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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a Wakeup Call For Us All

Last week marked Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the day the average Black woman in the US finally—after nine extra months of work—made what their white male counterparts did in 2021. It’s important to note that in 2021, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was recognized on August 3, but in 2022 it’s been pushed back by nearly two months. That means the pay gap is widening – fast. September 21 was not a day to celebrate, but a stark reminder of the gross inequities that Black women continue to face and is a wakeup call for us all.

This loss of pay is charted by HerMoney.com, who reported that in 2020, Black women made 63 percent of what white, non-Hispanic men made. However, the pandemic caused full-time Black women workers’ median wage to be reduced to 58 cents in 2021, according to ACS Census data. This widening gap is similar to the levels of the 1960’s and is even more shocking compared to the 83 cents gap of women of all races, reported by The American Association of University Women. Factoring in all races moved Equal Pay Day for the rest of us to March 15 this year, which means that Black women had seven more months to earn the same pay as non-black women in this country where all people are supposed to be equal.

Overall, Black workers have always faced discrimination in the workforce, and Black women are especially vulnerable as they face the double jeopardy of not only being Black, but also being female. That discrimination costs them too, as much as $1,891 per month, $22,692 per year and a staggering loss of $907,680 over a 40-year career, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This means that a Black woman has to work until she’s 80 years old to make what a white man makes by the time he reaches 60. The wage gap starts with girls as young as 16 and worsens as Black women progress through their education and careers. Even though Black women enroll in college at higher rates than men, Black women who have bachelor’s degrees still earn 36% less than white men with bachelor’s degrees on average.

Part of the current disparity can be traced to the pandemic. COVID-19 dramatically shifted the labor market and hit women of color the hardest. Millions of women were forced out of the workforce due to layoffs and increased caregiving demands, with women of color suffering the greatest economic losses, to the tune of 1.4 million jobs, largely in industries in which Black women are overrepresented such as services and hospitality,according to a separate report from the NWLC. The report further states that unequal pay has left Black women less able than their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts to successfully weather the economic fallout of the pandemic. And data shows that economic gains in recent months have not been experienced evenly across groups by race and gender. For example, the unemployment rate for Black women was double digits for 6 months in 2020—including a peak of 16.6% in May 2020—before finally declining. That means Black women have been yet again excluded from full economic recovery, and the unemployment levels they have been facing would be labeled recessionary if they were applied to all workers.

While COVID-19 brought some of the racial and gender issues that Black women face to light, it’s important to remember that these are not new problems. Black women have been working twice as hard for half as much long before COVID-19, the pandemic simply added another layer to the inequities they’ve long faced.

Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told ABC News that the solution for closing the gender pay gap for Black women needs to come from both the government and private sectors. “On the federal level, Mason said the passage of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act can help promote pay equity and transparency, while enforcement of existing civil rights and equal employment laws can help lower workplace discrimination.”

Black women are in crisis, and the growing pay gap must be reversed. We need to work together to address the disparities and close the pay gap for Black women, while creating a system that supports all women the same way it supports and protects our male counterparts. We need to make sure that women across the board are recognized for their skills and talents and actually get paid fairly for the work they do. Equal pay for all (women and men) needs to be a top priority, and this year’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is a resounding wakeup call – reminding us to take action. We need to take steps to make change for everyone, point out the injustices, and do what we can (all races and genders) personally and politically to make sure that Black women get the equal pay they deserve.

The Cassandra Project Shows Why Women’s Voices Must Be Heard

Filmmaker Barclay DeVeau’s new project focuses on one unifying and terrifying truth – when women’s voices are not heard, it is very dangerous for everyone. The Cassandra Project is a trilogy of narrative short films highlighting the reality and risks of women being dismissed and disbelieved. The project will feature the stories of three female protagonists whose voices are discounted due to gender disparity, in each case leading to extremely high stakes situations. By tying the films together in a trilogy, Barclay believes the impact will be all the greater.

On The Cassandra Project website, the team writes, “Like many of you, we have been disturbed by the current state of things in our country. So much progress has been reversed recently, that it often feels like retreat or resignation are the two most viable options. But we refuse to do that. In discussing what we can do to push back, fight and take a stand, we decided to create The Cassandra Project…The specific idea for this project came from one of our own experiences of a medical crisis that was discounted, disregarded, and disbelieved. The rest of us watched for months as our friend’s health deteriorated and she tried to get help, but it wasn’t until she was critical that she received the medical care necessary. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In almost every scenario imaginable, women’s voices are not given the same credence as their counterparts, and the stakes for everyone are extremely high.”

That “friend” was Barclay herself, who got very sick in 2020 with a wide range of symptoms that ultimately affected seven systems of her body.

“For more than eight months, I begged doctors, nearly daily, to help me – pleading with them as I felt a poison spreading throughout my body,” Barclay said. “During this time, as I attempted to get a diagnosis and help, I was repeatedly dismissed, disregarded and disbelieved, even as my symptoms increased.”

In fact, it was not until she had a seizure – which led to a temporary coma – that she started being heard. “By that time, what turned out to be a rare bacterial infection, had spread to my heart, my brain, my autoimmune system, my neurological system, and my connective tissue, joints and muscles,” Barclay added.

Now that she’s received intensive treatment – from wonderful doctors who have given her life back – Barclay feels a responsibility to use her filmmaking skills to speak out and show how not listening to women can be a matter of life or death.  The Cassandra Project (named after the Greek goddess who could see the future, but was disbelieved because of a curse) ties three very different stories together as a trilogy. The films will include Barclay’s own story, which will become a sci-fi/horror, “because, well…that’s what it was.” She’s not able to reveal anything about the other two shorts yet, but says, “trust me, they’re awesome!  And we have some incredible cast members attached.”

To happen though, The Cassandra Project needs support. Shooting is planned for January and February 2023 and with completion scheduled for summer 2023.  Barclay says that she will submit the trilogy to all the major film festivals and to the Academy for Oscar consideration in the short film category. The goal is to raise $50k for production costs, including cast and crew, camera, grip and lighting equipment, art department expenses, locations, permits, catering and postproduction costs.

To help Barclay make The Cassandra Project a reality, Dr. Nancy is offering to match up to $10k in donations through September 30. That, coupled with incentives Barclay’s team is offering for contributions at different levels, has helped kick off their fundraising campaign. While they’ve started strong, they still have a way to go.

“Dr. Nancy is an amazing advocate for women, and we are absolutely thrilled to have her on board as a partner in this project,” Barclay said. “Every contribution, no matter the amount, will help us raise awareness and affect change with these films; every single dollar is deeply appreciated.”

To learn more about The Cassandra Project, or to make a donation and help Barclay and her team raise women’s voices, go to www.thecassandraproject.net.

How Women and Wealth Will Create the Financial Revolution

Guest post by Cindy Couyoumjian

Women are on the verge of extraordinary financial change more than any other time in human history. Today women control $10 trillion in financial assets and by 2030 that figure is expected to rise to $30 trillion. This unprecedented amount of wealth is revolutionary for women. It will give them the unique opportunity to hammer away at the remaining patriarchal obstacles that prevent them from achieving economic freedom and agency in the world.

In my book, The Rise of Women and Wealth, I explore how patriarchy has kept women in a subordinate position for millennia. Over the past one-hundred and fifty years, women started to challenge this oppressive structure that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. It is everywhere in the sense that it shapes and defines the role of men and women in a male-centered society, yet nowhere because, like gravity, it’s invisible and we don’t think about how this toxic force perpetuates male domination at the expense of women.

The first wave of feminine change challenged the political order, which led to women exercising their inalienable right to vote. The second wave, which was inspired by Betty Friedan’s best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique, challenged the comfortable social construct of the 1950s and ‘60s that defined women as housewives and mothers while simultaneously denying them agency in the world. By the 1990s, and more recently the #MeToo movement, third wave feminism exposed the ugly and toxic side of masculinity. Beginning with the Anita Hill Congressional testimony against United States Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, and later numerous reports of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry showed what happens when society allows vulgar male power to go unchecked.

Although there is no general agreement regarding the fourth wave of feminine change, I think that we are currently in the midst of a powerful change that will affect women everywhere. I call this change the financial revolution, which will finally give women the power to shape and define their own destinies. . Today, with the massive wealth transfer women are set to inherit, real generational change is within reach. The one thing that is missing, and urgently needed, is that women must improve their financial literacy.

For centuries, women were led to believe they didn’t belong in the male-dominated financial world. As a result, women have not been properly educated about money. For the financial revolution to succeed, women need to embrace money as a tool and learn how to use it. The financial industry needs to increase the number of women financial planners and advisors. Women need to trust their financial intuition and ask questions about investing and creating generational wealth. Women today are on the precipice of long-term change.   It’s up to women to take the next step, accept responsibility for driving the financial revolution, and direct this new feminine wave into true equality for women.

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Cindy Couyoumjian is the founder of Cinergy Financial and is dedicated to empower people by expanding their financial literacy and awareness. With 36 years in the industry and seven securities registrations, Cindy is more than a leader in the industry, she is also an innovator of investment methodology. Her newest book, The Rise of Women and Wealth: Our Fight for Freedom, Equality and Control of our Financial Future, urges women to become financially literate and reclaim their power and liberty to become agents of change.

Ketanji Brown Jackson Makes History

Ketanji_Brown_JacksonHistory was made on April 7, 2022, when a bipartisan group of Senators confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court of the United States. The momentous vote was presided over by Vice President Kamala Harris, our nation’s first Black female vice president, and witnessed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Black female lawmakers sat together along the walls, while young people filled the visitor galleries, all present to witness the event. Vice President Harris called for the final vote on Jackson’s nomination with a smile on her face, and the chamber broke into loud applause when she was confirmed.

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock said before the vote that “Ketanji Brown Jackson’s improbable journey to the nation’s highest court is a reflection of our own journey through fits and starts toward the nation’s highest ideals.”

“She embodies the arc of our history,” he added. “She is America at its best. That I believe in my heart after meeting with her in my office, talking to folks who I trust who know her and hearing her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

It was a bumpy road to the Senate chamber for Judge Jackson, and much of the nation. Under intense scrutiny for four days, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee attacked her as a progressive activist who was soft on crime, glossing over her exemplary qualifications and experience, even asking her how she would define the word “woman.” President Biden denounced those behaviors saying Judge Jackson displayed “the incredible character and integrity she possesses.”

“To be sure I have worked hard to get to this point in my career, and I have now achieved something far beyond anything my grandparents could have possibly ever imagined, but no one does this on our own,” Judge Jackson said in her remarks on the White House South Lawn following her historic confirmation. “In the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, ‘I do so now while bringing the gifts my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave.’”

Judge Jackson thanked the Democratic Senate leaders, numerous White House staff involved in her confirmation process, and the many people who helped her along the way. “As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way toward perfecting our Union.”

“In my family it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And it is an honor – the honor of a lifetime – for me to have this chance to join the court,” she added. “To promote the rule of law at the highest level, and to do my part to carry our shared project of democracy and equal justice under law forward into the future.”

Ketanji Brown JacksonJudge Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated to the nation’s highest court in its 233-year history. Born in Washington, DC, she grew up in Miami, Florida. Her parents attended segregated primary schools, then attended historically black colleges and universities, and her father attended law school. Both started their careers as public school teachers and became leaders and administrators in the Miami-Dade Public School System. She testified at her confirmation hearing that one of her earliest memories was watching her father study law. “He had his stack of law books on the kitchen table while I sat across from him with my stack of coloring books.”

Judge Jackson stood out as a high achiever throughout her childhood, serving as “mayor” of her junior high, and student body president of her high school. As class president, Judge Jackson was quoted in the 1988 Miami Palmetto Senior High School yearbook as saying, “I want to go into law and eventually have a judicial appointment.”

However, when she told her high school guidance counselor she wanted to attend Harvard, she was warned not to set her “sights so high.” She remained focused and in fact, she not only made her way to Harvard, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Today, Judge Jackson lives with her husband Patrick – who she married in 1996 – and their two daughters, in Washington, DC.

Prior to her confirmation to the Supreme Court, Judge Jackson clerked for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and for Justice Breyer. She worked in private practice before joining the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2003. Then she became a federal public defender in 2005 before her confirmation as a U.S. district court judge in 2007. Just last year, the Senate confirmed Jackson 53-44 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Judge Jackson has set the bar – no pun intended – and is serving as an example to young girls around the world. You have to see it to be it, and she’s “being” it with grace, dignity, and deserving qualifications galore. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker summed it up best when he said to Judge Jackson during her confirmation hearing, “You deserve to be here, at this place, at this time, and you have made us all so proud…”

“Why Not” Is a Movement and a Mission

Why_Not_IncubatorJacqueline L. Sanderlin, Ed.D., is an inspiring international speaker and visionary leader whose “Why Not” attitude has led to dramatic improvements in some of Southern California’s most under-resourced schools. Dr. Jackie has served over 30 years as a special education teacher, curriculum specialist, assistant principal, principal, after-school administrator, program coordinator, district administrator and executive director of school and community engagement. She is currently the U.S. Board Chairman for WE Charity, blogs for Scholastic magazine, serves as an Executive Board Member for the Goldie Hawn Foundation – MindUp, and is a steering committee member for the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California. Having developed meaningful community partnerships between 350+ corporations, local businesses, and underserved schools, she appeared as a guest on The Ellen Show, which positioned her for the consulting producer role of the NBC reality show, School Pride.

In a time of vitriol and division, Dr. Jackie has been outspoken about her “Why Not?” message, which is to build community, unity, equity, and partnerships. She currently serves as K-12 National Education Leadership Executive Manager at Apple, Inc., and is founder and CEO of the “Why Not?” Incubator, a nonprofit organization designed to provide leadership coaching to executives, educational leaders and teams. Dr. Jackie offers virtual and in-person interactive sessions on building and sustaining community partnerships, school community wellness, empowering student youth, race and equity, and how to support teachers and students in an online setting.

Here is what “Why Not” means to Dr. Jackie, in her own words:

For me, “Why Not” is more like a movement AND a mission. I am on a mission. I want to empower all youth to use their voices to open doors, create opportunities and invent possibilities. As an educator in very challenging school districts, I have learned about the power of asking the “Why Not?” question.

My schools lacked the resources other schools had in different zip codes and it was my goal to ensure they had the best afforded to them. That is what they deserved. I was never looking for a hand out, rather than a hand up! I wanted to empower my scholars and teachers to think bigger and broader. We did this with the help of community partnerships. We also learned the power of community.

When we began to invite others to the table to help us co-create, dream possibilities and reimagine what could be, we were able to bring music, theatre, dance and photography to our school with the help of community partners. One partner gave each scholar a bicycle to help us focus on the importance of play and health. This is something we could not do, but because of the partnership we were able to give a gift to each scholar for Christmas! After that, we developed a wellness team that included more community partners, stakeholders and local politicians.

Now, I provide workshops to educators called, Building Bridges, to help them identify ways to engage their community and empower their scholars. I wrote my book, The “Why Not?” Challenge: Say Yes to Success with School-Community Partnerships, to provide action steps for schools to engage their community partners in a real way.

The three key actions to my work are:

1.) Dream possibilities

2.) Embrace your community

3.) Find your hook (cause).

Our schools are the hub of all communities and can be a catalyst for college and career pathways. More than that, when we allow others to co-create with us, it broadens our perspectives, which helps us to provide a platform for success for our scholars! Everyone benefits–from the neighbors who own property in the communities where the schools are located to the companies that employ the talent being developed in our schools. We owe it to the next generation to give them this foundation of learning and understand that they matter and we depend on them to be all they can be.

Burnout Behind Job Exodus for Many Women

BurnoutDuring last week’s Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, the topic shifted to women leaving the workplace first during the pandemic, and now as part of the great resignation – which isn’t over yet as nearly two-thirds of workers are hunting for a new job, and nearly nine out of ten company executives are seeing higher than normal turnover in their organizations. Looking at reasons for the exodus, Michele Meyer-Shipp, who most recently served as the first highest ranking woman at Major League Baseball in the role of Chief People & Culture Officer, felt that for many women the cause was simple – burnout.

She’s definitely on to something. A recent report from Limeade, a software firm that surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S. workers, found that in fact burnout (40%) is the main reason respondents left their job, followed by organizational changes (34%), lack of flexibility and not feeling valued (20%), and insufficient benefits (19%). A June survey of 2,800 workers from global staffing firm Robert Half further backed that up and found that more than four in ten employees (44%) say they are more burned out on the job today compared to a year ago. And last but not least, a study by Asana of 13,000 knowledge workers across eight countries found that 71 percent had experienced burnout in the past year.

As if living through a global pandemic weren’t enough, the workplace shifted as the world adapted to shutdowns, surges, and all other associated pandemic issues. Being in the office, at home, back in the office, or a hybrid of both further taxed an already stressed system and women oftentimes bore the brunt of those never-ending changes. Meyer-Shipp was quick to point out that while no one size fits all, a lot (a LOT) of women are burned out as a result. “As people started to leave the workplace, women were picking up extra workloads and carrying the weight for their teams, their departments, their organizations and literally got to that point where it’s like, ‘enough’. It’s like, ‘seriously people like I’m not doing this anymore.’ I think we had a lot of that.”

Granted, many women and men were burned out before the pandemic, but during those first months they had time to think, time to re-assess, and time to plot a move forward that didn’t include the stress that was increasingly associated with their jobs.

Before you blame the employee for burnout because of their resilience, backbone, yoga practice – or lack thereof – you have to realize that they have little to do with the root causes of the condition. According to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we are attacking the problem from the wrong angle. “Categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO (World Health Organization) to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies. When we just look at the person, what that means is, ‘Hey we’ve got to treat that person.’ ‘You can’t work here because you’re the problem.’ ‘We have to get rid of that person.’ Then, it becomes that person’s problem, not the responsibility of the organization that employs them.”

However, a Gallup survey actually found that the top reasons for burnout are unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads, a lack of role clarity, a lack of communication and support, and unreasonable time pressures – all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. That furthers Maslach’s assertions that the root causes of burnout do not lie with the individual, but with the workplace as a whole. Current events such as the great resignation are not happening as a result of people not wanting to work, but instead prove that they’re burned out and need more workplace support.

Emphasizing the need for honesty and transparency from managers and employees, Brandon Greiner, vice president of operations for MedExpress, says, “An important first step in keeping stress in check is for managers to regularly check in with employees and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities.”

Lindsay Lagreid, senior advisor at Limeade, takes that further by saying that managers need to also start asking better questions. “Asking ‘How ya doing?’ and accepting answers like ‘I’m fine’ or ‘hanging in there’ aren’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, try more specific questions like:
*Have you been able to complete your projects on time? If not, why do you think that is?

*Do you have the resources you need to get your work done? If not, what else would you need?

*What can I do to make your job easier?”

We are still navigating unprecedented times and burnout, like so many other issues this pandemic has brought to the forefront, needs to be recognized and explored. That means we need to talk about it, look for ways to address it, and ultimately define ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Keep in mind the fact that collectively taking action on this issue at every level is crucial to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. Ultimately, this is a time of reinvention and change, and in order to hold on to top performing women and men, the workplace not only needs to recognize the issue, but make some changes of its own.

Standing With the Women of Afghanistan

Stand_With_Afghan_WomenIn Afghanistan, the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops last month, signaled an end to much of the progress that women in the country had made, and many of the rights they had come to enjoy. While Taliban leadership assured citizens that they would allow women to work and pursue education, the hard-handed Taliban rule of the 90’s, left many Afghans afraid that those pledges would not be fulfilled. If the past couple of weeks are any indication, those fears are well founded.

Today there are no women in the Taliban’s newly named interim cabinet, and the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs was abolished. And although women can continue to study in universities, classrooms will now be gender-segregated, Islamic dress is compulsory, and subjects being taught are under review. All of this despite the fact that over the past twenty years millions of Afghan girls and women were able to attend school, hold a job and help shape their destiny for the first time. After years of not being able to leave their homes without a male chaperone, their educational opportunities allowed them to become judges, teachers, journalists, police officers, and government ministers. However, the Taliban recently told working women to stay at home, admitting they were not safe in the presence of the militant group’s soldiers, which means Afghan women are now effectively locked out of participation and leadership in the communities they helped form.

As if that were not enough, Afghan women and girls have been banned from playing sports as the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said women’s sport was considered neither appropriate nor necessary. According to NPR, ads showing women’s faces have also been blacked out and Taliban members have been erasing street art and murals that often conveyed public service messages.

How have the women of Afghanistan responded to these actions (and many more)? Loudly. Last week, dozens of Afghan women demonstrated in the western city of Herat to demand their rights to employment and education. This week Hannah Bloch writes at NPR.com that “Day after day, Afghan women have taken to the streets in groups large and small to protest against Taliban rule, the regime’s new curbs on their rights and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.” In Kabul, they demanded equal rights, and women in government and others demanded “azadi” or freedom. In response, the Taliban have at times used force — wielding whips, beating women with batons, pointing guns and firing weapons into the air.

This situation is only days old and events are continuing to unfold at a horrifying pace. Gloria Steinem reached out and asked supporters to join her in an Emergency Response for Afghan Women. Donor Direct Action, which she co-convened with South African Judge Navi Pillay, supports a front-line women’s group in Afghanistan that has protected Afghan women and children since 1999. She and Jessica Neuwirth recently spoke with the leadership of this group and said, “It was heartbreaking to hear first-hand from Kabul about the scale of this crisis and the utter lack of resources to respond. These women are fearless and inspiring, and they need our help. That is why I am convening this Emergency Response for Afghan women.” Women for Women International is providing emergency support for Afghan women, The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security is taking action to help protect Afghan women and human rights leaders, as well as many, many other organizations.

Write letters, donate if you can, raise awareness and lend your voice. We need to stand together with the women of Afghanistan and help them any way we can.

A Hybrid Return to Work May Be the Best Approach

Hybrid_Return_to_WorkAfter a year and a half hiatus, many offices were on track to open up in the coming months. While the current rise of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has scuttled some of those return to the office plans, many companies are pushing ahead and getting ready to welcome their workforce, ready or not, and get things back to normal. However, the new normal for many may not include long commutes, dry cleaning bills, desk drive-bys, and meetings for meetings’ sake. Instead, it may include a newfound work-life balance, the flexibility that many have come to depend on and the decreased need for childcare, not to mention increased personal time, money and time savings, and an improved quality of life.

According to recent surveys by Deloitte and McKinsey, as many as 1 in 4 corporate women have said they are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Deloitte also found that nearly 3 in 5 women planned to leave their employers in two years or less, and they cited a lack of work-life balance as their top reason for wanting out.

That lack of balance is further supported in a new study by Perceptyx, an employee listening and people analytics platform, which found that compared to six months ago, 48% of women are less likely to want to return to their physical workplace full-time. The study also reported that women are not alone. In fact, roughly 24% of both women and men would prefer to adopt a hybrid working arrangement after COVID-19. Men, however, intend to spend 3-4 days per week in the physical workplace, whereas women intend to spend only 2-3 days per week. In addition, recent Gallup data shows that 10 million Americans are projected to be seriously considering the move to freelance to hold on to their newfound flexibility.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that work from home is not only possible, it’s preferable for many of us. Productivity stayed high, and in many instances improved. In fact, one study estimates the work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the U.S. economy by 5%, mostly because of savings in commuting time. That means, when it comes to returning to work, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A hybrid approach may be exactly what’s needed to appeal to those on the fence and serve as a way for employers to stop talent loss and improve their bottom lines. In a recent survey of 1,000 adults conducted in February by the workplace technology company Envoy, 48 percent of those surveyed said they wanted a hybrid schedule, of in-person and remote work, with 41 percent saying they were even willing to take a small pay cut to make that happen.

While the hybrid approach may serve to keep some women in the workplace or entice those that have left to return, it could also have an impact on women’s progress. Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey and leader of the McKinsey Global Institute recently told NPR that, “for companies going down this hybrid approach, there are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for. And one is that you end up with a two-tier workforce, that the people – it’s always the same people in the room making the decisions and other people are on Zoom or video conference, and that those on video conference end up being passed over for promotion, not considered for different opportunities because they’re not there. So companies are being thoughtful. The ones who are pursuing some kind of hybrid approach are thinking through these issues. And how do we avoid that to keep a level playing field?”

SHRM reports that Prudential Financial, Citigroup, Google and many others have been paying attention to what their employees want, and are not only looking at the hybrid model, but also looking at other work-practice changes meant to support a healthier work-life balance. These changes, especially coupled with access to paid leave and childcare, can go a long way towards keeping women in the workplace full-time, rather than dropping to part-time or leaving the workforce entirely.

A successful hybrid model is, however, a balancing act, and will require a lot of attention and communication, especially in the initial stages. Tsedal Neeley, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the author of Remove Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, is optimistic, and recently discussed the many issues that are coming up as the nature of work changes with Recode and said, “Guidelines and the policies will settle. Competencies around flexible workplaces will rise. Individual managers will level up to figure out how to lead a distributed workforce. People will be more agile with using digital tools, so things like tech exhaustion will go away. After people experience the hybrid format, they will settle into a rhythm that really works for them. And I think that we’ll see more remote than in-person days.”

Ultimately, we need to make work work for women and make a return doable. Those who plan to continue working from home, whether in a hybrid or full-time capacity, must be proactive and regularly connect with management, as well as sponsors and mentors. They also need to establish clear performance expectations and understand measures necessary in the new-normal to achieve advancement and promotions. Collectively taking action on every level is crucial to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement, and if a hybrid model is how we make that happen, we need to look for ways to define and embrace it. Study after study shows that having more women in the workforce is good for women’s equality and their company’s bottom line. It’s time for women and our male allies to come together like never before and find solutions that will redefine the workplace now, and after this crisis passes.

When Our Stories Are Banned

Banned_BooksBooks are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind. – Toni Morrison

Books tell our stories. And when our stories are banned, our truths are hidden from one another and our ability to understand each other’s life experiences and perspectives is blocked. It is a violation of the foundation of a free society, our first amendment, freedom of speech. Yet every year, new books are banned and challenged in schools and libraries around the world. In fact, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to books, materials, and services in 2020 alone. While some of banned titles have been on various lists for years, like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, many others are routinely challenged. The majority of censured or banned books are generally children’s books and fiction books. However, no list of banned or challenged books would be complete without a smattering of nonfiction titles, usually contested due to themes of political ideology, racial inequalities, and high school appropriateness.

The American Library Association’s “Freedom to Read Statement” points out that a number of private groups and public authorities throughout the country continuously attack our freedom to read by working to remove or limit access to reading materials. The actions are not singular, but by censoring content in schools, labeling controversial views, distributing lists of books they deem objectionable, and purging libraries, they give rise to a view that, “our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals.”

Just as our political and community landscapes have changed, the reasons for challenging titles has shifted too. In the early 90’s it was often titles with “objectionable” language and sexual content that topped the lists. However, James LaRue, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom was quoted in TIME Magazine as saying that there’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books “focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities.”

A phenomenal book was recently brought to our attention, and recent actions have shown that some believe it falls in the “controversial” category, Vanguard – How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. The author Martha S. Jones, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in The Washington Post that the Lafayette Parish library board rejected a previously offered grant and refused to host a discussion on voting rights that included her book. Jones wrote, “What precisely troubled the board?  Vanguard foregrounds the Black women who, for 200-plus years, struggled to expand access to political rights for all. It argues that they are among the architects of American democracy.”

First of all, Vanguard isn’t stirring up controversy, it is a thoroughly researched and critically acclaimed retelling of the history of suffrage in America, and truly a must-read. It is a look at the vibrant history and struggle of the women who have come before us and paved the way for all women to move forward. Winner of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize for History, Vanguard is an “examination of the racism and sexism Black women endured in their pursuit of political participation and power. It also closely examines how Black women used that power to secure equality and representation for others, arguing that Black women have been wrongfully overlooked as forebears of democratic ideals in America.”

Jones offers readers a slice of history we may not (yet) be familiar with and introduces us to a number of formidable women. She shares their stories, their struggles and their wins, and helps reshape our perceptions in the process. Ibram X. Kendi says that “all Americans would be better off learning this history” and I couldn’t agree more. We don’t need to limit access to her book or discussions of topics some may find uncomfortable or “objectionable.” We need to make sure all of our stories – and the stories of those who came before us – are told.

The books that take us out of our own experience, those that educate, engage, and inspire us are often targeted and will probably continue to be banned in pockets of our country. Thankfully, in a majority of the cases, those books are still available thanks to librarians, teachers, students, community members, and the women and men that still demand access to the stories that shape us as a people, a nation, and a world. But we must all continue to speak up and demand it because as Jones says in her article, “People forget that history is not merely a recounting of past events but also a battle over who writes it, from which perspective and what those stories teach about who we are as a nation.”

Why We Must Help Women Get Back to Work

Back_to_WorkIt should be obvious why we must help women get back to work. The past 16 months have illuminated women’s fragile hold on the delicate balance of income-producing work and unpaid work at home. COVID-19’s devastating effect on the world has especially impacted women. In the US, women lost more than 5 million jobs between the start of the pandemic and November 2020. V, formerly Eve Ensler, writes in The Guardian, “Because much of women’s work requires physical contact with the public – restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings – theirs were some of the first to go.”

The pandemic has intensified women’s existing challenges exposing the systemic inequalities that threaten not only women in the workplace, but our continued ability to thrive. V also writes that “Covid has revealed the fact that we live with two incompatible ideas when it comes to women. The first is that women are essential to every aspect of life and our survival as a species. The second is that women can easily be violated, sacrificed and erased.”

Many governmental and private organizations are scrambling for optimal ways to respond to the pandemic’s damaging effects on women. As the pandemic restrictions ease up and people begin to return to work, many women remain on the sidelines. In fact, there are 1.8 million fewer women in the labor force today than before COVID, and with widespread labor shortages, labor economists are worried.

Stephanie Aaronson, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution recently told NPR that the reason for so many women remaining unemployed is due to a complex mix of factors. “Some of those could start to subside as the economy recovers, and jobs come back, and schools reopen, and the health situation improves.”

“But a return to pre-pandemic levels could take a long time, in part because women tend to stick with the decisions they’ve made.” Aaronson says. “A mother who decided to stay home with her children in the pandemic may end up out of the workforce for years.”

That’s not good for the economy or the future advancement of women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, it will take 28 straight months of job gains to get women back to where they were in the labor force before the pandemic started. The US Chamber of Commerce recently reported that “there were a record 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. in March 2021 and about half as many available workers for every open job across the country as there have been over the past 20 years.” The Chamber calls the crisis “the most critical and widespread challenge facing businesses.” And its President and CEO, Suzanne Clark said that “keeping our economy going requires we fill these jobs.”

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari recently told CNN getting people – especially women – back into the labor force is key to keep the recovery going. “We have to find a way to bring [women] back to work. This is about our economic potential. It is certainly about fairness about women and families. But it is also about our economic potential as a nation.”

The question now is, how can we best support women and help them get back to work? While access to affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and flexibility may be the obvious answers, there is more we can do within the workplace to change the corporate culture and make a return more manageable and appealing to women. Jewelle Bickford, Sandra Beach Lin and Ellen Kullman, founders of the Paradigm for Parity Coalition, recently wrote in Entrepreneur that many of the problems we’re facing now are tied to trends that existed long before COVID-19, from disproportionate home care responsibilities to greater representation in low-wage employment, to long-standing gender inequalities in corporate leadership.

To reverse those trends and make a return doable for women, Bickford, Beach Lin and Kullman recommend we should engage in unconscious bias training to understand, own and address both conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding. They also recommend that we increase the number of women in senior roles – which makes perfect sense because when women advance, they tend to take other women with them. The writers also recommend identifying women of potential and providing them with sponsors, mentors, and the tools they need to advance and succeed.

Ultimately, we need to collectively take action on every level to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the progress we have lost during this crisis. By fixing the conspicuous inequities in the system that have always held women back, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and finally get women back to work in leadership positions that don’t get erased during the next disaster.  Equity for women creates prosperity and stable system that is able to weather future crises in ways that protect us all—men and women—together.

 

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