Anything a boy can do, a girl can do better
For me, gender equality had always been a given. I grew up with the belief, ‘I can do anything a boy can do, and maybe even better’. I was born in an era where women had the right to vote, go to college, run a company and govern a country. Born in 1971, I started playing soccer when I was just 5 years old, coached for years by my father and mother. If I wasn’t playing on an organized team I was playing in the school yard, or even playing hockey in the streets with the boys next door. I was a ‘tomboy’. I could keep up with the best of them.
Paving the way to a girls’ team
When I hit 7th grade in 1983 and planned on joining the Junior High sports teams, I was shocked to find out that there was no girls’ soccer team. However, thanks to Title IX, which requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports in public schools, Bethpage school district did have a ‘co-ed’ team. It couldn’t be called a boys’ team but with no girls’ team, they would have to allow girls to participate. As you can imagine, not many girls tried out. I was not going to be stopped, I wanted to play. To this day, I am not sure if it was really my skills that won me a position on the team or the optics of how it would look if there was not a token girl on the team.
I often questioned myself why I bothered because I was sitting on the sidelines during games. There were no rules that said every kid that made the team would play an equal amount, but I had never experienced the game from the sidelines. I also knew, as a girl though, it was going to be harder for me to prove myself then the boys on the team. Something deep down told me that it was important to try and not give up.
I was in a practice match, the ball was up in the air, and I had a choice, I could go for it and jump for the header, or back off and let my competitor get it. Sure enough, I beat him to the ball and successfully headed to my teammate, as well as, clocked the other guy on the head. I remember from that moment on (when the swelling went down), I had earned the respect of the boys. I had found my place on the team. It reinforced my belief that girls could do anything a boy could do. The next year we finally got funding for a girls’ soccer team in the junior high. I look back now and wonder if it was luck or perseverance that paved the way to the girls’ team.
Change often requires a stand
I know that it was Title IX that helped create our girls’ soccer team in Bethpage, as well as all the other sporting opportunities across the country. In 1991, The US Women’s Soccer team won their first World Cup. It is not coincidence that the top players, Mia Hamm (b. 1972) and Michelle Akars (b. 1966), were my age. Without the rules to create the girls’ soccer team, I don’t believe we would have been able to train a team to compete at the world level.
We went to see Battle of the Sexes this weekend. It is the true story of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and ex-champ/ serial hustler Bobby Riggs, aka male chauvinist. Billie Jean King went out on a limb numerous times to fight for equal pay for the female players. It would have been easy to back down to the patronizing and demeaning responses from tennis organizers, but she stood her ground. She publicly stood up to Bobby and beat him to prove, women can do anything they put their minds to. She also successfully launched the Women’s Tennis Association and earned equal payouts for women.
In my own right, I feel I was part of the battle to drive women’s equality forward at a young age. I know I was not consciously doing it, but I knew unconsciously that I had to have the courage to stay on the boys’ team and prove that anything a boy can do, so can a girl.
Other laws have been passed over the centuries to give women rights. First introduced to Congress in 1878, it took nearly 4 decades to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. Here are some additional important laws and timeline.
- 1963 The Equal Pay Act passes, requiring equal wages for women and men doing equal work. It is the first federal law prohibiting sex discrimination.
- 1964Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
- 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act passes, guaranteeing equal access to academic and athletic resources regardless of gender.
- 1993 The Family & Medical Leave Act becomes law
Things that make you go hmmmph
Although there have been some other laws passed to explicitly protect women, I did not realize that we have yet to pass an Equal Rights Amendment. This amendment was first introduced in 1923, passed by Congress in 1972, but never ratified and therefore is not part of our constitution. These words are yet to be part of our constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
When I dug into why this has never been ratified, it was fascinating to learn that the strongest opponents to ratification were women. Because of fear, many women did not want to have equal rights to men. They were fearful of being drafted into the military, losing rights to alimony and custody in a divorce, being expected to be held to the same standards of men in the workplace. According to our constitution, today, we are still not considered equal to our male counterparts.
I continued to live my life with the assumption that I had every opportunity available to me that men do. I never felt I was denied a job because of gender or I made less money than my male counterpart (assuming I had negotiated as well). I typically held roles in male dominated industries; accounting, consulting, sales, software engineering, you name it. I was often the only female seated at the table. That was normal for me. I wasn’t intimidated. The toughest times were when meetings were held at the “ballet”, where I was not included. I accepted that. These guys didn’t want to go hang out with me to get my nails done either.
All these years in the workplace, it sucked to be the token woman, but I knew if I toughed it out, it would change. After all, we did get the girls’ soccer team. Today, I participate in the women’s groups that focused on empowerment. I support other women. I hire women. I would never consider myself an outspoken feminist, however, I lived under the assumption that if we were confident, spoke up, persevered, negotiated harder and supported each other, we would continue to make progress and more women would be running corporations. I have come to question if the progress is enough.
Are we really any better 20 years later?
The glass ceiling still exists
- Time: Politically, only 59 countries (30%) in the world have elected female leaders
- Despite representing 50% of the population, women are represented by only 20% within the House and Senate.
- Catalyst: only 29 women (5.8%) hold CEO positions at the S&P 500 companies, despite the fact that 60% of the consumers are women.
- This stat is staggering, reported in March 2015 by the NY Times, of the top 1500 companies, 5.4% are led by a man named John, and only 4.1% led by a woman with any name.
Pay is still not equal
- The statistic widely cited is that women earn only 82 cents to a man’s dollar
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: mothers earn 3% less than women without children. Fathers, however, earn on average 15% more than men without children because of management perception of commitment per Business Insider article.
- AAUW; women compared to men with advanced degrees earn 26% less (it is not an education thing)
Sexual Harassment is still rampant in business as evidenced recently in the news
- Hollywood: Harvey Weinstein’s Fall Opens the Floodgates in Hollywood
- Corporate America: Uber’s dismissive treatment of sexism is all too typical in corporate America
Sexual harassment is the tip of the iceberg
It sickens me to learn that sexual harassment is still so prevalent today. Never experiencing this personally, I am reminded of the seriousness and the need for action as I listen to the news stories and the personal #metoo posts from friends and colleagues. To me, this is just wrong; the sense of entitlement these bullies have that allows them take away a woman’s dignity.
Unfortunately, though, I believe that sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a non-violent and even more pervasive issue that women face today that I refer to as unconscious bias. I personally have been in a situation where I believe I was denied an opportunity because I am a woman. I felt that the risk to my job and career was too great to fight, so I opted to ‘accept it’ and move on. It is days like this I wonder how much better off we are than 20 years ago.
I personally felt I hit the proverbial glass ceiling. I was named successor for 3 different roles during my tenure at one company. I was also told that I was top talent and admittedly was compensated well. I was even told by management that I was performing at the level of a Vice President. Despite these positive signals I did not get the VP promotion (although my male counterparts with less experience and responsibility did) nor was I granted an interview for those positions. The last situation was the most impactful. This time it was well documented and known that I was named the successor. I had plenty of internal support from numerous leaders that I would be a strong candidate for the role, albeit not the only candidate for the role. The sting was when I did not even get the opportunity to interview for the position.
I had numerous conversations regarding the situation. When I asked HR and the hiring manager, “Why am I not being considered?” I was told I was not ready without any discussion on how and when I would be ready. Let’s be honest, they had already made their decision of who would be promoted. Yes, a man with the right connections. I wasn’t questioning this person’s capabilities. I merely questioned how a decision could be reached without giving me an opportunity.
At that point, I had a choice. I could either look to escalate the matter or simply accept it and move on. “It would be hard to prove” was the advice I received from many, as well as, “the firestorm that you would create could do more damage for your career.” As a woman we have enough challenges stacked up against us. Often, we have to question whether we really want to risk our reputation and careers without the confidence that we can prove our case and win. Therefore, I can relate to the many women that hesitated to make a case against Harvey Weinstein or other public figures. There is a real fear of the powerful bullies.
Do I regret not making a stand at that time? I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I wasn’t sexually violated. I can’t prove that I didn’t get the interview because I was a woman. I believe the violation was an unconscious bias. Perhaps it wasn’t being denied the interview, but rather the course of actions that didn’t happen leading up to the event. As the named successor, the hiring manager should already have been working with me to groom me to take over. The decision was unconsciously made even before the position was vacated.
How do you prove an unconscious bias? Just as the word suggests, they are not aware they are doing it. I have not met 1 person that would tell me that they felt that I couldn’t do the job because I am a woman, or that it is OK for a woman to be discriminated against. Most men (and women) would probably even tell you that there is no problem for women in the workplace (pay, advancement, etc.) today.
Unfortunately, I believe there is a prevalent unconscious bias against women that still exists today. From personal experiences, research and discussions with other women, I have learned that there are many men AND women that unconsciously say or do things that hold women back from playing a bigger role in companies, politics, and everyday life. This unconscious bias, which is hard to prove limits women from standing up for themselves and demanding what is right.
For any iceberg, you typically only see the tip. The biggest chunk is just below the surface. It is easier to fight against the obvious violations towards women (and we need to), but we still have a problem that needs to be solved. We need to shine a light on the unconscious bias that is keeping women from gaining equality. The best leaders are those that recognize women do have a strong work ethic, high emotional intelligence and empathetic leadership style that is different from men and needs to be groomed accordingly. Leaders do not need to be ruthless, bullies, un-nurturing, emotionally unaware or unavailable to be successful. This takes me back to my blog on Humility. The best leaders are humble; selfless, self-aware and appreciate others. Wouldn’t we be a better society if we had more leaders like that?
Stand up today
I think back to the Title IX laws that went into effect in 1972 and that we did not see the benefits until 1991 with the first World Cup win. Each action today will have a worldly impact tomorrow. I am very thankful that I stood my ground that day and headed that ball to take my position on the team, but I have since learned that it is time for me to stand again and help educate against the unconscious bias so that we can take our equal positions in the world.
What can you do? Be aware and educate yourself. Join the AAUW and be an advocate for women’s rights. Empower and support others. Teach not only your daughters and nieces that they can do anything, but teach your sons and nephews that their sisters and cousins are equals.
May this inspire and enable you to educate others on the inequality that still exists in this world and look for ways to improve it so that we (and our children) can all realize our dreams.
No-one changes the world that isn’t obsessed – Billie Jean King