As March 2021 draws to a close, I want to wrap up this mini series of articles with a more personal reflection on Women’s History Month. For those wondering why I think it’s important, I think recent events illustrate why we need to continue to talk about women as leaders.
The start of March Madness®️ led to an unexpected and critical look at the NCAA weight rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams in their bubbles. About the same time the NCAA was explaining their choices, a meme made the rounds on social media comparing the stats and $$$ of Sue Bird and LeBron James. When you do the math for compensation as a percentage of total revenue, Bird’s is still less than 70% of James’ compensation.
Friendly and not-so-friendly debates erupted as everyone weighed in on what this all means. Most people danced around the elephant in the room: Gender still matters.
As a female president of a digital brand, I’ve spent hours reflecting on how my gender impacts me in the workplace. Like every (business) woman I know, I’ve experienced sexism, discrimination, and harassment. It’s a fact of life.
We know women’s salaries in most companies are less than those of men. The current shift in the economy is called a she-cession because of the number of women who’ve had to leave the workforce to take care of their family during the pandemic. And, as I recently learned, even machine translation is sexist. A colleague tested a Finnish text that had simple sentences that began with a non-gendered pronoun. (Fun fact: Finnish has no gendered pronouns!) When machine translated into French with its gendered pronouns, the gender bias became clear:
- He is rich.
- She is sexy.
- He has a great car.
- She has a headache.
- He is a candidate for president.
- She picks her daughter up at school.
With the increasing emphasis on incorporating AI into all aspects of our life, how do we avert this unintended bias?
Change Begins with Me
It’s easy to find examples and stats about the status of women in the workplace and in society. But that’s an impersonal discussion. It’s also one we’ve been having for millennia. I believe change begins only when it’s personal. When Women’s History Month rolls around next year, instead of sharing yet another meme, let’s evaluate our action plan to increase diversity in our workplace. Let’s raise our hand at the next opportunity instead of just talking about leadership in small groups. Let’s say yes to the next person who asks us to do something outside of our comfort zone.
Little Steps Lead to Big Changes
Jeannette Rankin advocated for equal representation in congress more than 100 years ago. A century later, women are roughly one quarter of the US Senate and House of Representatives. Influencing national politics may be outside your comfort zone, but you can start at the local level. Can your business skills support a local female candidate? Have you considered joining a board, a committee, or running for office?
Can you offer your services to support other women who need a helping hand? Are you willing to speak to high school or college classes about your experiences? Would you be willing to act as a mentor to help a colleague move up the company hierarchy? Are you willing to use your voice in social conversations to provide your perspective to complex questions?
Don’t Just Think Outside the Box
As I’ve reflected on the role of women this month, I’ve become more aware of little things. Maybe it began on January 20th when I listened to Amanda Gorman recite her poem during the inauguration. Maybe it began earlier, but I’m more aware of my language choices and how I use pronouns, gendered and not, in addressing colleagues and friends.
Gorman’s poem spoke to me in the same way as the recent Zeigler conference panelists spoke to me. We need to see it — our goals — in order to believe them., We need to believe in order to become. That continues to resonate with me. I find myself asking if I am seeing the light, if I am being a light for others. Those are daunting questions. One solution is to ask slightly smaller questions. What if I…?
The Future is Me
I don’t see myself as a naturally brave person. I’m not a trailblazer. It’s unlikely I’ll win any international awards for my work. I am an ordinary woman trying to do my best for myself, my family, and my clients. But just imagine what would happen if all ordinary people stepped outside the box (and our comfort zones) every time we saw a chance to make a difference. But we don’t for a host of reasons. One of the most powerful is because we’re all afraid of making a mistake.
Fear of making mistakes is one of the reasons girls lose confidence at an early age. But it’s a common fear for everyone in the business world. Fear keeps us from taking chances, trying new ideas, or implementing new policies. After all, a bird in the hand and all that.
But consider Miss Frizzle, the intrepid science teacher of The Magic School Bus book and TV series. Her approach to life is one I’d like to become more often. Taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy (code for hands raised, hands-on work) is the best way to learn. We have to practice new ideas. We have to ask questions in order to get answers (both wrong and right ones). More importantly, when we do all of this, we discover our questions and the answers will lead to more questions and better answers.
Action Leads to Change
The best path to change is action. We can’t deny there are big inequities that must be addressed, and small, personal behaviors that need to be changed. It won’t happen overnight. Maybe it won’t happen in this decade. That’s why we need Women’s History Month. It reminds us to begin today, each one doing something, so our descendants won’t be having this same conversation in 2121.
I’d love to hear your ideas on what small businesses, large brands, and smart individuals can do to make this happen!