Let’s Disrupt Women’s Equality Day

Issue 63 — August 26, 2018

Hold onto Bella’s hat, mind Alice’s admonition, and follow Sojourner’s truth.

It’s Women’s Equality Day again. Again.

August 26. First so designated by the 1971 legislative initiative of the inimitable NY Congresswoman Bella Abzug to commemorate the date on which the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote officially became the law of the land.

But it’s time to disrupt this celebration because we’ve stalled out and it’s time to think very differently to jet fuel the trajectory to gender equality in leadership, the next big thing this holiday ought to commit itself to achieve.

Bella’s Hat

Besides her hats, Bella was well known for her courage and her unabashed if brusque advocacy for women’s rights. She famously said, “Our struggle for today is not to have a female Einstein appointed as an assistant professor. It’s for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

It’s 170 years since the first U. S. women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY and 98 years since women got the right to vote ratified into the U. S. Constitution. And we’re still celebrating those milestones, not because women’s rights are a done deal but because despite many steps forward, in so many ways we aren’t there yet.

Alice’s Admonition

Still, we have no Equal Rights Amendment putting women’s equal legal status into the Constitution. Suffragist leader Alice Paul wrote the ERA in 1923. She was one of the few suffragists who understood that it’s not enough to disrupt once, win a battle, and then consider the matter settled.

So when most of the suffragists and the organizations they had formed stopped their organizing once the 19th Amendment was won, Paul believed that getting the vote was just the beginning, not the full attainment of equal rights. She also understood, as did few others, that a movement has to keep disrupting, with new initiatives that keep the ball of justice rolling forward,

“When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down till you get to the end of the row,” Paul admonished.

In a 1972 interview, Paul also said, “I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.”

Paul was so right. Because:

  • Still, despite laws banning discrimination on account of sex, the gender pay gap persists at 20% on average and twice that for women of color. Seriously, are you as tired as I am of reading the Equal Pay Day headlines every year? Just put it on instant replay, reporters, and save yourselves the work of trying to make a repetitive story fresh again.

This is why it is time to disrupt the narrative from focusing on the problems to focusing on the solutions. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves define us and either limit us or help us make the systemic change we need.

I had a chance to chat with Erica Mandy on her podcast theNewsWorthy about this and why we’re in a moment of disruption that can result in rapid movement to gender parity in leadership.

  • Still, female entrepreneurs, who are a better risk for investors than men who start businesses, get a miserly 2.2% of venture investments.

This is why on Women’s Equality Day this August 26, I am hosting BRAVA Investments founder and CEO Nathalie Molina Nino, to help her launch her new book, Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.

  • Still, as both cause and result of the above, women hold less than a fifth of the top leadership positions across all sectors and professions. The number of female Fortune 500 CEOs has actually declined to a miserable 22 despite yeoperson efforts by the prominent corporate women of Paradigm for Parity, 40 years of Catalyst research and highlighting companies with supposedly female friendly policies, and myriad other such valuable initiatives that are essential but miss a critical disruptive element: changing how women ourselves think about, redefine, and embrace our power with intention, confidence, and joy.

This is exactly why Take The Lead focuses on that essential disruption of how the problems are defined in order to produce new solutions that break through the internal barriers as well as the external ones.

We have a course coming up that you might want to check out to get your own career breakthrough and clarity about yourself and where you want to go.

We can learn so much from the women like Susan B. Anthony, and the men like Frederic Douglass, who dared to say women deserved equal rights with men, including the right to vote back in 1848.

Today we call them visionary. In 1848, they were seen as radical, disruptive to the “natural” order. They were laughed at by some and reviled by others when they wrote in their Declaration of Sentiments: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

It took a grueling 72-year battle until the suffrage amendment finally entered the Constitution. Arguments against it usually came down to one fine point: it would surely disrupt the divine order in which women were consigned to hearth and home.

Goodness knows if they got the vote their reproductive organs might fall out and who knows if they’d every cook dinner for the family again.

The final state needed to ratify was Tennessee. State legislative approval finally came down to the pro suffrage vote of one 23-year-old legislator, Harry T Burn, who opposed the amendment until his mother wrote him an impassioned letter urging him to “be a good boy” and vote for ratification. Oh the power of mothers.

The turning point is always like that, unpredictable,

Sojourner’s Truth

Here’s where I want to talk about Sojourner Truth, whose story inspired me by disrupting my thinking about how women should approach equal rights.

“If women want any rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it,” asserted Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and traveling preacher.

She was a woman who started with no power and became one of the most powerful orators and influential advocates for both racial and gender equality of the 19th century.

Honestly, it’s a scandal that we haven’t broken the shackles old thinking and set our intentions firmly on Sojourner’s truth that we should just take our rights and not be talking about it all the time.

Time to have a major disruption of the pattern.

To give Bella the last word, as she always took regardless of whether anyone gave it to her:

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.” As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.



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