06/09/2015 03:42 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2016

Pay Equity Begins at Home

Recently, one of my colleagues on the Vision 2020 team encountered a skeptical male who asked, "Just what is it you're celebrating in 2020?"

She replied: "We'll be celebrating the 233rd anniversary of your right to vote, and the 100th anniversary of mine. "

Her point was the century-plus time lag between men's voting rights, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and the enfranchisement of the female half of the population in 1920. What she didn't add is that the equality agenda remains unfinished, and that's the agenda Vision 2020 is working on.

Shared leadership among women and men, closing the gender gap in pay and retirement income, educating children about the history of women, and increasing women's civic engagement -- those are the goals we are focused on as we count down to 2020 and the 19th Amendment centennial celebration.

Believing that our nation will be stronger and better when it engages all its brainpower, we are committed to finding a way out of the cultural cul de sac where we've been spinning our wheels for so many years.

Despite some progress, women in top leadership positions in business and government are still relatively few in number. Differences in pay for women and men in comparable jobs persist. Education, which we count on to guide the orderly transition of civilization from one generation to the next, has been slow to encourage girls to pursue science and technology.

As for whom to blame, there is no shortage of finger pointing. Some say employers are the cause. Others emphasize unfair government policies and practices. Some identify those in power who seem determined to maintain the status quo. And there are others who say that we women ourselves have been too timid in demanding what's rightfully ours.

The debate goes on. Politicians view it with alarm. Theorists analyze it. Executives deny it. Women live with it. This column continues it.

We might consider that our own attitudes and behaviors, the ones that influence our children, need to be reexamined.

Research and reality indicate that we begin to send mixed messages to girls and boys very early, and right at home. When it comes to chores, boys get the "big" jobs of taking out the trash or shoveling snow -- the high visibility and higher paying tasks. The girls are expected to help at home, with meals, dishes, laundry, and are paid less, if at all. (A 2014 Junior Achievement survey found that 70 percent of boys say they get an allowance compared with fewer than 60 percent of girls.)

Roles are defined. Expectations are shaped. According to a TIME Magazine article by Eliana Dockterman, "This chore gap also demonstrates to girls that household work doesn't count as work that should be rewarded. It's no wonder then that when they grow up, women spend more than twice as much time on unpaid work (like childcare and household chores) as men do each week..." In other words, it's clear that men's work is valued more highly than women's work.

Teaching equality begins at home. It needs to start early.

Women's suffragists campaigned for 72 years to win our right to vote almost a century ago. They carried signs. They marched in the street. They went to jail to gain public attention and support for the cause. If we want to finish the work they started and to change the way expectations are formed, if we want girls and boys to grow up with equal expectations and opportunities, mutual respect and a commitment to shared leadership, then we need to look at our own unconscious biases and behaviors that perpetuate gender inequality.

We have the ability to fulfill the promise of our democracy and create an America where "We, the People" are all equal.