Empowering women in the workplace is about more than ensuring diversity. As participants on the Resnick Aspen Action Forum’s Gender Re-set panel explained Friday, there are tangible benefits to putting women in positions of power and making their voices heard — as well as real challenges to overcome in order to reach that goal.
“There are gender patterns in all industries where there are systemic, cultural, and social norms that are holding people back,” said Catto Fellow and Catalyst At Large founder Suzanne Biegel. These harmful patterns can range from business-specific trends like lack of access to investment capital for women entrepreneurs to more macro inequalities in access to information and technology that can keep women out of business and tech careers in the first place. “We acculturate young women to believe they are not good in certain areas,” said Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow Ref Rodriguez, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. For this reason, his district has partnered with organizations like the LA Promise Fund to expose girls to STEM content and help close the gender gap in that field.
— The Aspen Institute (@AspenInstitute) July 29, 2017
As CEO of Landit.com, Henry Crown Fellow Lisa Skeete Tatum’s hope is to democratize career success for women around the globe. She emphasized that, while major allegations of workplace sexism at companies like Uber may make the news, daily microaggressions against women and non-binary workers can cause just as much damage. That means it’s up to business leaders to look within their company culture and make sure they’re offering empowering, non-discriminatory spaces. There’s a social cost to speaking up about harassment, and many women will stay silent rather than make waves in the office.
What else can be done to move toward a “gender re-set”? Rodriguez called for equal pay for equal work. Tatum pushed for a world where women are free to speak up about their workplace challenges without having to suffer in silence. While there are fixes that can address some of these issues, a true re-set requires changes on all sides. As Biegel explained, some activists think about lack of access to capital, some think about female representation on corporate boards, some focus on understanding women as customers, and still others care most about access to education and health care for women and girls. “It’s many lenses,” she said. “Fairness is my number one thing. Fairness in every context.”
As our definition of gender evolves, so too must our conversations on gender roles and social norms within the workplace and without. No matter the environment, building a fair system for women to grow and achieve can help move everyone toward a better future.
Watch this conversation and others live from the Resnick Aspen Action Forum.