‘Turbocharge’ Gender Equality—Like Caitlin Clark

How can we help the younger generation strive for equality and protect them from harmful stereotypes? Maybe the answer is “The Caitlin Clark effect.”

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates during overtime against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big 10 Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship at Target Center on March 10, 2024, in Minneapolis. (Adam Bettcher / Getty Images)

“Investing in women and championing gender equality turbocharges a future where everyone in society can thrive, creating a world of boundless opportunity and empowerment for all,” according to U.N. Women.

Over the last year, we have witnessed the power of women and the economy: Taylor Swift grossed approximately $1.82 billion, the Barbie movie made $1.50 billion, Beyoncé over $579 million—and now we’re watching the rising economic tide of college basketball phenom Caitlin Clark. This is right on par with projections made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that claim investing in women’s economic power could grow the global economy an additional $10 trillion by 2030.

As promising as these numbers are, women continue fighting for the basic human right of equality. We have 132 years of hard work still to go to reach equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report. It shouldn’t be this difficult. It shouldn’t take this long.

We are seeing success and the benefits of investing financially in women, but how can we fast track gender equality? How can we help the younger generation strive for equality? Maybe the answer is “The Caitlin Clark effect.”

She’s inspiring a new generation of young girls, and boys, and has created a unique phenomenon—showing parents a different way to invest in their daughters.

On March 1, the The Star Tribune out of Minneapolis posted a heartfelt and moving op-ed by Dr. Asitha Jayawardena, a proud dad to two young daughters that went viral: “Dear Caitlin Clark … You’re amazing on the court—but that’s just the start of your influence.” 

He wrote a personal note to Clark and mentions the important influence of Michael Jordan in his youth:

“Our daddy daughter dates occur whenever you play. We sit back, relax, and watch you dominate. I see the same transformation in her as I did in myself when I first learned of the grit and tenacity that was ‘like Mike.’ Together, I’ve watched my daughter’s confidence soar as we have learned about how practice helps you get better, how to be a good teammate, and how sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we always try to our best.”

Jayawardena saw his daughter’s confidence soar while watching Clark—girls as young as 6 start to believe that specific activities are not for them due to gender stereotypes, research shows. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, this can be reversed by providing girls with successful role models that may ‘inoculate’ them, giving them a social vaccination to boost their motivation and protect them from harmful stereotypes. This may be the best chance of convincing little girls that they are, in fact, good enough.

While Clark is getting well deserved attention and sponsorships from big name brands such as Gatorade, Nike, Goldman Sachs and State Farm and breaking records for TV ratings, attendance and NCAA scoring, her long-term effect on gender equality is much more powerful. She’s inspiring a new generation of young girls, and boys, and has created a unique phenomenon—showing parents a different way to invest in their daughters.

I too, have a message for Caitlin: Thank you for staying true to your strong body and smart mind. You are creating a beautiful new story that shows us a new path to achieve gender equality. Little girls will grow up knowing confidence, grit and tenacity “like Caitlin.”

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Jodi Bondi Norgaard is an entrepreneur, author, keynote speaker, feminist advocate, and an expert in creating change and breaking gender stereotypes. She is the founder of Dream Big Toy Company and the creator of the award-winning Go! Go! Sports Girls line of dolls, books, and apps for girls, encouraging healthy and active play over beauty and body image. Her book,  More Than A Doll: How Creating A New Brand of Sports Dolls Turned into a Fight to End Gender Stereotypes , will be released Jan. 2025.