Kamala. Tulsi. Marianne. Elizabeth. Amy. Kirsten. In 2019, these six women stepped up to the plate and announced their run for president of the United States. The spotlight was on them as they stood on a national stage in debates that had seen very few women before them. Watching them gave me hope for myself, for my daughters, and to future generations of women around the world.
But lingering around those feelings of hope was a full range of emotions, including sadness, fear, and frustration. The presence of these six women on a national stage was a reminder that it is unusual to see women on a major party’s ticket. The United States of America witnessed the vitriol and sexism that Hillary Clinton faced in 2016. What would a woman, especially a woman of color, be subjected to if she were to run against Donald Trump?
I saw, in the eyes of the women running for president, the everyday women I had encountered throughout my career. Law and nonprofit work put you face-to-face with women who are fighting for justice. They are fighting for themselves, their sisters, their colleagues, and women all around the world. Women fight every day against sexual harassment or sexual abuse, unjust pay disparities, and other barriers that have prevented them from exercising and enjoying the unalienable rights promised to all people.
The first few months of the 2020 election were historic, but outside of the debate stage, women seemed to be moving backward. When COVID-19 hit, many women felt forced to leave their jobs to care for their children. Unemployment rates for women hit 15.5 percent. In the final months of 2020, women struggled to get back to their jobs, but still faced serious challenges of balancing childcare responsibilities and regaining the forward momentum they had had in their careers pre-pandemic. Unemployment rates for Black and Latina women significantly trailed that of white women. The story of women choosing childcare over a career, out of choice or out of societal pressure, is not new. Every woman I know has told this story in one form or another. These stories have greatly impacted me and shifted my focus when it comes to the fight for gender equity. That is why I decided to write this book.
Defining the Problem
I cannot sit around waiting for changes to be made in the workplace. In 2021 and beyond, we must awaken and rise together. But in order to do that, we must take an honest look at the society we are living in.
This book is separated into three different parts: defining, exploring, and solving the problem. In the first part of this book, I highlight five key lies that we have been told. Our society is built within a system that was designed specifically to hold women back. This system has spread many lies about women, work, and our role in society. By exposing these lies, we can begin to create a more equitable society for all people.
Exploring the Problem
The second part of this book takes a look at where we are today, what women have done to fight back against the system, and what we face moving forward. Despite worldwide movements to combat harassment and fight for representation, women still face a lot of barriers on the path toward equity. Everyone must be a part of the fight to dismantle and rebuild the system - but as we explore the possibilities of achieving this goal, we must understand that not everyone understands what it means to live in a more equitable society.
Solving the Problem
The third part of this book focuses on the solutions that we can use to build the society we want to give to our daughters, granddaughters, and future generations. Although you will find actionable items at the end of every chapter, this section will dive deeper into strategies, tactics, and suggestions for solving the problem. Not all of these solutions will fit into your lifestyle, industry, and career goals. That is okay. Take what you need from this book, and leave the rest to the others fighting for gender equity. This book is the story of all women who are fighting for success; don’t compare your chapter to someone else’s. Although this book contains stories from colleagues, friends, and fellow CEOs, know that your path is uniquely your own.
Rebuilding the Society We Want to See
Throughout this book, I will examine the stereotypes, mindsets, and expectations that hold women back from achieving gender equity. I choose to say “equity” rather than “equality.” As I explore the system and share solutions to this problem, I am aware that I must retroactively account for the barriers that women have faced financially, socially, and even physically.
Here’s an example of why I strive for “equity” instead of “equality.” You ask two people to lift one hundred pounds. The first person has been training to lift one hundred pounds their entire life. They have no problem accessing a gym with weights and a personal trainer who will guide them and keep them safe. When they tell other people that they want to lift one hundred pounds, they are congratulated and given protein shakes to keep them fit.
The second person simply hasn’t had those opportunities. They were never allowed in a gym and they couldn’t buy weights. Personal trainers refused to take them on as a client. No one would assume that this person would one day be asked to lift one hundred pounds.
Inaccessibility prevents people from realizing their true potential. “Equality” is giving both people the opportunity to lift one hundred pounds. Both people in the example could work toward lifting one hundred pounds, although the first person is more ready today to lift one hundred pounds than the second person. Access to resources and support from others played a huge role in their present abilities. Equity accounts for the shortcomings that a person may have faced in the past. Equitable solutions “even out the playing field.”
Our society has lied to us, either telling us that women do not deserve equity or that our current standing in society is equal to that of men. Women have undergone centuries of discrimination, trauma, and setbacks due to these lies. We need to catch up and rebuild a society where these setbacks do not occur. This book will address the ways that we can fight back, and why our mindset should zoom out and look at long-term goals that dismantle and rebuild our entire system. It is not enough that we have six women on a debate stage, running for the highest office in the United States. We must rebuild society so that when we see women in the C-suite, or getting elected to office, or earning more than men, they are no longer milestones or history-making moments.
I hope to inspire you to move forward in a way that allows you to live out your ambitions, reach all of your career goals, and collaborate with other women destined to make a large-scale change in the world.
Before We Begin
This is a book that can be picked up, put down, studied, and discussed. You probably won’t read it just once! But before we dive into the actions and strategies that will change the world, we must set the scene. Confronting the lies told by the system can be exhausting. Take your time; this process is necessary to move forward and make the appropriate changes. Getting through Section One brings the rewards sprinkled throughout Sections Two and Three. This is the reality of advocacy and activism: hard work, emotional labor, and even pain must precede success or revolution.
The world has been living a lie, failing to see the true influence and presence of systemic sexism in every aspect of our society. We have believed the lies the system has told us for far too long. If you picked up this book, you heard the rumblings of change urging you to expose the lies and live out your truth as a powerful, successful woman. I heard them, too. Now is the time for us all to awaken and rise.