December 11, 2018 — A couple of weeks ago, I attended the performance of a new off-Broadway play called Gloria: A Life, which reenacts the important events and impacts of Gloria Steinem’s life. I came away inspired, invigorated, and proud to be one in a long line of women moving closer to equality. My own life and career have greatly benefited from the movement that Gloria helped propel forward, so to say I was emotionally invested in the play is to put it mildly.
If it wasn’t for Gloria’s work, as well as the work of Catalyst founder Felice Schwartz, in the 1960s, I simply wouldn’t be where I am now. And a lot of other women can say the same. But what about the women of today? How will they get to where they want to be in their careers in 20, 30, 40 years?
It’s my personal mission to pay it forward to women at all stages of their work. After I started as CEO and President of Catalyst, I went on a listening tour. I wanted to gauge where we were, where our Supporters were, and what would help all of us move toward equality in the workplace together. So far, what I’ve heard is that organizations want the women in their ranks to advance. They understand the value that women bring, and they are opening up to the possibilities of change.
But some organizations are struggling to make progress for women a reality. It’s not just the glass ceiling; it’s a frozen middle that organizations must chip away, allowing women to ascend beyond management and into leadership. Some senior leaders are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how the freeze happens despite their best intentions, and what tools they need to thaw it. Undoubtedly, the women who work for and with them are equally frustrated.
The second act of the play engaged the audience as a “talking circle,” asking us to contemplate Gloria’s contributions, as well as work left to do, today. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and decorated news anchor Christiane Amanpour were in attendance, and both spoke eloquently and passionately about the moment we find ourselves in as women in 2018. I too decided to speak about what I have learned from so many Catalyst Supporters, and I want to share what I said that night with you.
Change is in the air. It’s palpable. It’s electric. This is the greatest opportunity to create positive progress for women so far this century, particularly in the corporate world. The #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp organization have highlighted that there is still a power imbalance between women and men. While sexual harassment and abuse was what started it, the conversation has quickly expanded. Women are vocally seeking better treatment, safer workplaces, more consideration, and less of the status quo.
History isn’t just history; history is today. History is being made right now, and we must make it in the image we need to achieve equity, celebrate diversity, and lead with inclusion. If we stand up now, we can articulate what we want the future of work to be.
The world is paying attention. Leaders who want to nurture and leverage the best talent can feel the difference, and they are listening. A frozen middle can be chipped away from the top as well as the bottom. Each of us can help lead the way.
Women: Continue to stand up and speak your truth as women. Continue to share the experiences you have at work and beyond. Speak it to your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, managers, HR departments, and senior leaders.
Men: Step up and be part of the solution. Listen to what women are saying. Engage them in dialogue and open yourselves to their words. Ask how you can help. And change accordingly.
Senior leaders: Devote resources to rooting out bias in your talent management systems and other evaluative processes. Mentor and sponsor high-potential women in your organization. Be a positive role model for all of your employees.
Everyone: Take a step back and think about what your unconscious biases might be, who they might be affecting, and how you can keep them from affecting others in the future. Be aware that sexual harassment is a very real and persistent problem, and pledge to be there for those you know who have experienced it. Be a part of this movement in your everyday actions at work and at home.
Because Catalyst isn’t just Catalyst. Catalyst is each and every person working at our over 800 Supporter organizations around the world. Catalyst is each organization partnering with us in progress. Any HR expert, D&I practitioner, senior leader, champion, ally, manager, and any individual can be a catalyst for change. As we wind down this year and look forward to the next, I entreat each of you to decide how you will help create workplaces that work for women in 2019. Because workplaces that work for women work for everyone.