Issue 229 — May 22, 2023
My grandmother was a Bolshevik.
Grandmother Rose was anything but revolutionary by the time she was my primary caregiver during my preschool years in Temple, Texas. She came to America in 1920 to marry her fiancée from their home town in Lithuania, had two children, and learned to play domestic arts like the other traditional housewives in the neighborhood.
But she told me stories about having been a schoolmistress in a Bolshevik school after the Russian revolution in 1917. A lover of literature, she quoted some of the Russian poets featured in “The Beautiful Lady,” a brilliant and quirky musical about the Russian revolution I saw recently at the New York experimental theater La MaMa.
I’m telling you this because the through-line of the play is that revolutions take time and often don’t produce the exact result envisioned.
Change is after all an unpredictable process, hinging on social, cultural, and political shifts that can take generations to realize. But when change seemingly happens quickly (even when it has been in the making for many years, such as the gay rights movement from Stonewall to the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing same sex marriage) there is almost always a pivotal moment, an unexpected event when movements gains momentum, and what seemed impossible becomes inevitable.
Like an unexpected viral TikTok, old societal norms are suddenly disrupted, while some people whose power base depended on the old order are left wondering what the heck happened.
In the long journey to gender parity in leadership, the transformation may have been slow and incremental to date, but here are three pivots that suggest parity can be our reality sooner than many expect.
- The #MeToo movement has not eliminated all sexual abuse, but it has created fundamental change in expectations of how women’s bodies must be respected. Rebecca Traister’s compelling analysis of the #MeToo movement’s impact underscores the long-lasting ripple effects of such pivotal moments. Change isn’t necessarily linear, but the force and tenacity of the #MeToo movement indicate an irreversible, if less than complete, shift. Take the example of E. Jean Carroll’s landmark successful civil case accusing the previous president of sexual assault. By telling her story, she not only shed light on her personal experience but also brought broader attention to the insidious problem of sexual assault and harassment. Her act was pivotal, accelerating change and prompting a broader reckoning in our society. Sexual harassment and abuse have been documented as a significant factor in setting back women’s confidence and intentions for higher leadership roles.
2. The impact of the pandemic initially set women back, but overall has created a pivotal moment for systemic change in the workplace that will accelerate women’s leadership. We are already seeing changes for the better in women’s attitudes toward their work, according to Deloitte’s Women@Work 2023 study that found women report lower rates of burnout. Three factors in particular will open more leadership opportunities for women:
Remote Work: The sudden shift to remote work has demonstrated that many jobs can be done effectively outside traditional office settings.
Flexible Work Hours: Related to remote work, the pandemic forced greater acceptance of flexible work hours. This allows for a better work-life integration and can be especially helpful for women (and men) juggling work with family commitments.
Greater Representation in Decision-Making: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of diverse perspectives in decision-making, particularly in crisis management. Organizations recognizing the value of women’s contributions in these situations will be more inclined to promote gender parity in leadership roles.
3. We know how to rectify the “leaky pipeline” problem highlighted in a SHRM study. The “leaky pipeline” refers to the steady decline of women as they progress in their careers, representing a significant barrier to achieving gender parity in leadership. You have to stay in the game to win it. Take The Lead, with its focus on changing the power paradigm, thus enabling women to know their value and claim it confidently, can provide the tools and strategies to counter the leaky pipeline phenomenon, fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture conducive to the rise of women leaders.
It’s essential that businesses seize this moment as an opportunity to make substantial and lasting changes in the pursuit of equality in the workplace.
True, progress is often met with resistance. In the path to gender equality, in addition to or perhaps within the patriarchal power structure, there will be some women who don’t support other women. Some people find a false sense of security under the wings of their oppressors. While this viewpoint is misguided, it doesn’t diminish overall progress; rather, it highlights the complexity of making change. And fortunately they are not the majority
Social change is a testament to human resilience. As the renowned actor, singer, and activist Harry Belafonte poignantly put it, “Movements don’t die because struggle doesn’t die.”
The journey to gender parity in leadership may seem arduous, but it’s within our grasp. The systemic shifts, the pivotal moments of accelerated change, and the determined initiatives addressing gender bias are ushering us toward a future of equality.
This revolution is unstoppable. I predict that we are in a pivotal moment in which we will be able to move gender parity in leadership farther and faster than ever before. Are you with me?
GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50 2022, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.