Editor’s Note: Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security. She is the author of “Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World.” The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
In the past couple of weeks, a striking series of seemingly unrelated news articles emerged, all in this vein: Women are knocking on the glass ceiling, but way too few are breaking through.
Many people across the United States have celebrated headlines showing women running for office in 2018 – and winning nominations and elections – in unprecedented numbers, with double the previous record (in 1994) of women running for Governor’s seats, and with 11 women winning their gubernatorial primaries. This number includes Stacey Abrams in Georgia, who could become the first African-American woman governor in America. But after the celebrations came news that women candidates are still, even in this supposed “year of the woman,” having a harder time raising funds than men, proving women candidates continue to face uphill battles and also that final victories are far from assured.
Next we saw headlines announcing a 25% decrease in women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in the past year, along with reports that companies have rarely named two women CEOs in a row, while naming two (and more) men CEOs in a row is common. A 25% decrease is a big blow, especially considering how hard it is to even get into a room that might have a glass ceiling in the first place: Only 10% of women earn over $75,000 a year; and women comprise only 21% of senior VP roles in Fortune 500 companies where promotions to the C-suite are often drawn. Getting to leadership at the top isn’t just an uphill battle, it’s like climbing an ice wall.
And then came a New York Times headline that might seem unrelated at first, but makes a key point: “The Costs of Motherhood Are Rising, and Catching Women Off Guard.”
We learn here that over 80% of women in America become moms, so the sobering theme of this article covers nearly half our nation.
And hold onto your hats for more bad news: Despite the fact that three-quarters of moms are now in the paid labor force, recent research reports are finding that being a working parent is harder, not easier, for today’s moms.
Many women are shocked when they find out that before they get to a room with a glass ceiling, they have to hurdle a wall of bias against working mothers in the labor force, face skyrocketing costs of child care – up 65% since the 1980s, according to the Times article – and confront unreasonable expectations that 48 hours of paid and unpaid work can fit into 24 hours. They are also up against cultural expectations of “supermomming,” and a serious lack of economic security policies that most other industrialized nations take for granted, like paid family/medical leave and affordable child care, which are proven to lower wage gaps and lift economies.
Coincidences? I think not.
The glass ceiling is solid and it looks like this:
- Women are only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
- Women are only 19% of all members of Congress.
- As of 2015, women were less than 30% of funded research scientists.
- In 2014, a study found women were less than 14% of the experts interviewed on Sunday TV talk shows and a tiny subset of radio hosts, and male-authored front-page newspaper bylines outnumbered those bylined by women by a 3 to 1 margin. More recently, Foreign Policy Interrupted found that of, all foreign policy op-eds in 1996, 2006, and 2016 published in the four largest newspapers in the US, 15% were written by women.
Why are we falling short? It’s certainly not because women are bad leaders.
In fact, Harvard Business Review reported a 2011 study finding: “If a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.” Research has also long shown that having more women in corporate leadership brings in more profits. A 2001 study by Pepperdine University found a direct correlation between higher levels of women in leadership and higher profits – and that promoting women meant outperforming the competition – across all Fortune 500 companies.
And a Catalyst report on S&P 500 companies found a correlation between women’s representation on boards and a significantly higher return on equity, a higher return on sales, and a higher return on invested capital. Further, women legislators get more bills enacted than men.
So why the gender shortfall? Let’s start with the obvious: Unchecked misogyny too often still gets rewarded. The #MeToo movement rose for a reason. The majority of women in our nation have experienced street harassment and one in four have experienced sexual harassment at work. A glaring example of this behavior being rewarded: a man who bragged about his ability to “grab her by the pussy” is sitting in the Oval Office right this very second.
But Trump’s behavior is only a symptom of a far bigger problem.
Bias against women, particularly against moms and women of color, is ever present in our nation and has been for generations. It continues, seemingly unabated, into the 21st century. The data shows that harmful patterns of discrimination continue. Hate crimes, including gender-based ones, were up 12.5% in America’s ten largest cities in 2017.
Women, particularly moms and women of color, with equal resumes are judged more harshly than men in the labor force, paid less, hired and advanced less often. A definitive study from 2007 found that moms are taken off the management track for fewer late days than non-moms.
And male employees often are unsupportive of women who are CEOs.
Don’t look away thinking this doesn’t affect you.
We all lose out when women are left out. For instance, if there were pay parity, our GDP would go up at least 3% and fewer children would live in poverty. Discrimination against women impacts people of all genders. Everyone.
How do we solve it? By naming and stopping misogyny in its tracks, along with updating our outdated workplace policies related to becoming a parent (consider that the United States is the only industrialized nation without paid family/medical leave and that child care now costs more than college). We solve it by advancing policies that increase women’s economic security and stop structural racism, and by ending flat-out discrimination in hiring, pay, and advancement.
Our failure to surmount all of these factors has helped make the glass ceiling bulletproof.
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All of this must change. And that change starts with you: Not everyone can run for office, but everyone can help someone who is running. Not everyone can apply to be CEO, but we can all use our buying power to support corporations that are reaching toward equity. And everyone, absolutely everyone, can help get out the vote.
Use your voice, your money, and your vote to break through that bulletproof glass ceiling. Let’s make it rain glass.