In 2017, after being lulled into believing that women's working conditions were improving (and would continue to improve), the world received a concussive jolt: Beneath all of the diversity committees and maternity leave policies, corporate cultures were regularly turning a blind eye to gender discrimination, vicious harassment and sexual assault against women.expanded
While many men began to recognize this insidious reality only after lawsuits and hundreds of accusations of sexual harassment and assault against politicians, film moguls and other public figures, the women I know have always understood that the workplace was -- and still is -- a man's world, fraught with biases, mental and physical abuses and barriers to advancement at every turn.
While no one should suffer like these women have, you can take solace in knowing that their testimonies and bravery have catalyzed a new sense of consciousness and activism, especially in the workplace, where reform has long been present in mission statements but not in policy and action.
Below, I will examine four seminal events in women's history and highlight the key lessons that women entrepreneurs can glean from them. For women, it's important to remember where we came from and meditate on how we can leverage the past to benefit us today and in the future.
1912: Founding of the Girl Scouts of America
While we love Thin Mints, the Girl Scouts was created by Juliette Gordon Low during the Progressive Era with a greater purpose than tasty treats: To encourage girls to embrace their individuality and intelligence and work together to make the world a better place.
More than 100 years later, this same spirit is still alive in many female entrepreneurial circles -- which, I like to believe, derive from the original aim of the Girl Scouts. Today, female founders need to remember to step away from the dog-eat-dog entrepreneurial world for a moment and remind themselves of the Girl Scouts' founding principles, such as collectivism and mentorship. We need to ask ourselves how we can sacrifice our time to help other female entrepreneurs who need help growing their businesses.
1920: The 19th Amendment Gives Women the Right to Vote
Women have had suffrage for nearly 100 years, but today their vote still doesn't count as much as a man's in many areas. Take, for instance, the workplace. Studies show that women who voice opinions are ignored while men who raise similar points are rewarded.
How can female entrepreneurs help dismantle this dynamic? They can start by encouraging employees of all genders to actively applaud positive ideas. Doing so creates a "posse" mentality in the workplace where employees regularly affirm each others' thoughts. This "posse" of affirmation gives legitimacy to all positive ideas, especially those voiced by women that might otherwise be ignored.
1963: The Equal Pay Act
Despite this act's passage in 1963, women who work full-time today make only 80.5 percent of what men earn, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. While the causes of this gap are numerous and systemic, female entrepreneurs need to know that there are definitive steps they should take to ensure wage equality at their business.
You might think that promoting women into higher positions is enough, but it isn't. Research shows that women in senior positions still make less than their male counterparts. To start, female managers need to actively root out "imposter syndrome." This occurs when employees, usually women, convince themselves that they aren't truly qualified to hold their position. This phenomenon not only precludes women from asking for raises or negotiating a higher salary, but also keeps them in a permanent state of self-doubt, which stunts their personal growth. Women need to be encouraged to ask for more money during any salary negotiation -- whether that's at the job offer phase or during a promotion.
1983: Sally Ride Becomes the First Woman in Space
In the '70s and '80s, aeronautics was very much a men's world. But in 1978, Sally Ride, a Ph.D. in physics, replied to a newspaper ad in the Stanford student newspaper (remember those?) that sought women astronauts. Much to her surprise, she was one of six women chosen from nearly 10,000 applicants. Five years later, she became the first astronaut in space.
It can be scary to enter traditionally male fields. Female entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and computer engineers know this all too well. For founders, principles and managers in these fields, it's important to support women who are surrounded by men.
Today, we're slowly starting to recognize the biases and hurdles that women face in the workplace. To start, I encourage you to dismantle your own biases. As the saying goes-- be the change you want to see in the world, and the rest will fall into place.