Is Progress Enough?

By Elizabeth P. Cipolla, VP of Talent Development

International Day of the Girl was celebrated on October 11th, 2017. Perhaps you saw an article or two come across the news or your social media feed. This global day of observation was introduced by the United Nations in 2012 out of an effort to raise awareness of gender inequality faced by females based purely upon their sex. The inequality faced by half of our global population comes in many forms including access to education, protection from discrimination, sexual exploitation and violence against women.

Since 1922 when women in the United States were first granted the legal right to vote, the United States has been elevated onto the international stage as supposed trailblazers for women’s rights. To this day, women across the globe are watching. They’re waiting to see what comes next. Our young daughters are watching. Our students are watching. Our employees are watching. What are they seeing? Let’s take a closer look.

Collectively, there are perhaps thousands of various groups across our nation that have been formed to provide a network of support, awareness and advocacy for women’s issues. Businesses have created diversity groups aimed at providing mentorship for their female employees. Communities tout women’s professional networking groups that gather regularly to enjoy guest speakers and engage in dialogue about issues unique to the career and social advancement of women. School districts offer sports programs and character building events for their female students. University’s offer special programming and advocacy clubs intended to advance women in our society through education. In corporate America, when there are women who hold a seat at an executive level role, it is referenced as a fact to be celebrated when trying to stand out in comparison to the competition.

Perhaps each of these examples are to be celebrated as progress towards the end goal of women being viewed and treated as equals to our male counterparts. Yet, I ask you this question; is progress enough? It’s time that we take an honest look in the mirror. Like the stereotypical over achieving family who successfully puts on a happy public face in an effort to hide the domestic ugliness occurring behind closed doors, our society needs to get real.

The progress we celebrate masks the normalized levels of inequality that are still happening at alarming rates in our society. It is unacceptable. According to a 2016 Gallop pole, women in the United States are still paid 83 cents for every dollar that a man with comparable qualifications is paid to perform equivalent duties. Comparatively speaking, women are significantly underrepresented in corporate senior leadership roles, boardrooms and government positions.

Until every person commits to being the change we want to see, the inequality and violence will continue. Instead, we will continue to celebrate small milestones of progress as opposed to a victory over gender inequality and violence through genuine respect for women. In reality, we are still in a world where females are being beaten, raped, mocked, silenced and overlooked as invisible. Progress is not the same thing as respect and this is not a women’s issue. It is a human issue.

We need to raise our sons and daughters to understand that equality, respect and dignity is a basic human right and not a privilege. Never should any person need to worry about being respected and valued, being paid the same, or left to fear for their personal safety. We must call upon every man to speak against inequality and violence too.

Each of us has the potential to replace the invisible girl or woman with an equally respected fellow human being who is heard and honored. Small gestures of doing the right thing will not change our sad reality. It is what we do routinely, not rarely that defines our character.

Open your eyes and see. Do the right thing every time and not just when it suits you. Only then will we achieve true victory as a nation when the rest of the world is watching.

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