How I am playing the long game for women’s equality
Over lunch with a female colleague, a recent conversation turned to a Chamber of Commerce meeting she had just attended where both main speakers were female: the President of the University of Pennsylvania and the CEO of the NYSE. It was notable for us that this male dominated organization had booked two female speakers not for a special women-in-business-themed event, but as two acknowledged business leaders.
Upon later reflection, I realized that this is the reality in which I want to live. Where this is a non-event event. Unfortunately, the past few weeks and months have been a painful reminder that as women we have a long way to go. While it’s important to acknowledge the gains we’ve made, we must remain focused on the long game and work diligently to earn ever greater, and more frequent victories.
To achieve that ultimate goal of social equality we need to earn our economic equality. So in the aftermath of Supreme Court Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation (let that sink in a little more), we cannot afford to settle for platitudes and minor movement. We must aim higher.
After the Anita Hill — Clarence Thomas showdown, there was a sense that change was imminent. In fact, 1992 was declared the Year of the Woman. Spurred by anger over the confirmation hearings, more women than ever ran for and obtained public office. Today, we have more women than men obtaining bachelor’s degrees, women earn more than ever, have more control over their bodies than ever, and hold more executive positions than ever.
Yet, why does it feel like we’re further than ever from our goals? Because these are important achievements, but they have not resulted in widespread economic empowerment. Wealth for women is held by a few and public office has not translated to policy gains. It has led us to a crossroads where there is a very real danger that all our progress could erode.
How can we turn the anger about #MeToo and the fury over the confirmation hearings and the callous disregard given to it by the majority of our nation’s political leadership into tangible progress? By focusing on ways to expand the power of the purse to more women, and then teaching them how to effectively wield it. Here are five ways you can start to make a difference today.
Learn a New Skill
The start of economic empowerment is earning power. Learning a new skill can not only help you expand that earning potential today, it can provide you with more options tomorrow. Or perhaps it’s a skill you can pass on to your children or a friend so they can expand their opportunities.
This is at the core of why I launched TechGirlz. My long game has always been to build a next generation of economically empowered women. That begins by teaching today’s girls a skill that will make them a valuable economic contributor. And with the changing nature of work, the obvious economic multiplier is tech.
By learning how to build a website, develop a program, operate a drone, or even administer a database, women can enhance their technology know-how and take a step on the path to more earning power.
Invest for Wealth
Women earn less than men, but even scarier is that the average woman’s net worth is millions less than the average man by retirement age. That’s an enormous gap that is only partially accounted for by wage earnings.
Investing is one way to close this gap faster, but women tend to be more cautious when it comes to putting money in the market and more focused on managing household expenses. When you consider the power of compounding interest and the potential for lifetime market gains, women’s reluctance to invest — and at an early age — could be a great wealth inhibitor.
To reverse this, women earning higher wages must look to the market and other passive investment streams to augment their wealth.
Voting is critical, but women can amplify their vote by giving of their time and money to persons, parties and causes. Candidates tend to pay attention to voters, politicians to donors.
Regardless of your political leanings, there are universal issues that impact women. By identifying people and causes that support issues like equal pay, affordable childcare, higher quality education, and more, women can put their money to work for other women.
If financial giving to a political cause is not within reach, consider spending an evening at a phone bank or a Sunday walking precincts as part of a get out the vote campaign. When women’s voices are included in the conversation meaningful change will occur.
Whether in the office, in your neighborhood or through an organization like TechGirlz, giving someone the benefit of your perspective and mentorship is invaluable. By mentoring women within our workplaces, industries or girls on an early education track, we can wield our status and influence to help shape policy and career choices that impact others.
Help other women understand the long game and give them the resources, advice or support they need to pursue it. Sometimes, a person can be spurred on to greatness just by knowing that another sees them as being worthy of their time and attention.
Improve Your Community
Beyond volunteering, give monetarily to causes and organizations that matter. Even small checks or micro-giving can make a big difference. Organizations like Kiva have shown that giving just a little bit of money to a motivated woman can help launch change and businesses with outsize impact.
Ultimately, we can transform this setback into triumph by turning our anger into action. We cannot give up hope or allow others to throw in the towel. Economic empowerment is a long game, and it will require the hard work and dedication of everyone.