and advice possible and insist on changing the mix for the next meeting.

And we can find more ways that inclusiveness begins at home! That will have its own rewards. No married woman can be totally successful without the engagement, support, assistance and elbow grease of a willing spouse. And -- male or female -- we can all pledge to train and mentor the next generation of women to succeed as equal partners in building the enterprises in which they work so they can expect to be treated fairly and those with the talent and will to succeed have fewer barriers to success. And for the women who lack the self-confidence to succeed during this transition and who have to address the conscious or unconscious bias they face, we have to remind them of what Eleanor Roosevelt once famously remarked: "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

So as we recognize International Women's Day, celebrated by men and women, let's turn this "Pledge to Parity," into meaningful action. We cannot wait until the year 2133; no excuses. Our families, our enterprises, society and indeed the entire global community will benefit.

This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.