Intersectionality has been a commonplace phrase in the feminist realm since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. Essentially, it refers to the notion that the combination of different identities – age, race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality dramatically influence the way people experience the world. The intersection of these identities contributes to the obstacles and/or privileges that those who share some but not all identities may experience.
Too often, human resource stakeholders fall into the trap of the one size fits all approach. Its appeal in simplicity sacrifices efficacy. These one size fits all approaches for women in leadership aim to solve the challenges for white, middle-class, cisgender women. The Western default. Which leaves out doubly or triply marginalized women as a result. As organizational demographics evolve, they leave out more women than they aim to benefit.
According to research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. in 2019, women make up 38 percent of frontline leader-level positions in the United States and Canada. White women hold 27 percent of these manager roles and women of color only hold 12 percent. The disparity is even greater at the executive level. White women hold 18 percent of roles while women of color hold 4 percent.
These discrepancies are due to a large disfunction of systemic and cultural barriers, not just failed women advocacy programs. Infusing intersectionality into policies and practices aimed at advancing women in leadership can help.
How can we do better?
Embracing intersectionality means embracing variety which adds an element of complexity. To ensure an environment where everyone can thrive because of their differences, follow these three steps:
1. Ask the Experts
The ideal approach is to have a diversity and inclusion expert with a focus on human-centered design to solve persistent and painful challenges with an empathetic perspective. Applying these principles to intersectionality and women’s advocacy efforts ensures the correct focus. The women leaders that are the goal are experts in their own experiences and challenges. Opening a dialogue creates space for these women to tell you exactly what they need without any guesswork.
2. Diverse Populations Deserve Diverse Solutions
It is necessary to tailor approaches to fit different populations to achieve satisfaction. Equality is about giving everyone the same level of support, but equity requires different supports for different situations.
3. Use Multi-Dimensional Metrics to Track Multi-Level Impact
Lean on metrics, track engagement, retention, promotion, salary, and representation to measure the success of empowering women leaders. It is important to look at the data from a demographic perspective to see if the efforts positively impact all women. If efforts to advance women leaders are working for certain groups disproportionately, it is important to investigate and reevaluate accordingly.
“Women earn less because they take time off for motherhood.”
The census data collected by the National Women’s Law Center in 2019 calculated that women lose an average of $16,000 a year due to the “motherhood penalty.” Mothers in the U.S. earn 24.8 percent less than their paternal counterparts. Mothers also have to deal with employers that harbor certain biases. Employers have stereotypes about the value of mothers as employees. They are perceived to be less committed to the job, less dependable, and more emotional. This discriminatory thought process plays a significant role in the limitations for working mothers.
This bias includes these mother’s coworkers as well. A 2018 study conducted by Bright Horizons, which operates over 1,000 early education childcare centers in the United States, found that 41 percent of employed Americans perceived working mothers to be less devoted to their work than single women. Over one-third judge working mothers on their inflexibility. The number of women worried about announcing their pregnancies bosses and coworkers has nearly doubled from 12 percent to 21 percent since 2015.
“Women choose lower-paying careers so it makes sense why men make more money.”
Women do choose lower-paying careers in comparison to their male counterparts. Those careers being paid lower is part of the problem. Young girls are steered away from certain subjects from childhood by their parents, teachers, and peers. From a young age, boys are expected to be better in math and science. These fields typically result in higher pay. Girls are encouraged to enter into “traditional” careers as a result of this bias.
Women don’t choose low-paying jobs. Society values women’s work less. Job industries dominated by women pay less than those dominated by men. For example, teaching, especially early childhood, is a field dominated by women. The work is insanely hard and demanding, it requires certain skills and educations, and the success of future generations depends on their shoulders. Yet, because these teachers are mostly women, the pay is not proportional to the demand of the job.
“Saying a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes is an exaggeration!”
Comparing the difference in annual earnings between men and women finds that women make about 23 cents less per dollar than men on average. These statistics are even less favorable for women of color who on average earn significantly less than their white coworkers. Looking at weekly earnings between men and women, the figure is a little smaller, around an 18 cent difference.
When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1959, women were only making 59 cents on the dollar. That figure rose to 77 cents by 2004 and has increased by less than half a penny annually.
At some point or another, every woman has heard these three statements in her career. The issue with these statements is that they make women intentionally feel like second-class citizens in a patriarchal society that perpetuates fictional beliefs that harm women in the corporate sector.
The glass ceiling was shattered last Saturday as Kamala Harris was announced as the first female vice president-elect in U.S. history. Not only is she the first woman, but also the first Black and South Asian American that will hold the position. All politics aside, it’s important to recognize the history being made right before our eyes. The representation and diversity Harris will bring to the White House alone is reason enough to celebrate this historic win no matter your beliefs, gender, background, or political alignment. She’s broken through the barricade that women have been stuck behind for centuries, along with those women that paved the way before her like Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Shirley Chisholm, andRuth Bader Ginsburg to name a few.
This election year happens to fall on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which established American women’s right to vote when it was ratified on August, 18th 1920. While the ratification of the 19th Amendment was a huge step for women, it has proved to be only the beginning of a long-winded fight for equality that we are still fighting for today, 100 years later. During her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris stepped out onto the stage in an all white suit. Her suit was much more than a fashion statement — it was a deliberate choice, standing as a recognition to those women who came before her and those who will come after. White has long been recognized as a color of purity and hope and is associated with the suffrage movement dating back to1913 when 8,000 women wore white to march in Washington D.C. the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. They did this to protest and demand an amendment allowing women the right to vote. Since then, there have been numerous occasions where women holding political positions wore white as a nod to those suffragettes who came before them and essentially paved the way to where they are today.
While Harris recognized the ones that came before her, she also brings a new hope to the future generations of leaders to come. By having diversity — not only with gender, but race — well-represented in leadership positions within our country, inspiration is created for younger generations to know that their voice can be heard; they are more than capable of achieving their goals, whether that be running for president of their 8th grade class, or running for President of the United States. During her speech she stated, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last – because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” Harris did not become the first female vice president-elect without continuing the legacy of the women before her, and now the little girls who dream of being a leader can use Harris as a stepping stone on their own ladder to success.
Women should not still have to fight for equality in this country, especially 100 years after we were granted the right to vote. However, we will continue the fight until everyone recognizes the capability and power a woman holds. As the Notorious RBG said herself, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” and that is exactly where we will be from now on.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was notorious for her persistent fight to advocate for women, but her legacy goes beyond the work she accomplished as a Supreme Court justice, and she was not always esteemed for her fierce determination. As a student at Harvard Law School, she was criticized for “taking a man’s place,” even though she ended up tying for first in her class. Many women in the US are currently struggling to work from home while managing their children’s schoolwork. The Notorious RBG was no stranger to this dilemma. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer while they were both in law school, she took all of his notes and typed all of his papers in addition to her own, all while taking care of her newborn daughter. She faced discrimination in the workplace and had a hard time finding a job, but once she got started, she was on a roll.
Ginsburg, like most women, was also scrutinized for her personality. She was too serious, too forgiving. Too progressive, not progressive enough. Her appointment was eventually supported by feminists, but some gawked at her close friendship with the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Their relationship served as a reminder to the country that relationships can transcend political boundaries. They frequently traveled together, attending operas and riding elephants. However, his views did not bleed into hers, and she went on to become the leading liberal justice on the Supreme Court.
She was an expert of making the most of what she had. As a frequent member of the minority vote in the Supreme Court, she made history for her eloquent dissents, some of which eventually inspired new laws. Some of the highlights of her legacy precede her time in the Supreme Court. She co-founded the Women’s Rights wing of the American Civil Liberties Union, became the first tenured female law professor at Columbia, and co-founded the first women’s rights law journal, all during the 1970s, when most boardrooms had no room for women. In her later years, she became a pop icon, inspiring teens to become politically involved as she demonstrated her workout routine on late night television.
Ginsburg inspired men and women both through her actions and her words. As the second woman to ever be nominated to the US Supreme Court, she knew that it would take serious work for women to be effectively represented.
“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Although she is no longer with us, her story is not over. Her work continues to inspire efforts toward representation and equal pay. She persisted, and we must continue to persist.
The wage gap between men and women has been what seems to be a never-ending fight forequal pay, with women earningabout 76¢ to a man’s dollar, and minorities earning even less. A problem that has not received the same recognition – but is equally damaging in the fight for equality – is the wealth gap, in which women investonly 32¢ for every dollar invested by men. I sat down with DeLynn Zell, CEO of Bridgeworth Financial, and Alice Womack, Associate Managing Director in Private Banking at Oakworth Capital Bank, to talk about the differences between the wealth and wage gap and how they are affecting women in business.
Why do you think the wealth gap is less talked about than the wage gap?
People have not been focused on the wealth gap because it tends to be a stereotypical subject. Some women are uncomfortable talking about wealth and some women tend to be better at saving than investing. In the older generations, most women would depend on their husbands to control their investing, but in recent years, I have seen that women have shown more interest in investing and have had to step up to take on a more active role with their finances. Women are inheriting a tremendous amount of money and the wealth gap will be closing. I don’t know why it is not talked about because it should be. In the next 10 years, I see that women are going to be controlling the majority of the wealth in this country.
They are both important. The wealth gap encompasses the wage gap, it encompasses a lot of things including confidence in investing, risk tolerance, and career gaps. Women tend to have more gaps in their career because they are usually the caregiver of the family regardless of income. The less time women spend working, coupled with the wage gap while they are working, means less money to be put aside for investing. The ability to take on more risk and the confidence in doing so, will reduce the wealth gap. The wealth gap is a broader subject.
How has the wealth gap affected your performance and desire to climb the corporate ladder?
Early on in my career, we were on commission. However, I later learned that 2 of the guys that started when I did were being given a stipend for a year and I was not. The head of the firm didn’t think women could make it in our field but thought that by giving me a shot, he was doing me a favor. That only made me work harder to prove myself. Now, I’m fortunate enough to say that things worked out in the end.
I took time off to be with my children and fully exited the workplace for two years. When I did go back, I spent several years in a part-time role. If I had to do it all again, I would make the same decision today, but it does affect your ability to save for retirement. Not only did I not have income to contribute to my retirement plan, I missed out on the benefit of my employer match of my personal contribution. Investing early on is critical to growing your wealth, and the caregiving years for children are typically fairly early.
How in your workplace do you try to combat the wealth gap among employees and clients?
As a female, I am sensitive to that and have made sure that wages are based on job description and performance. Nothing is based on gender. I’ve heard older people in the past make comments like “He’s got a wife and kids at home, he should make more than a woman who is the second breadwinner in her family.” While that is something that has gone away quickly with the younger generations, I am afraid we still have some of that attitude.
From a client perspective, education and awareness are important. I think women are starting to feel more and more comfortable talking about finances. It is encouraging to see more advisors and financial institutions incorporate programs and make efforts to equip and educate women financially. When advising couples, we make a concerted effort to hear both spouses. Often during financial planning sessions, there is a spouse that is more comfortable talking for the couple. We are mindful to draw out the other individual to ensure that their voice is equally heard as they may have never given thought to options presented to them until they learn what is available. Research has shown that women are very comfortable with saving and bill paying, but far less comfortable than their male counterparts when it comes to investing. Our role is to encourage them to learn more about and be responsible for their individual financial health.
Do you feel like the glass ceiling is still intact or have we broken through?
I think in many industries it has been broken, but there are some where it still exists. I do think it’s generational as well. I see a difference in attitude between the 30-40 year olds and 50-60 year olds I work with. The younger generation is more progressive and has grown up seeing women at work while the older generations might not be used to seeing women in the workplace. We are seeing tremendous strides as the younger generations take control. While it may not be completely broken through, there are more shatters in it than there has ever been.
The statistics are trending positively. There are more women in the workforce now than ever before. About half of the labor force for females are also in executive management and professional roles. However, women continue to lag pretty substantially behind men in leadership roles that include C-Suite and top management positions, political offices and Board seats.
How do you think corporate America should continue to work towards closing the wealth gap?
I think there has to be mindful attention paid to ensuring that compensation has no reflection of gender. When I was in college, it was not uncommon to see women in accounting, but I didn’t see too many in finance. I have heard it said that men seem to talk to their daughters about saving while they talk to their sons about investing. A lot has changed, but we need to make sure we are educating and encouraging women to focus on wealth accumulation.
We need to make it less of a social stigma for men to take on those caregiving roles for children and parents. Employers have to encourage men to know that it’s okay to take the time off either short or long term if it makes financial sense and encourage balance for a family. I have also witnessed the reluctance of employers to hire or promote women due to their expectation that they will leave the workplace even if that is not in their plans to do so. Hopefully over time there will be more cultural acceptance and encouraging workplace policies for those scenarios.
Financial education among women also continues to be very important as they control more and more of the wealth in the U.S. Women tend to live longer, outliving their spouse, and need additional resources to do so. Unfortunately, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. It is critical that women understand and take responsibility for their financial health.
Summer is a time for students, and this year Momentum teamed up with Alabama Power to host a half-day of professional development, designed especially for college student interns.
The day got started with a four-person panel featuring senior-level women from Alabama Power, Protective Life, and Regions Bank. Following the panel, Momentum alumnae and managers from Southern Company hosted round-table discussions on ten different topics, such as negotiation, work-life management, and career progression.
The event was the brainchild of Giuli Biondi Williams, campus recruiter for Southern Company. She approached Momentum about partnering for the event. Momentum decided to incorporate the idea into the quarterly Momentum Leadership Series.
With the combined resources of Alabama Power and the Momentum alumnae network on the event logistics, such as the event space, speakers, content, marketing and registration came together in just a under a month. All 120 seats filled in just two weeks. Our future leaders are clearly ready to jump-start their careers! Participants came from companies large and small, such as Protective Life, Encompass Health, Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, UAB, Brasfield & Gorrie, Oakworth Capital, Pack Health, and Peritus PR, just to name a few.
Thanks to the generous support of Alabama Power and all of Momentum’s program sponsors, there was no cost to attend the event.
Event organizers have already received great feedback from participants:
“Friday’s professional development event was amazing. Thank you for working with Guili to make it possible. I love the mission of Momentum and the intentional investment in women. My favorite part was getting to hear from the panel of women and then hearing interns ask in depth questions. I am always excited for new opportunities to network and I look forward to future events with Momentum.”
“This event was a great professional development opportunity as well as a great networking opportunity. I’m so thankful I got to meet so many women who have the same aspirations as I do!”
“I loved the panel and the panelists! From a college-aged, about-to-graduate-and-start-her-career, female intern, I thought it was very interesting and noteworthy to listen to other female leaders that have been working for a long time who had advice and stories to give. Listening to real workplace advice from real leaders is inspiring!”
While we can’t recreate the entire event in blog format, we can dedicate the next few posts to covering the most popular topics at the event. All of the topics are relevant at all career levels, so feel free to share and comment.
Reflecting on our celebration of independence on this 4th of July holiday, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence is predicated first and foremost on the premise of equality. Now in our 242nd year since that declaration was signed, many groups of people in this country that should be governed “for the people, by the people” are still woefully under-represented in public office, still suffer social injustice, and experience profound economic inequalities. That said, our history shows progress. Among the legislative milestones:
Abolition of slavery, 1865
African-American (male) right to vote, 1870
Women’s right to vote, 1920
Civil Rights Act, 1964
Equal Rights Amendment, 1972*
Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990
Of these milestones, it is worth noting that only the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has failed to become law. The ERA was reintroduced before Congress in 1982, and has been introduced again every year since then. Passage of the ERA requires a 2/3 majority vote in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states. In May of this year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA, although five states who previously ratified it have rescinded their ratification. The struggle is real!
Opposition to the ERA is largely based on the argument that the proposed language would eradicate much of the “protection of women” under current law. Chief among these, and the most inflammatory in our political climate, is the argument that passage of the ERA would be used to roll back current restrictions on abortion, the role of women in combat, the separation of public restrooms/locker rooms, etc. Each of these is political speculation, but certainly effective in suppressing ratification.
Some believe that the protection of women is already guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. Whether you agree with that or believe that the ERA should be ratified and signed into law, the debate underscores the great extent to which men in power, whether for or against ratification, are still making the decisions on what women can and cannot do for their livelihood, their families, and their health.
Evidence that women are far from equal in this country abounds:
Women represent just 20% of Congress, and are similarly under-represented at the state and local level. The Washington Post published interactive data to show results by state.
We clearly have a lot of work to do to advance women in leadership and to shape policy that will protect women, their families, and the economic outlook for our country. In the next month, Momentum will present a new three-year strategic plan to our Board of Directors. Together we can greatly improve conditions for the women in our state through engaging men in determining policy, developing leadership in emerging women leaders, collecting the data to show our problem areas and progress going forward, and unifying our strength as women leaders in service to our communities.
Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month. I have actually been asked by my own son why we need a whole month dedicated to women’s history or black history? Why don’t we just have a history month? Deep breaths. “We celebrate women’s history month and black history month because history, as we have learned it, is white male. It is written by white males and documents the achievements of white males. The contributions of minorities like black people and all women, who often achieved great things despite their repression, are rarely noted or celebrated. Having a dedicated history month helps to rectify that.” He seemed satisfied enough with that answer.
During the month of March we’ll post on the achievements of women, particularly right here in Alabama. At each biennial Momentum conference, we recognize women leaders who have made a significant contribution to community, business, culture or politics. The 2018 awards were held this past Wednesday and honored six new women with a Woman of Impact award. You can meet the new honorees, and each of our past honorees, here.
Last year we interviewed five of our sixteen honorees to get their stories and advice on film. Here are a few inspiring clips from that project.
In the spirit of independence and the 4th of July, we want to share some thoughts about financial independence. Last week, the Momentum blog posted on money and fearlessness. The post challenged traditional stereotypes regarding finances, particularly a woman’s tendency to rely on a man as the “breadwinner.”
Financial independence is increasingly important for women. Data suggests that 9 out of 10 women will be solely in charge of their finances at some point in their life.
Not only do women have a longer life expectancy than men, but they are expected to work fewer years in the workforce while being paid less than men. Yikes.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),
women possess a lower level of financial knowledge than men.
In another study by Financial Finesse, a survey found that 65% of women have control of their cash flow (as opposed to 83% of men), 45% of women have an emergency fund (64% for men), and 48% of women pay their credit card balances in full (70% for men).
87% of American elderly in poverty are women.
The site goes on to present a guide to achieving financial independence:
Understand your cash flow.
Determine your goals and set a budget.
For further tips, here is a great Ted Talk about financial literacy delivered by Alexa von Tobel.
However, perhaps the most important tip falls back on this idea of fearlessness. Don’t be afraid to seek financial advice, negotiate your salary, or overstep cultural gender roles. Seek out financial knowledge to better understand what you do not know. Take care of you. Financial independence will never occur without the discipline, humility, and drive required to change.
The principles are simple. The results will change your future.
“Even today, a surprising number of us (women) still think that it’s the man’s job to make and understand money. Far too often we delegate this responsibility and don’t learn enough about money- so of course we fear it. That’s where we have to start. We can never be fearless about money until we demystify it and take charge of it.”
Arianna Huffington just might be right. I believe my apprehension about money stems from my lack of understanding it. As a college student, I have only dipped my toe in the vast pool of finances. I have quickly come to realize that being an adult is expensive. As a female, I have always been encouraged to marry a “breadwinner.” The principle isn’t inherently bad, but what if I don’t? What if I stay single? Or marry someone with fewer career aspirations? What if I’m widowed or go through a divorce? These are all common scenarios, and all would require the means to provide for myself regardless of circumstance.
If I’m not careful, fear can creep in and alter my perspective on money. Money has tremendous power as it is viewed as a sense of security and the ultimate measure of success. If allowed, money can put reigns on people’s lives by binding them to safety instead of pursuing a life of passion. However, as Mellody Hobson once said, “angst won’t be satiated by the size of your bank account.”
So, where’s the balance?
Arianna Huffington says the balance is here: “We need to put money into proper perspective in our lives, stop avoiding it, learn about it, and stop making it more important than it is.”
As women, I believe the best thing we can do is strive for financial independence, harness the spending power available to us, and, perhaps most importantly, give back. True fearlessness about money will only come from living a life driven by purpose, not financial security.