Equality: When Will It Come?

Closing the gender gaps.

Posted Jul 06, 2020

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The World Economic Forum recently projected that it would take 208 years to close significant gender gaps in the United States.

One could talk about the unequal distribution of unpaid labor in our homes (yes, it is true that women still do the bulk of domestic work), and the need for paid leave in the U.S. Or the many ways our unconscious biases shape our understanding of who deserves to be interviewed, hired, promoted, and invested in.

For 35 years, I have asked the question, "What changes do I hope to see for women and girls in my lifetime?” "How can I be a better advocate for the women around me?"

What will this accomplish? The honest answer, of course, is maybe nothing. But another honest answer is that social change depends on interactions exactly like these.

Think about how gender inequality is perpetuated. Formal structures like laws and policies certainly play a role. But it's also reinforced by millions upon millions of routine encounters between everyday people — between husbands and wives, employers and employees, candidates for office and the people determining their "electability," village leaders guarding traditional norms and the young women who would challenge them. In corporate America, we refer to these as micro-inequities or micro-aggressions. These daily slights can add up to exclusion and being left out of critical meetings, decisions, and even informal networks.

When enough of us are determined to be a voice for change, it sets the stage for broader transformation. One example, of course, is the multitude of people around the world who, by sharing their #MeToo stories, have put systemic problems in the spotlight and amplified pressure on business and government leaders to be part of the solution.

It is against this backdrop that representatives from all over the world came together in Paris to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing — where Hillary Clinton famously proclaimed "women’s rights are human rights” — at an event called the Generation Equality Forum. The forum aims to convert the current energy and attention around gender equality into tangible gains for women and girls everywhere.

Events like this are valuable opportunities for the world to agree on a shared set of goals — and for business and government leaders to rally to meet those goals by making ambitious financial and political commitments.

While such commitments are essential (not least because they invite public accountability) living up to those aspirations in our private actions is, too. And this is where each one of us comes to action.

If we want this year to be a turning point for women and girls — and if we want this once-in-a-generation global gathering to live up to its potential — we need to be deliberate about expanding the conversation beyond the advocates and activists who sign up to go to gender equality conferences. We’ll also need to engage clergy members, community elders, entertainers, board members, stockholders, chief executives, and journalists.

What action can you take to enhance the status of women further?