A panel made up of men deciding how women’s health should be addressed through public policy. A cool new tech gadget designed to make lives easier that can only react to light-complexioned skin colors. Voice activation devices that can’t hear higher tones.
Complex and ingrained systemic barriers such as unconscious bias and harmful gender stereotypes still exist, and they’re some of the reasons why men still lead about 95% of the most powerful companies in the United States, and still hold most of the seats in the US Congress. This is why it’s so important for women, particularly women from underrepresented groups, to be in the room, at the table, and in leadership roles like the highest offices of our governments. It matters.
And slowly, but surely, it’s happening. In the tradition of Katherine Graham, who became the first woman to lead a Fortune 500 company as CEO of The Washington Post Co.; Jeannette Rankin, who was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1916; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the House in 1968; and Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the US Senate in 1992, women are breaking down barriers every day. Women are entering the workforce and reaching mid-management levels at rates equal to men, and a record number of women ran for office in this year’s general midterm elections for the US House of Representatives, US Senate, and state governor positions.
As the dust settles from the midterms and some states wait for incredibly close races to be called, so far the results are electrifying. As of this publication, twelve women were elected Senator. Nine women were elected as state governors. And 35 new women will serve in the US House of Representatives. Two 29-year-olds became the youngest women ever elected to Congress. Two Native American women, one of whom identifies as a lesbian, are now incoming members of Congress. Two Muslim women will now serve in Congress. Texas elected its first two Latinx women to Congress. And 65 incumbent women retained their House Seats.
Some are saying this entire election was fueled, populated, and decided, by women. This is a moment where conservative women, liberal women, Muslim women, Native American women, Black women, Latinx women, Asian women, millennial women, gen X women, and boomer women can and should celebrate. This is an unmistakable victory for women across the country.
But problems still persist. Although unemployment is low, sexism is still rampant in workplaces, as the #TIMESUP and #MeToo movements continue to show. This is certainly an uphill battle. The playing field, while shifting, is by no means level. Is this army of new women in government marching toward a glass cliff?
I hope not. The stories of these women—Democrat and Republican—inspire me, because now we have a new group to add to the ranks of women heroes. Now Generation Z will grow up with a government that looks more like they do, and all generations can see themselves: diverse in religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and gender. We can update our flashcards, our textbooks, our trivia, and most importantly our story as women.
And the best part? We get to see what these women will do now that they’re here. We know that having one woman on a team is not enough. We know having one woman on a corporate board is not enough. We know for organizations, including governments, to thrive, having diverse teams is essential.
This week, the United States took a big step towards achieving a critical mass of women in the legislature. Hopefully, the culture of Congress will change now that so many new, diverse faces are coming in. There is a tremendous opportunity in the halls of government to create an example of what diversity at work can look like—from elected officials to committee chairs to staffers.
And while we will all be watching to see how this shapes up, each one of us can incorporate efforts to foster diversity and inclusion in our own lives.
So seek out opportunities to make sure somebody is recognized and heard, particularly by senior leaders. Find ways to be a positive example to your colleagues. Ask yourself if there’s something, even if it’s small, that you can do that can make a difference and do it. Small acts add up, as this election has shown. Positive, inclusive actions can make a difference. It matters.