5 Things You Can Do To Improve Gender Equality Today
The United State of Women Summit on June 14th convened some of the world’s leading advocates, political figures and public personas in front of a sea of game changers who want to create gender equality in the world. And I do mean the top; everyone from Gloria Steinem to Oprah to
Olivia Benson Mariska Hargitay, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were there. Let’s just say the line up was one Beyoncé short of being perfect.
From the presentations during the day it was clear that there has been a lot of progress on the topics affecting women, but there’s still a lot to be done. Women still make 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, there is still no mandated paid family leave, and 1 in 5 women face sexual assault in their undergraduate years.
As President Obama said, just as we know what the problems are, we know what the solutions are. We need equal pay; we need paid family leave; we need affordable child care.
“Change is not inevitable - it happens only when each of us does what we can.” - Tina Tchen, Assistant to President Barack Obama; Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama; and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls
The biggest question I had as I was in the crowd was: “What can I (someone who doesn’t own a company, and is not in politics, and doesn’t have a big name or fame that I can leverage), as an individual, do to move this forward?” And don’t get me wrong -- each and everyone of us in that room was there because of the work and efforts we do to move the gender conversation forward. But I still wondered, “How can I truly contribute to the solution?”
So, after some reflection, here are a few of the things I gathered from the Summit that I think we all can do, regardless of where and who we are:
1. Know yourself
In her inspiring conversation with Oprah, Michelle Obama shared her thoughts about the importance of knowing who you are. “I tell my mentees and I tell my daughters, that our first job in life as women is to get to know ourselves,” she said. “There is a limited box that we are put in, and if we live by that limited definition we miss out on a lot of who we are.”
[Read More: My 8 Pieces of Money Advice for my Daughter]
It’s hard to know what you stand for, what you truly believe and are passionate about, if you don’t know yourself. And if you don’t know your fundamental beliefs, then how can you act on them with reason? How can you convince others to believe them? And how can you fight for equality?
2. Challenge gender norms (and the status quo)
“The first thing you need to do about gender norms is forget them.” - Amy Poehler
Yes, there is a lot of implicit bias on how the media portrays girls and boys. Yes, these messages end up affecting what we do. But they don’t have to. The younger generations are already throwing these messages out the window, and we should, too. And we should keep sharing the stories of the women scientists and engineers, of the stay at home dads, of every single person who has dared to lead a different path. Because it’s hard to be what you cannot see.
[Related: Why Female Role Models Matter]
3. Be courageous, have a voice, stand up for yourself and lead by example
“Be bold. Be courageous. Lead” - Juliana Chugg, EVP Chief Brand Officer, Mattel, Inc.
OK, you know what you stand for and you are ignoring the norms. Now you should have a voice and lead. The stories about the people who believe in equality and who challenge the norms should be shared until they are so common that they are not seen as outliers. As President Obama noted, stories matter. We admire the courage and the fearlessness in stories.
And if you see something, say something. Now is the time for you to speak up about inequities and to call out injustices when you see them. It’s not an easy thing to do, but the world will not change if we turn a blind eye to them.
4. Help other women. And that doesn’t mean being nice.
Deborah Rosado Shaw, SVP Chief Global Diversity & Engagement Officer at PepsiCo, said this on a panel, and I think she was spot on. There’s this thought that women don’t like helping other women. Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network, has written about the “queen bee” phenomenon and why it needs to end. It does. We’re a whole lot better off when we help lift each other up and we all work together to reach our goals. The success pie is not limited, it expands, and we can all achieve our own success.
That said, helping each other doesn’t mean giving each other pats on the back and saying how great we are. Yes, we need cheerleaders, but what we mostly need is feedback. Feedback is hugely important and what we need to do is help each other be better. Always be better.
“Speak, give powerful feedback and help others be stronger than they thought they could be.” - Deborah Rosado Shaw, SVP Chief Global Diversity & Engagement Officer at PepsiCo.
[Read More: Why Aren’t More Women Supporting Women at Work?]
5. Do it over and over and over again.
Because change doesn’t happen overnight. I’m a strong believer that there is strength in numbers. The more we’re raising our voices and the more we recognize that we, as individuals, have power, the more we can really make the world the place we want it to be.
Meghan Yap, sexual assault survivor and It's On Us Champion of Change who dedicates her life to researching ways to prevent survivors from having PTSD, reminded the audience that we were all in that room for a reason. She said, “Whatever your superpower is, you can use it to make a difference.” We all have the power to make a difference and we should use it in everything we do and every chance we get.
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