This is Our Moment to Act

In the mid 70’s, my big sister came home from college and gave me a tee shirt that read: “A Woman’s Place is in the House… and the Senate.” It became my prized possession.

The gift symbolized something important to me as it bridged our seven-year age gap and somehow linked my skinny tween self to adult women. I doubt that I fully understood the magnitude of the statement of the shirt back then, but I wore it proudly and frequently. It felt to me that girls and women were on the brink of something big. The future looked bright.

Now, as a Clinical faculty member and Director of the Women’s Leadership Program at of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, I have been reflecting on the progress that women have made over my lifetime that has enabled my career. As I consider the world that my high potential, ambitious female students will face upon graduation, I am troubled by both the leadership gap with men and the slowing rate of advancement for women in business. Imagine my surprise to see that same phrase popping up on t-shirts today, and just as relevant and needed as it was 40 years ago.

There has never been a greater time for women and inclusive men to have a collective voice in our future. The revelations of the #MeToo movement have unleashed millions of empowered women rising with strength and conviction to tell their stories, reject unfair treatment, and choose candidates, companies, and situations that promote these values. Social media has provided an equalizing platform that enables ordinary voices to grow more powerful through shared perspectives, amplified concerns, and identification of unacceptable behavior. While #MeToo started with the Hollywood elite, strong women are saying “Time’s up” in business and politics like never before as exemplified by the resignations of Steve Wynn and Rob Porter.

Paul de Gregorio / Creative Commons

Yet even in the face of the stalled progress the current statistics and slogans indicate, I believe we have the power to make 2018 a turning point in accelerating women’s standing in the world. We must seize this unique moment in time and convert our intention, impatience and outrage into action. Although slogans, tee-shirts and Facebook “likes” provide a feel-good start, they are not enough to disrupt the glacial pace of women’s advancement in business and politics.

We don’t just need to pick up the pace. We need to put our foot on the gas.

In addition to women’s voices growing louder, many are throwing their hat into the political arena at levels not seen before 2018. There are an unprecedented number of women running for offices, big and small. These women have taken that step towards action, fueled by their passion to drive change and influence our future. Yet it’s not enough for women to simply to run for office—their important steps must be matched by volunteerism, financial support and voting. This unique moment means that increased involvement can convert the record numbers running to record numbers winning.

In addition to shifts in the political landscape, we are at the beginning phase of a business transition where the consumer, employee and investor voice have a greater influence on financial results. When a company missteps or is tone deaf, they hear it immediately. Progressive companies are wisely recognizing that inclusive leadership, purpose and values are a priority to engage a talented multi-generational workforce, to deliver products and services that create a loyal following and, more recently, to attract investors.

Case in point: In January, Blackrock’s Larry Fink issued a letter to his fellow CEOs that included expectations of engagement with the companies they invest with to better understand and hold them accountable to their effect on society. When a $6.3 trillion asset management firm makes this public statement and issues this warning shot, C-Suites and boardrooms listen. This broadening view of a company’s role will seed change in company behavior. More enlightened brands and companies will realize they can do well by doing good. But, to work, culture must be rebuilt to match.

To be sure, women have made gains in my lifetime and are afforded opportunities that don’t exist for many women across the globe. There have been many years christened the Year of the Woman without accomplishing this feat—but with our collective voice and platform, the opportunity to vote female leaders into office and the beginning stage of a business culture evolution, now is the historic time to close the gap between talk and action. At long last, we can make the notion of “a woman’s place” an irrelevant relic of the past.

Time’s up for simple words. It’s time to act with our voices, our votes and our wallets.

Ellen Connelly Taaffe is a Clinical Assistant Professor and the Director of the Women’s Leadership Program at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, an independent Board Director of John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. and Hooker Furniture Corporation and a Public Voices Fellow.

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