We’ve spent most of our lives engaged on issues pertaining to women. Although much has been achieved, the gains made have been slow. Why, after so many years, have we made such little progress? While we are always optimists, it is important for us to acknowledge that we are still a nation where:
■ We are ranked 80th in the world in terms of women in elected office as well as in the C-suite. Countries including Uzbekistan and Moldova surpass us. China has a corporate structure where nearly 50 percent of corporate leaders are women. Even Vietnam, Estonia and Botswana surpass the United States.
■ Women are prepared both in education and in experience to lead companies and countries, yet so few do.
■ We mark for the 25th year Equal Pay Day knowing all too well that women still earn less on average than men and must work longer for the same amount of pay with a wage gap that continues to be even greater for most women of color.
■ In an age and time where the importance of quality and affordable child care is crucial to a family’s economic success, we still have a workplace where mothers are seen as less competent and committed, half as likely to be hired, and offered $11,000 less per year in starting pay than non-moms and dads.
We are often perplexed by these statistics because we know that companies led by women are more capital-efficient than those led by men. Babson’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that women-led, high-tech startups have lower failure rates than those led by men and achieve annual revenue 12 percent higher, yet women entrepreneurs receive only 4 percent of the billions of dollars that venture capital firms dole out to founders.
Also, corporations that are the most inclusive of women in top management positions achieve a 35 percent higher return on equity and 34 percent higher total return to shareholders.
We’re convinced that an important link in making real progress belongs to men. Men who have daughters, wives, sisters or mothers in the workforce. We need more men vested in the growth of women. We need men to be real partners at work, not just at home. We need men to “lean in” alongside women not only to ensure that both women and men have opportunities to lead but also to enable their organizations to thrive, innovate and compete.
We’ve seen some powerful examples of men taking a role on this issue. One CEO of a large corporation undertook a compensation study to determine if women in his company were underpaid in comparison to men. It found a big discrepancy and he demanded the gap be fixed. Another CEO will not speak or attend trade conferences where women leaders are not featured. These are small but powerful actions that can and will make a difference over time.
In our role as founders of the Indiana Conference for Women, the largest educational and professional conference in the Midwest, we see that a large number of our attendees are millennials who make up our future workforce. They are actively seeking corporate cultures and a state environment that supports their professional growth. This is a strategic economic development issue for our state. Specifically, we need leaders in Indiana to:
Mentor a woman: Take a woman leader into your inner circle just as you would a talented man.
Ask a question: Where are the women? Ask in terms of recruiting, promotions, board seats. It’s a question that becomes more powerful when men ask it.
Speak up and speak loudly: Way too many conferences are stacked with male leaders. If women are invited to the table at all, they are too often relegated to topics of work-life balance. We need more female thought leaders and you can play an important role in making sure that happens.
Create cultures where all thrive: We need men to make sure the environments in their organizations are free of harassment and are empowering places for all people.
We’d like to leave you with this call to action: Make this your problem. Don’t leave it to women to create change all by themselves.•
Dragoo and Stephens are the co-founders of the Indiana Conference for Women.