My friend’s daughter is a determined, engaged seventeen year old growing up in the heart of the Silicon Valley but she is confused. Confused about why we need International Women’s Day, Women’s leadership programs or the Women in STEM programs she encounters in high school. She believes that she can do anything a guy can, has the same opportunities and ambitions and does not feel any gender bias.
We have come a long way for her to believe that and for me, that is a reason to celebrate International Women’s Day.
But we did not get here without a lot of effort. Women, especially women of color, were routinely denied credit for their creativity, genius, business acumen and success.
- In 1843, Mathematician Ada Lovelace showed us how Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (a theoretical computer) could be utilized to perform complex math. But her contribution, considered by many to be the first software, was dismissed by male scientists and historians.
- In 1970, forty-six female researchers sued Newsweek, alleging that male writers and editors took all the credit for their efforts.
- Thanks to the movies, we all know the story of a team of African-American women who played a vital role at NASA in the early years of the US Space program. Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson - brilliant scientists and mathematicians should never have been “Hidden Figures”.
- As recently as in 2015, in a study of the tenure process at the top 30 PhD-granting universities in the United States, Harvard Ph.D. student Heather Sarsons found that co-authoring with men was a disability for women to get tenure.
Even today, this gender gap is real and most apparent with the gender pay gap. But the best-known statistic that women earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by men only tells part of the story. What is often lost in this statistic is that women are less likely to hold high-level, high-paying jobs than men. This "opportunity gap" results in more men moving into leadership positions over the course of their careers.
Men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-Suite Execs by mid-career, and 171 percent more likely to hold those positions late in their career. Conversely, by the time they reach age 60, more than 60 percent of women are still working in individual contributor roles, but less than 45 percent of men are still in this type of job.
This opportunity gap is not just unfair to the women in question but has a negative impact as a whole on society. When one half of the population is not represented in the conversation of what is critical and impactful, we all lose.
So, this is why we still have to talk about this – Women’s rights, gender parity and closing the pay gap. I hope that when my friend’s daughter is the peak of her career, she has achieved everything she dreamed of when she was seventeen and has never felt the need to take her gender into consideration. But in the meantime, we still have work to do.
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.