Gender Equality: 4 Takeaways From the White House’s United State of Women Summit
Attorney Olga V. Mack shares some of her favorite moments from the inaugural White House event aimed at addressing gender equality issues.
The room was buzzing with optimism and revolutionary spirit. The amount of talent, intellect, passion, and collective perseverance was inspiring and overwhelming in the best possible. And the physical experience of witnessing 5,000 women in the same room, supporting the advancement and empowerment of women, made us realize that anything is possible. Yes, anything!
The first-ever United State of Women Summit, organized by the White House in Washington DC on June 13-15, brought together local activists and some of the world’s most powerful women and men to engage in an energizing conversation on key gender equality issues. Speakers included President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, and Oprah Winfrey. At the summit, the First Lady shared that her hope was “that people leave here inspired and ready to do something.” And inspired we have become!
As a founder of Women Serve on Boards, a movement dedicated to achieving gender equality on corporate boards, four calls to action particularly resonated with me.
Give Women and Girls a Greater Voice
Vice President Biden began with a heartfelt speech on violence against women, his passage of the Violence Against Women Act, and his efforts to shift the mindset within our culture. He said that violence against women is all about the abuse of power, and that women who have been victims should never feel like it’s their fault or they deserved what happened to them. His message that “we have to give women and girls a greater voice… and we have to ensure their voices will be heard” is inspiring to the Women Serve on Boards team. We need to ensure that women have a greater voice in the companies that aim to lead and change society. After all, each silenced voice is a loss to all of us, worldwide.
The New Face of Feminism Includes Men
President Obama proudly declared to the crowd that he is a feminist! He reminded us that feminists come from every walk of life and most definitely include men. President Obama mentioned that the first piece of legislation he approved was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. His administration has worked hard to advance policies that ensure all women can achieve their full potential (e.g. ACA, Fair Pay Act). We are determined to maintain the legacy of his work by continuing to make sure that women are compensated fairly, have a seat at the table, and are not limited in opportunities, especially those serving on corporate boards. This requires the assistance and activism of all feminists— including men with the power to advance beneficial policies, whether in the government or in the workplace.
Another highlight of the summit was Oprah’s interview of First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady’s had only one piece of advice to men: “Be better.” That is, “Be better fathers. Be better husbands. Be better employers.” So simple and brief, and yet so on point. We can all be better, more inclusive, more intentional, more equitable, and more fair. And we should start being “better” today! With gender equality on the line, there is no time to wait for the “right” moment to improve ourselves and the status quo. Let’s be better, today and every day.
Repairing the Gender Gap Requires Focus, Intention, and Accountability
Finally, many attendees echoed that to “move the needle” on gender equality, we need active and consistent focus, intention, and accountability to include women. Sukhinder Singh of the Board List urged CEOs to prioritize including women on corporate boards. Similarly, Deborah Shaw, SVP and Chief Global Diversity and Engagement Officer for PepsiCo, said that companies must actively work on challenging assumptions and to promoting women and diversity. Finally, Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley and Chair of National Business Council, listed the following three components needed to implement diversity and inclusion effectively: consistency, intentionality, and accountability. This will be key for the Women Serve on Boards movement. We aren’t seeking “band-aid” fixes or token hires. We need to demand real change from corporations and hold them accountable for concrete plans to increase gender diversity.
Ultimately, we believe that women can do anything and that no obstacle is too high for us to conquer. As a group we are talented, persistent, and strategic. So when we hear statistics like 66 women to 100 men for every managerial position, and 38 women to every 100 men in political positions, it motivates us even more to contribute to the holistic shift in the entire system. We can add a lot to any table we sit at. The pervasive lack of representation and inclusion we face is first and foremost a loss for society, not just women.
Olga V. Mack is general counsel at ClearSlide in San Francisco and a founder of Women Serve on Boards.