By any measure, 2017 was a turning point. It started with the largest collective global protest march, when women in pink hats and the best activist signs ever showed up, woke up and made clear that something fundamental was changing. Women then stepped forward by the tens of thousands to throw their hats, pink or otherwise, into the ring and run for public office.
That was just the beginning.
Once women stood in the power of their voices, they realized how gratifying it is to wear their convictions in public.
Just when it seemed march fervor had become a simmer, the last part of 2017 roared in the #MeToo movement, ignited at first by allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by Harvey Weinstein and followed by a landslide of allegations of sexual misconduct by powerful men in all industries. One after another these powerful men toppled as women gained the collective courage to come forward. This in turn prompted the #TimesUp initiative, not to mention Oprah’s riveting speech at the Golden Globes, to which the majority of female attendees wore black. Some even brought female activists to the Globes as dates.
Times are a-changing.
I’ve been a movement leader as well as a CEO for many years, and I know that movements can dissipate in the blink of an eye if people don’t keep them moving forward intentionally. That said, this feels and looks different. I don’t know whether women’s push for change has reached a tipping point of no return, but I do know a moment of strategic inflection when leaders must make critical choices. This is real.
Every company and organization is going to have to change now. Leaders can make that change happen intentionally in ways that add value to their companies, or it will be imposed upon them by external forces and perhaps not in a way that’s positive for their businesses. It’s best for leaders to take the lead. Best for leaders to create a workplace culture that women want to be in, and where they’ll be treated with respect and have equal pay, positions and partnerships. Leaders will have to create work environments where women aren’t objectified and where implicit bias is at least recognized and at best eliminated from recruiting, hiring and retention practices. Doing this will also be good for companies’ bottom lines.
Companies with more women in upper leadership make more money. Government entities with more women improve decision-making processes. Women make or are a major influence in 70% to 80% of consumer purchases. Women earn the majority of college degrees, making them the core of the knowledge-based workforce. Add women to a male group and raise its collective intelligence. And a new Harvard Business Review study says women respond better under competitive pressure. How about that for breaking stereotypes? To stay ahead of the curve in the marketplace and attract top candidates, businesses will need to advance gender parity in the workplace.
In order to do this, women and men must work together. Leaders at companies will also have to dig deeper and create real change, including equal pay and a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Businesses will need to give women the tools to advance and both genders will have to recognize and wrangle with implicit biases in order to wring them out of the system. Moving forward, this will be the only way to run a successful company.
Gloria Feldt is the co-founder and president of Take The Lead and a bestselling author of four books. She is also the former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.