Updated: Oct 29, 2020
We all dream about what we want to be when we grow up, but for women, it hasn’t been an easy path to get there. #BossBabes rule and women are in sports, politics, education, sciences, technology, communications and other sectors as well.
#BossBabes Are The Future
Let’s start with a look at the timeline when women began to pursue their own dreams. This brief historical timeline, adapted from the National Archives' Women's Rights Timeline, outlines some of the most important moments in advancing women’s rights, as well as noteworthy legislation, some that succeeded, and some that failed, in United States history.
January 10, 1878 – An Amendment granting women the right to vote was introduced in Congress by Senator A.A. Sargent of California. The amendment doesn’t pass until 1920, 42 years later. See page 248 of 7 Cong. Rec. (Bound) in which the Amendment was first introduced.
April 2, 1917 – Sworn in on the opening day of the 65th Congress (1917–1919), Representative Rankin became the first woman Member in Congress’s 128-year history. Learn more about Women in Congress in House Document 108-223, published as an eBook for 1917 to 2017 and as a PDF for 1917 to 2006.
June 4, 1919 – The 19th amendment was passed by Congress. See page 1 of 58 Cong. Rec. (Bound) on that day.
August 24, 1920 – Tennessee becomes the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment. This makes for a ¾ agreement by the states, and granted women the right to vote.
January 12, 1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
June 19, 1944 – Representative Winifred Stanley introduces a bill that proposes employers be required to pay women equal pay for equal work. The bill does not pass. See her proposed legislation on page 55 of the 90 Cong. Rec. (Bound).
June 10, 1963 – Congress passes the Equal Pay Act which aims to abolish wage disparity based on sex. See 29 U.S.C. 206.
June 23, 1972 – Education Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat.235, are enacted, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.
August 21, 1974 – Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) 88 Stat.484, is enacted, promoting educational equity for women in the United States. See page 71.
October 31, 1978 – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, 92 Stat 2076, passed, prohibiting sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
February 5, 1993 – The Family and Medical Leave Act* is enacted to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families and to promote the stability and economic security of families. It also allows employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition.
September 13, 1994 – The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA)* becomes law. VAWA's the first comprehensive federal legislative package designed to end violence against women. It includes provisions on rape and battering that focused on prevention, funding for victim services and evidentiary matters.
Change is Coming Slowly.
From Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive an M.D. in 1849 to Cecilia Payne, the first person to earn a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard and the one who answered the question “What are stars made of?” in 1925, to Katherine Johnson of Hidden Women fame, and astronaut Sally Ride, women have been pioneers.
The overall number of women in top business roles is still painfully low – only 5% of CEOs of major corporations in the US are women – but there are reasons for optimism. Since 2015 the number of women in senior leadership has grown, particularly in the C-suite where the representation of women has increased from 17% to 21%. Today, 44% of companies have three or more women in their C-suite, up from 29% of companies in 2015. Corporate America scores much lower than France or Norway, where businesses average more than 40% female representation on a board of directors.
Diversity in leadership's good for business. For example, a Harvard Business School report on the male-dominated venture capital industry found that “the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance”. In fact, firms that increased their proportion of female partner hires by 10% saw, on average, a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7% more profitable exits.
Did you know that just 13% of art in prominent U.S. museums are by women? And that women in the arts make, on average, $20,000 less than their male counterparts? The gaps are even more staggering across differences in race, age, and class.
Women are leaders everywhere you look -- from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women, and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes.
- Nancy Pelosi
In the last five years, we’ve seen more women rise to the top levels of companies. An increasing number of companies are seeing the value of having more women in leadership, and they’re proving that they can make progress on gender diversity. This is an important step in the right direction.
Still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. To change the numbers, companies need to focus where the real problem is. We often talk about the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching senior leadership positions. In reality, the biggest obstacle that women face is much earlier in the pipeline, at the first step up to manager. Fixing this “broken rung” is the key to achieving parity.
Changing Culture Takes Movement
Since 2015 the number of women in senior leadership in business has grown, and diversity in leadership is good for business. Beyond business, female leaders from across generations are working together to find new solutions to the world's biggest problems.
The tech sector must attract more women to unlock the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ensure technology is developed from a balanced perspective.
In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter whether there’s a woman running the IMF, Microsoft or the Democratic Party. Does an SME owner or tech start-up care that it’s a woman who makes finance more accessible? If a miner, factory worker, or fisherman gets a better share of the profits and can send his or her children to school, are they bothered that a woman made it possible?
The answer's no. Evolving job needs are empowering women and leveling the playing field. The new service economy doesn’t rely on physical strength but skills that come easily to women, such as determination, attention to detail and measured thinking. The female brain's naturally wired for long-term strategic vision and community building.
Tech can lead the way.
There’s nothing inherently masculine about blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning; computers are androgynous by nature. That said, the tech sector remains heavily dominated by men. According to the World Economic Forum, the greatest challenge preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. In cloud computing, just 12% of professionals are women; in engineering and Data and AI, the numbers are 15% and 26% respectively. Unless the sector can balance the ledger by making roles attractive to women, then we risk missing out on the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Research by Deloitte suggests companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative. By staying ahead of changes, they're twice as likely to hit or better financial targets. This means providing female mentors and role models, demonstrating trust (rather than talking about it), creating an environment that encourages collaboration, using technology to break barriers and sourcing innovation openly.
The Future is Female and it's Global.
Gender equality isn't just a women’s issue, it’s a critical component in helping people and businesses grow. As we look ahead to 2030, consumers will demand stronger ethics and greater equality – from each other and brands. This is especially true among the ‘conscious consumer,’ a subset of US consumers who are more politically and socially active. According to Mintel research on American values, 69% of conscious consumers agree that brands have a responsibility to take a stand on issues of equal pay for equal work.
Data from the inaugural SDG Gender Index, developed by the Equal Measures 2030 partnership, found that no country's on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. What will it take to get there, and how will consumers hold brands accountable for progress toward these goals?
Shift the conversation toward action.
People need to work together toward enacting real social change toward achieving gender equality. The Mintel Trend Driver ‘Rights’ explores the power of the collective voice and how over the next decade, consumers will find their voice in the digital era. We predict that more social movements will develop, due to this increased demand for action from consumers. Brands who join consumers in partnership toward achieving these goals will earn their loyalty. According to Mintel research on ethical consumers, 70% of Canadians agree that it’s important to them that a company they buy from follows ethical business practices.
To Get to Gender Parity, Companies Must Fix the Broken Rung.
For many companies, diversity efforts in hiring and promotions are focused at senior levels, and we’re encouraged by the gains that we are seeing in senior leadership. Now companies need to apply the same rigor to addressing the broken rung. Fixing it will set off a positive chain reaction across the entire pipeline. As more women become managers, there'll be more women to promote and hire at each subsequent level. Put another way, more entry-level women will rise to management, and more women in management will rise to senior leadership.
Five Steps Companies Can Take to Fix Their Broken Rung — and Ultimately Their Pipeline.
Our Future Female Leaders.
And now we see women emerging as social justice and human rights activists across the globe, from education advocate Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, climate change activist Greta Thunberg, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and Emma Gonzales, whose leadership in stopping gun violence, along with other Parkland High School youth leaders, put a measurable dent in the NRA.
Behind each of these young women are multitudes more all over the world, raising awareness about critical issues, educating policymakers, organizing effectively and mobilizing mightily for social change in their communities and countries. We should honor them all, along with their pioneering role models, who through the ages have had the courage, skill and tenacity to keep the world moving forward, even in its darkest days.