This is a piece written by our good friend, Amel Zahid, Founder of Equitable Workplaces, a diversity-related startup focused on redesigning workspaces to address childcare needs for working parents.
Walking the full length of the Berlin wall, it is hard not to pause and ponder upon the incredible graffiti sprawled across the once bloody barrier between the east and the west. These words etched on my memory because of the remarkable simplicity and truth to them. Today, as I sit down to reflect back on 2018 — nothing else best describes the forces that have set heretofore unimaginable change into motion. Especially for women — the marches, the voices raised, the lean-ins, the walkouts — it’s been an incredible year.
A lot happened in 2018. Big and small changes everywhere are causing the world to move towards better environments for women and men in workplaces. Just a few years down the road, huge shifts are bound to unravel that are going to impact how businesses are conducted entirely. Importantly, in the near term these changes create an environment of support and increased visibility for women, and that in and of itself is a big step forward.
It is worth our while to stand at year’s end and look back at how far we have already come and keep ourselves energized for the road ahead. #Metoo movement has been the catalyst for some of the most important things that have happened this year, so we start there:
1) #Metoo and the Changing Corridors of Power
In 2018, the movement went truly global, with the hashtag now being used in at least 85 countries, bringing down the bad guys. More importantly, diverse cultures — liberal and conservative — are witnessing a change in how they see sexual harassment and deal with it too.
Closer to home, #MeToo, in-spite of backlash, has already brought change in the corridors of power. Following the Weinstein case, at least 200 prominentmen have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment. An immediate outcome: nearly half of the men who have been replaced are now succeeded by equally if not more capable women, making forty-three percentof the replacements.
The recent walkout of women at Google after revelations of massive payouts in the handling of a case of sexual harassment, sent out a very strong message. The protest has changed the fate of men-in-power facing allegations today with CBS chairman Les Moonves losing his severance package in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations given the current climate.
2) Iceland’s Equal Pay Precedent
Early in 2018, Iceland’s Equal Pay Certification Law took effect requiring companies in Iceland to prove that they pay employees of either gender fairly — without gender discrimination. Failing to do so would subject companies to face penalties.The new law was passed a year after female candidates won nearly half the seats in Iceland’s parliament.
What stands out about the new law is how it enforces equal pay standards: Instead of relying on an employee to prove discrimination, it is the companies that must show that their pay practices are nondiscriminatory.
3) Most Diverse Congress in the History of the United States
The biggest story of the 2018 midterm elections — was the unprecedented number of women that ran for office and hitting a series of significant milestones: Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids are the first Native American women elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are the first Muslim women set to represent their states in the House. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer are due to be the youngest women to serve as lawmakers.
Come 2019, the 116th United States House session will convene as one of the most diverse groups of elected officials that Congress has ever seen. With more women in Congress, it is expected that more diverse issues on women’s health and family will be brought to the table.
4) California Mandates Women on Corporate Boards
Turning the tables in corporate boardrooms, California passed drastic legislation in October. The bill makes California the first state to mandatepublic companies to have a minimum of one female board member by the end of 2019 and have at least two by 2021 for companies with five or more board members.
This radical measure is an important step marking the beginning of a broader effort to make the highest branches of U.S. corporate power more equal and more representative of employees, consumers, and the broader U.S. population.
5) Nationwide Legislative Action on Sexual Harassment
2018 has brought an unprecedented flurry of legislation on sexual harassment and sexual harassment policies. 32 states have introduced over 125 pieces of legislation to expel members, criminalize sexual harassment in governance, and mandate harassment training within the legislature, among other topics.
Notably, California made the requirements for sexual harassment training more stringent with the passage for Senate Bill 1343. Employers with at least five (previously it was 50 employees), must provide sexual harassment prevention training and education to all employees by January 1, 2020.
6) Motherhood and Workplaces
US Senator Tammy Duckworth became the first new mother to serve in the Senate’s 229-year history and made waves by bringing her newborn baby to the Senate floor.
Rules had to be re-written to allow a child on the Senate floor that also brought to light, how many of the Senate’s current practices and traditions are out of touch with contemporary society. The discussion spilled out of the Senate floor and provided more fuel publicly to an ongoing debate on making workplaces more responsive to the very real and human challenges of parenthood and childcare. Children became part of the diversity discussion like never before.
A few weeks following, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made history by becoming the first world leader to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting with her baby, intentionally challenging norms for the better:
“If we want to make workplaces more open, we need to acknowledge logistical challenges…by being more open, it might create a path for other women.”
— Jacinda Ardern
7) Lactation Accommodation and Discrimination
Speaking of logistical challenges, recently signed into effect, AB 1976 expands California employer obligations respective to employee lactation accommodation. The bill specifically mentions that the space is to be “other than a bathroom stall.” Similarly, New Jersey introduced a new breastfeeding law this year, making it unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee with lactation requirements.
Finally, 2018 also became the year when breastfeeding in public became legal in all 50 states. Until recently, Utah and Idaho were the last two states that provided no legal protection for a mother’s right to breastfeed in public space, but that changed this year.
8) Paid Parental Leave
According to PL+US, 20 companies expanded their policies in 2018 alone. Nearly 5 million people have paid family leave for the first time! 72% of companies with leave policies are including dads, part-time, LGBT, and people earning lower wages. The expanded paid leave policies is a massive shift from just a few years ago when the nations biggest employers’ paid leave mostly left everyone out but moms in the corporate office.
Another significant development: Microsoft introduced a new policy that makes explicit that Microsoft’s suppliers and contractors will need to improve their paid parental leave policies if they want to work with the tech giant. This move by Microsoft is likely to create pressure for smaller companies to adopt parental leave policies that are more generous and frankly humane.
9) Diversity Climbs the Priority Ladder
Big corporations are already prioritizing diversity by publicly announcing targets and rushing to meet them: Intel announced achieving full representation of women and underrepresented minorities in its workforce nationally two years in advance of its 2020 goal. The chip-maker now employs 27% women, 9% Hispanic and under 5% African Americans. Although, still far from equality, the corporation sees an increase in representation as a step in the right direction. Intel Corporation is proving that, with the right resources and resolve, the needle on diversity can move.
10) Bring in the Female Founders
When it comes to startups, all-women teams raised 2.2% of total VC funding in 2018 with the majority of funding going to all-male teams. While the number is dismal, the trend is slightly less so. In the coming years, more change is expected as the ecosystem evolves to support and foster women-founders.
Women are now entering the ranks of almost every top venture capital firm making VCs more representative. Many new groups are emerging to help women founders, and here’s a comprehensive list of how extensive the ecosystem has become. To name a few, the Female Founders Alliance is giving women one-on-one mentorship, and access to a community of female founders and investors. AllRaise sponsors Female Founders Office Hours for one-on-one mentoring and provides access to email lists of positions in venture capital that formerly circulated mainly in male social networks. These resources create a very different climate compared to just a few years ago.
“Over time, having women in powerful positions — placing bets on women and taking meetings with women founders who might never have gotten through the door at male-dominated firms — could radically transform the industry.” — Michael J. Coren, Quartz at Work
The Great Wall of Gender Disparity as it Stands Today
Up until 2018, corporate America had made very little progress on improving women’s representation. Women were still underrepresented at every level, and women of color being the most underrepresented group of all, lagging behind white men, white women and men of color with only 4% entering the C-Suite.
Against the backdrop of the changes highlighted in this piece, national and international momentum slowly edges towards an environment where women will have equal representation with equitable accommodations in leadership, boardrooms, workplaces and public places. Every little voice raised, every little bit shifts the big picture — and it is important to keep that momentum going.
The figure below shows representation by gender and race at every level in 2018 in the corporate pipeline. It also tracks the change over the past three years. Take a long hard look and commit these numbers to memory because these numbers are going to be history — the change in the coming years will be exponential!