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March is a month dedicated to all things women. As we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women both past and present and mobilize to accelerate gender equality, this year feels different. The irony is palpable given our current circumstances. While our gender has experienced many recent wins – our first female VP, more women elected to Congress than ever before, more female representation in the C-Suite and on the boards of Fortune 1000 companies, and progress in the number of established businesses owned by women – we’ve also faced epic set-backs and loss. The pandemic has been especially hard on our gender. Another 275,000 women were pushed out of the labor force in January, bringing the staggering total to over 2.3 million women who have left – or been forced to leave – since last February. We’re in the throes of a catastrophic employment crisis and national caregiving emergency. We’re constantly advocating for pay equality in the workplace and parity in the executive suite and boardroom. I’m tired. You’re tired. But, alas, we have our work cut out for us.

These significant victories and colossal set-backs have lit a fire in me, to which I’m certain many female leaders can agree. I’m more determined than ever to fight for a gender equal world. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, couldn’t be more perfect. I’m choosing to challenge gender inequality in the corporate setting by using my voice to dismantle stereotypes and confront bias head-on.

Shattering the Male Dominated Image of Leadership

Research shows that gender diversity in leadership improves business performance, generates more innovative thinking and positively impacts talent recruitment and retention. However, women looking to climb to the top of the corporate ladder often find themselves having to rally against certain stereotypes, specifically the historically male dominated representation of leadership. Adjectives like “confident,” “powerful” and “assertive” are typically used to describe male leaders, while those same traits are looked upon unfavorably in female leaders and labeled as “smug,” “bossy” and “controlling.” On the other end of the spectrum, women are often typecast as too emotional to be in positions of power. We know all too well the familiar, yet tired adages, “it’s not personal, it’s business” or “there’s no love in leadership.” Today I’m choosing to challenge these ridiculous stereotypes and antiquated business ideals of years gone by.

A good leader takes pride in authentic connection and is genuinely interested in the people around them. In fact, we can look to the Wizard of Oz for a lesson on the anatomy of a good leader. They lead with the BRAIN (where our ideas and strategies live), the GUT (where we get our courage to put ourselves out there and execute) and the HEART (what signals to others that we actually care). The best women leaders I know are highly adept at using empathy, authenticity and excitement as their superpowers in the workplace. “I see you. I value you. Thank you. You matter. You make a difference. I believe in you.” I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact these simple, emotive affirmations can have on employee productivity, engagement and loyalty. And in each and every one of these cases a female leader has been steering the ship.

Elevating Women to Positions of Power + Influence

How do we enhance corporate diversity and ensure more women are in positions of leadership? Join me in taking these three actionable steps today:

  1. Challenge your senator to vote in favor of the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2020, a bill Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced last month that would require  public companies to disclose information related to the racial, gender, ethnic makeup and veteran status of corporate boards and senior management. This legislation would also require the Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to publish a best practices and compliance report every three years, as well as establish a Diversity Advisory Group to study the cause and submit annual reports to Congress. Use this letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a guide for developing an email to send to your senator. 
  2. Get involved in 50/50 Women on Boards, the leading global education and advocacy organization working toward achieving gender balance and diversity on corporate boards.  The organization’s latest goal – to achieve 50-50 representation in the boardrooms of Russell 3000 companies. Check out the 10 ways you can help make an impact, from researching the board composition of the company where you work to engaging in a letter campaign to companies with a limited number of women on their boards, urging them to add more.
  3. Advocate for pay transparency within your organization to close the gender wage gap and battle unconscious bias. If you are a leader in an organization, approach compensation practices in a transparent and intentional manner. You don’t necessarily have to publish individual salaries, but do consider educating employees on specific compensation criteria and provide them with a standard formula that is used to determine pay, raises and bonuses. If you are an employee, find out if your company’s HR systems are enabled with pay equity analytics. If they are not, ask your leader to look into purchasing simple, inexpensive technology (there are many good options on the market) that enables a company to create fair and equal workplaces by delivering data-driven, actionable insights for equitable compensation and promotion review practices.

Let’s write our history now, using our collective power to create an inclusive world where equality reigns supreme.