This past weekend, I overheard a telephone conversation between my 6-year old daughter and her dad. He was watching a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and was explaining who she is and her work.
Here is some of what he said (I’m paraphrasing):
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a lawyer. When she went to law school, out of 500 people, she was one of only 9 women. She helped a female pilot fly in the army – they wouldn’t let her, because she was a woman, so Ruth Bader Ginsburg took them to court and won. Back then, some people believed that women were not equal to men, and couldn’t do whatever they wanted. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Our child was playing with a bouncy ball at the time. Her biggest reaction came from there being only 9 women at the law school. I’m hoping that’s because it’s a “given” for her to feel like she can do whatever she puts her mind to. And when we consider history, we have come a fair distance – a distance to be celebrated.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may know what I’m going to say next…
- Can womenreallydo and be whatever we want?
- The distance we have come in gender equality isn’t felt or experienced in the same way by all women.
Let’s explore these thoughts.
Can we do and be whatever we want?
In 2017 there were more CEOs in Fortune 500 companies named John than there were female CEOs.
I’ll give you a moment to take that in…
And in many (maybe most?) industries, women are still fighting for place and recognition.
Remember the Yale study using the same exact same resume in the science field, but with either a male or female name? Researchers found that both men and womenwere more likely to hire the male applicant, pay him more, and were more willing to mentor him over the female applicant.
What about tech? Women are still under-represented in that field. You can see some of the statistics here And read some more about gender bias.
And those are just 4 examples of gender bias – but without considering any other identities.
Under-representation of women happens in many industries.
And even when female representation is better in an industry or organization, when we look at leadership positions, the number of women drop again (just like for other historically disenfranchised groups). Seems we can only get so far. Still.
My second thought is that the distance we have come in gender equality isn’t felt or experienced in the same way by all women.
Considering that gender is just one of our identities, the female experience is not the same across the board. We have long heard that the women’s movement excludes women of colour, for example. And so when we add skin colour, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or body size (as a few examples) to the mix, not all women feel the advancement in the same way.
That’s why we still have (and need) organizations and networks specifically designed to mentor and support women. Although when you look closely in those places, the identities of the women they support are often skewed to the dominant groups… most are white, able bodied, heterosexual, etc.
So, how far have we come?
Yes, there has been change. Great change for some, and lesser change for some.
More gender equity and equal rights for women, but a skewed application of those rights, depending on who the women are and what they look like.
And sadly, some change is being reversed.
There is clearly still work to be done.
In our commitment to continue to move the needle forward, the more we recognize difference and include that lens in our work, the more diversity we will see in the recipients of the forward movement we are striving for.
And then when my child is an adult, maybe she really will be able to do ‘whatever she wants’.