Three weeks ago, I was elected as Board Chair of the Equal Rights Amendment Fund for Women’s Equality. As a funder and champion of women’s rights and economic justice, this call to step up could not have come at a more urgent time.
Each one of us has had many moments of reckoning during COVID-19. But as women of color, we have seen that COVID has treated us differently from the rest. Race has been identified as a co-morbidity and a risk factor, just like diabetes or heart disease. Our healthcare systems, our educational systems, and our systems for protecting essential workers are all struggling mightily against a dangerous and mysterious disease. Basic rights and systems have been demolished for women, and women of color are being particularly hard-hit, facing higher rates of job loss while also being expected to bear more responsibility for caregiving and educating children.
As I watch virtual centennial celebrations marking the passage of suffrage, I realize that we still have a lot of work to do in order to lead with inclusive values and create a world where men and women of all races are truly equal. Now, more than ever, is the time to lead through a feminist lens. But what does a feminist future look like? And, you may ask, how does that approach lead to equality not just for white women, but for all women?
To begin with, we must codify the Equal Rights Amendment into our constitution so that equality is never again a question. If we can protect the right to carry a gun, we can demand the right to be equal regardless of gender identity.
Then, let’s reimagine the very framework we use to think about that equality. Instead of fitting women into the set of rules established by patriarchal systems, let’s create a new set of rules that match our own values.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us so much clarity on which styles of leadership work and which styles do not. We now have proof that feminist leadership works. Women are at the helm of many of the countries most successfully battling the COVID virus. Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Finland’s Sanna Martin, Taiwan’s Tsai-Ing-wen, and Iceland’s Katrín Jakobsdóttir have all shown that governments work well when women are in power.
Why have these women leaders been successful? It is because they used the tactics of collaboration, empathy, strength and purpose, to listen, understand and take action. They implemented testing, contact tracing and isolation measures as a health imperative, not as a political statement. In short, they used strategies often cast away as “too feminine” to get their jobs done.
These values and practices can be translated into leadership in so many sectors. In the corporate world, women are rewarded for exhibiting traditionally masculine traits of aggressiveness, control and determination. Women have had to step into a predominantly male-rewarding system in order to compete for leadership positions. No doubt, women have made some gains, but they have come at a steep cost.
It has been even more difficult to get ahead for women of color than it has been for white women. This is obvious when you look at the leadership and board composition of our largest blue-chip companies. Only 38 CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are women and none are women of color. We still have a wage gap, and we still have a glass ceiling, and it gets worse if you add color to the equation. I saw it at the start of my career on Wall Street, and not enough has changed.
In these uncertain times, there are a plethora of reports about “How Businesses Will Be Successful Going Forward.” We have realized that we live in a world where we are dependent on each other, and where the deep inequities in our society are more transparent than ever before. In order to change that paradigm, I believe our world is in need of feminist values.
McKinsey has been among the organizations publishing weekly reports on how business leaders should lead during these turbulent times. In the last McKinsey report, I read about managers being flexible, nurturing, empathetic and collaborative. Sound familiar?
This sentiment is spreading. To create the Athena Doctrine, John Gerzema researched 64,000 people across thirteen countries from Poland to Peru, countries that represented every kind of geopolitical and economic diversity possible. He found something astonishing. More than 45,000 respondents said that the world would be a better place if our leaders thought more like women. Both financial and societal outcomes would actually be better.
What would happen if our leaders across civil society could lead with traits of collaboration, passion, intuition, patience, flexibility and loyalty? Perhaps the yin and yang of feminine and masculine values could better balance each other out.
And what if women leaders were resourced in the same way as men? Women allocate their money differently than men do, often funding issues directly impacting communities, families, and relationships. Gender equality donors are some of the most inclusive donors out there, adding multiple categories of vulnerable and marginalized populations to the people they aim to support and protect, and yet this funding accounts for less than two percent of all philanthropy.
I am hopeful that change may finally be around the corner for feminist philanthropy. In the largest ever wealth transfer in history, women now hold $72 trillion in assets. With the right mindset and the right legislation, the wage gap can be closed and equality can become a reality. Profits can equal purpose, gender-lens investments can equal both financial and social returns, and a balance of power can equal more just outcomes. We will have more news soon on how Women Moving Millions, the organization for which I am Board Chair, will be spearheading change on all of these fronts, so stay tuned for an unprecedented funding announcement.
A century ago, white women won a huge victory when they gained the right to vote in the U.S. but this victory was only partial, because women of color were left out of the room. To this day, the United States is one of only 28 countries out of 195 that does not guarantee equal rights for men and women.
The ERA states: “Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Equality can’t wait any longer. With the crisis of COVID, we now know what the stakes are — better health outcomes for whole countries, and communities, particularly under-resourced communities, being able to survive instead of being decimated. It’s time to end the debate on this issue that began when I was two years old, and make all genders equal in America.
Editor’s Note: More information on Women Moving Million’s historic funding announcement will be forthcoming at their September 11 Summit, The Power of Us. Register today!