Progress in Motion
By Trisch Smith, Executive Vice President & Managing Director of Diversity and Inclusion
We are witnessing the accelerated emergence of inspirational and innovative female leaders who won’t stand for the status quo. Today’s leading women are paving the way by example in business, policy and advocacy and other arenas. We are the unstoppable force in progress who have set a precedent by moving beyond the constrictions of stereotypical gender roles and systems of bias. As the world celebrated 2018 International Women’s Day yesterday, it is clear women have more than earned their rightful places in the forward momentum of the global economy, culture and politics. We want more for our families, our communities and the next generation of leaders.
Successful public affairs and education campaigns today must recognize the influence and decision-making power women possess in terms of purchasing power, cultural influence and influencing politics. Campaigns must evolve from a one-message-fits-all-advocates approach in order to ensure a range of tactics that leverage the voices of women of all backgrounds from around the globe in the most impactful ways.
Driving Change from the Top.
According to Forbes, the number of women CEOs on the Fortune 500 increased from 21 female CEOs in 2016 to a new record of 32 female CEOs in 2017. Forbes also states the new record includes “more female chiefs than any previous list since the first Fortune 500 ran in 1955”and is the first to include a Latina CEO.
While 32 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 list is still low, it shows that the traditions and approaches of how we do business are changing. With momentum in play, the velocity from which women leaders enter the ranks of the C-Suite is expected, anticipated and due. Former President Barack Obama said in 2017 that women make better leaders than men, and a 2012 Harvard Business Review study also found most people believe this to be true as well.
Influencing Change – Advancing More than a Singular Cause
For us women, championing change, solving problems and communicating powerfully isn’t anything new. Here in the United States, we could track women’s patriotic duty by observing how we engage in political issues.
Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women organized the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 — the first women’s rights conference in the United States which many also consider the first step toward the passage of the 19th Amendment. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black American to run for President, famously said, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Carol Moseley Braun was one of the “year of the woman” candidates in 1992. She became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Senate, and worked to advance women’s rights, civil rights, gun control and more. Today, there are 22 women in the U.S. Senate, including three racially/ethnically diverse women elected in 2016.
Breaking Boundaries – Leveraging Modern Communications to Accelerate Change
Mass mobilization continues to fuel progressive grassroots movements, especially around women’s issues. Last January’s Women’s March galvanized between 1.8 million and 2.6 million people in all 50 states (including 38 state capitals) and in at least 407 locations. The recent #MeToo movement spurred investors to move money to companies and initiatives that support women, according to a CNBC article. It also inspired many women to advocate for more than just talk from individuals and institutions. Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech during the Oscars on Sunday night saw a spike in Google searches after she closed by mentioning an “inclusion rider” – a contractual stipulation in which actors can ask for inclusion in their contracts by requiring a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.
2018 Midterms – Issuing a Referendum on the Status Quo
There have been great ups and downs across the globe over the last 25 years for female leaders, advocates and allies. However, in the United States, we are seeing twice as many women running for Congress in 2018 compared with 2016. This year could surpass the ’92 “year of the woman,” when 47 women were elected to the House of Representatives.
If history is any indication, the influence, power and impact of female leaders will go beyond a movement and forever be a force to be reckoned with.