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The Powerful Sign That Things Are Changing for Women

The Powerful Sign That Things Are Changing for Women

Well, we’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the Lehman bankruptcy and the crescendo of the financial crisis, out of which came a long, slow recovery. Since then, the rich have gotten richer, wealth disparities have increased, and the establishment has become even more established.

There has also been less progress on the gender front than many would have expected: There are more CEOs named James in the Fortune 500 than there are women CEOs; the gender pay gap has barely budged; and the executive branch of government resembles the Reagan — or maybe the Eisenhower — administration.

But, as we sit here ten years out, boy, something is shifting — and you can almost feel the cleaving into “then” and “now.”

You can feel this “then and now” in the recurring theme of women’s voices: our raising our voices, whether they’re heard, and whether society is ready to believe them. The recent flood of news on gender felt like a juxtaposition of how it has been … and how it can be.

How it has been: This was captured by the research that says women do not speak as much as men do on company earnings calls (even adjusting for there being fewer women on company earnings calls than men).

How it can be: There is the emerging theme of women finding their voices and demanding to be heard, taking down Les Moonves and Jeff Fager in a #MeToo accounting. It just doesn’t seem to be losing steam.

And finally, there is the tension between the two — women not speaking up as much and women finding their voices — that was captured in the vibrant, impassioned debate about Serena Williams’ reaction to the umpire’s calls at the US Open Finals — and whether she was justified, whether he was justified. It’s a discussion of where and when women and men are treated differently — or not — that feels long overdue.

In the midst of all of this, Steve Bannon was quoted as saying that Time’s Up may be “the single most powerful potential political movement in the world.”

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but … deep breath … I agree with Steve Bannon. On this. Just on this.

The implications of #MeToo and Time’s Up can be enormous: They are is reshaping powerful corporations. They are likely reshaping our media diet, and thus our national discourse … and thus, potentially, our very way of thinking. (Do any of us really think that Moonves, Fager, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes were sexually harassing women on the one hand and checking their misogyny when they chose whose points of view to highlight on their shows and how to highlight them?? Then this essay by Linda Bloodworth Thomason on being silenced by Les Moonves will change your mind.)

We all wish my friend Marge Magner had been listened to at Citigroup, in the run-up to the financial crisis. At the time she ran the consumer business, and she refused to make the types of risky consumer loans that the company’s trading desks were buying to package and trade. It wasn’t that she had a higher IQ than the traders (at least that I know of); it’s that her differing experience meant that she had a different point of view.

But when she asked at the leadership table, “Exactly how are these collateralized debt obligations good for clients?” her voice wasn’t heard — after all, the consumer business was considered more “arts and crafts” than the highly quant-y trading businesses, and she left the company. More Marge Magners would have benefited everyone.

The research tells us that diversity outperforms homogeneity; but only if those different voices are allowed to be heard. An upcoming test is how we treat Christine Blasey Ford, and her accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, in comparison to Anita Hill.

Yes, it feels like a tipping point.

This article was originally published in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle. You can learn more here.


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