Go for it.
As women, we have often been told that to be successful we have to do something different than we are doing. We have to somehow break the mold of bad habits that include holding back and not seizing the moment to develop fully into leaders.
There may be something to that but I also believe that we have been doing many things right. And I want to call upon each woman and man in this room today to continue to act in a way that will help narrow the gap and create a more equal society. I will ask all of us to TAKE FIVE – to make things right.
I research and write about women in non-traditional fields and I have written about women and the American presidency.
Today, as we consider the theme this year’s AAUW luncheon, empowering women, let’s draw upon the remarkable journey of today’s “university women” and the trailblazing women I have written about – as we consider our own journeys of empowerment and self fulfillment.
This meeting today in Easton, Pennsylvania is, in many ways, similar to the meeting of the original founders of the AAUW back in 1881 when Marion Talbot and Ellen Richards met in Boston with 15 alumnae representing eight colleges to discuss the needs of college-educated women.
In addition to broadening opportunities and assisting other women in higher education, they discussed the formation of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. Today American women have surpassed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor’s degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who goes off to work and who stays home with the kids.
Educational gains for women have given us greater access to a wider range of jobs, contributing to a shift of traditional gender roles at home and work.
Men now might be the ones more likely to be staying home, doing the more traditional child rearing.
Among adults 25 and older, 10.6 million U.S. women have master’s degrees or higher, compared to 10.5 million men. Measured by shares, about 10.2 percent of women have advanced degrees compared to 10.9 percent of men — a gap steadily narrowing in recent years. YET: Women still trail men in professional careers such as business, science and engineering. At Penn State, we have yet to appoint a woman president and Penn State has been around since 1855. What are we waiting for? There always seems to be women finalists and then that’s it – another man is names.
When it comes to finishing college, roughly 20.1 million women have bachelor’s degrees, compared to nearly 18.7 million men — a gap of more than 1.4 million that has remained steady in recent years. Women first passed men in bachelor’s degrees in 1996.
I like to describe myself as a woman of both thought and action so I will conclude today with actions that I believe we –and organizations can take – to empower women and thus release the full potential of their organizations.
What does it mean to empower?
First, let’s think about what it doesn’t mean: to deny, to avoid, to keep out or away from opportunities to have a wider life.
What can you do to have a wider life?
Hillary Clinton—one of the most trailblazing women in the world says “Whether we are talking about empowering and connecting women in economics or health care or education or politics, it all comes back to a question of the full and equal participation of women versus their marginalization.”
She goes on to say:
“I believe it’s time for a full and clear eyed look on how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and what we plan to do together about the unfinished business of the 21st century: the full and equal participation of women.”
I wrote a book about Hillary Clinton after her trailblazing bid for the United States presidency in 2008 and I called the book: Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton Won in 2008. Oh, sure, she did not win the presidency (we know that) but she did become the first non-symbolic candidate who is a woman for the United States presidency. That, to me—and I know to you as well—is an enormous win.
Shirley Chisholm – another trailblazing woman I’ve researched and written about made a bid for the United States presidency in 1972. When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 he thanked her. She has said: The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl. And these stereotypes are part of what has kept women from full participation.
Wendy Davis story –
Getty images story
And, she has also said:
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
And that is what you do here at the AAUW, you implement ideas that help women take our lives to the next level. I commend you for that. Today, I will suggest the implementation of initiatives that will help women achieve full participation in society.
I have had the privilege of interviewing three of the four women who have served on the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor for a book I published in 2012 on the rhetoric of Supreme Court women. Each of them expressed to me—in their own ways—what it has been like for them to work in the field of law and the be appointed to the Supreme Court – perhaps the most staunchly male centered governmental body besides the United States presidency.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked me to walk across her chamber to a photo of her son in law, holding her then newborn grandchild and she said: “This is what I have been working for. Not women’s rights, but human rights.”
I am currently working on a book about women world leaders. Right now, I am writing a chapter on the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. She was the first woman to hold that position and it represented a tremendous moment for fresh, new thinking in Ireland when she won election in 1990.
She knows well the fact that electing more women will help exact real change. She underscored that when she said:
“It’s only when you have a critical mass of women in politics that you get women’s issues attacked.”
So what can we do? What can we learn from women who have stretched the boundaries and created a more equal society so that we keep the momentum moving forward?
These are my Call to Actions for ourselves and our organizations:
- 1. SHOW UP!
Show up, volunteer, do, be. I have found that being willing to be present is vital to creating a professional and personal life that is fulfilling. Do not retreat. Gain the energy to put yourself out there. In person. On the internet. Blog, write, speak, produce. That is the first step in create a more women-rich environment.
The internet can help you if you use it to the best of its potential:
Create a professional image of yourself on the Internet with Linked In.
Carefully use Facebook and Twitter to create a public image and to communicate your passion.
Join organizations. Make yourself known.
ALSO: Organizations can make women visible.
In an organization that is male saturated, I want to call to action leaders to make women visible and vocal.
Have at least one woman speak when there is an event featuring all men.
State of the Union; University graduations, panels.
2. HOLD POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE
We have to ask more from our political leaders. Instead of letting them simply talk about “family values” or pose with their families to show they are family oriented, we have to ask them to do the hard work of changing the legislation to ensure that women and men can raise their children, care for their elders, and continue to earn the incomes they need to survive and thrive in today’s economy. According to the recent Shriver Report:
“Nearly all of our government policies—from our basic labor standards to our social insurance system—are still rooted in the fundamental assumption that families typically rely on a single breadwinner.”
Allowing women to play by the same rules as the single male breadwinner worker of yesteryear does NOT go far enough. Too many workers—especially women and low-wage workers—today simply cannot work in the way the breadwinner once worked with a steady job and lifelong marriage with a wife at home.
“The United States is the only industrialized country without any requirement that employers provide paid family leave.”
You and I need to advocate to change this. Write our legislators, blog, lobby, raise our voices.
Insist on fair family leave policies and encourage our women to access them. When I had my children, I was so low on the employment level as a fixed term faculty member I was afraid to ask for time off. I knew I had something coming to me, but I thought that if I actually took the time, my career would falter, Penn State would see me as a slacker and I would never have the chance to grow my career. So I took no time off with either of my pregnancies. I survived with help from my mother and father in law who often took care of our children and by accessing care for the children from neighbors and friends, but it was still a difficult number of years. It could have been made easier if I had more confidence in myself and the structures. If I had a female role model who could have told me how she managed, or a female leader who knew my rights as a new mother to communicate the policies, I would have had an easier time. We need to be sure that families who are raising children and working know the policies of their organization so that they are not working in fear of being fired.
According to the Shriver Report:
“Most Americans believe it is illegal today for employers to fire a pregnant worker, but that is not the case. “
“The federal government has played only a modest role in supporting families with child care expenses and almost no role at all in supporting families with elder care responsibilities.”
We need to stand up for what is right for families in organizations so that those who need support receive it. We need to instill confidence in our girls and women that raising a family is valued and that taking time away from our careers will not damage their earnings or their careers. We need family friendly policies that support the needs of our women and men. Be the role model for the younger women in your work place who are raising their children. Advocate for more public promotion of policies that will help families thrive.
3. TALK ABOUT THIS
Let’s promote education, training and professional development for women and men in organizations. Brown bag information sessions that bring together all members of organizations to discuss feelings and issues surrounding all of these issues to create awareness and understanding so that people are not afraid to raise their families well.
4. SHOW THE KIDS We need to encourage our children to live their best lives regardless of gender stereotypes and limiting public policies.
By living in a gender neutral way we show our children what is possible for their lives. Fathers need to model the role of caregiver by pulling back from their own careers if their families need them. As Sheryl Sandberg has said, we need to make our partners real partners.
5. GET PAID FAIRLY
Insisting on equal pay is one great way we can level the playing field for women in the work force. Today in 2014, women are still earning only 77 cents for ever dollar a man ears. That is simply not good enough. We need to ask why. We need to insist on equal pay.
So, yes, indeed, we have come a very long way. We are more empowered as women than we ever have been. But there is still work to do.
There are bookmarks here with the Five Action Items I have asked us to take today.
Please take one on your way out and work with me to create a more balanced environment so that our boys and girls can grow up in a world that gives them a full range of opportunities to live freely and fully.
Bella Abzug put it well when she said:
“Women will change the nature of power; power will not change the nature of women.”
Thank you very much.
This is a work in progress speech for an upcoming AAUW lunch. Your thoughts are appreciated