The One Thing That Is Truly Holding Women Back From Achieving Equality

Updated 04/10/18
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Romy Newman is the president and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere.

equal pay day
Mireya Acierto /Getty

April 10 is officially Equal Pay Day in the U.S., and I’m not sure about you, but I don’t feel much like celebrating. Since world events in the last 12 months were bookended by the defeat of the first female major party presidential candidate and that Google memo, it can feel bleak out there. And not very equal. So what is the silver lining? What can we do to ensure that we’ll feel like progress has been made in the next 12 months?

I think it’s all about women helping other women. Many Fairygodboss users say that they feel increasingly isolated as they rise through the ranks of American corporations. Moreover, women who are home and raising children can often feel equally isolated. Isolation is an epidemic that has swept across the U.S.—and it is an unfortunate inhibitor to our progress toward equality.

The day after the 2016 election, I talked with a gay man who said, "See, here’s your problem: Every gay person was in favor of gay marriage. That unity was what got the measure passed. For some reason, every woman doesn’t come out in favor of women’s progress."

So today on Equal Pay Day, I’d like to call on all women to come out 110% for women’s progress. Get involved in your community. Aim for a promotion, and promote another woman. Find a way to stretch out a hand to a woman in need. Help a woman get a job. Help a woman get an education. Help a woman whose slip is showing or who has lipstick on her teeth. Help a woman who is being abused or underrepresented or who just seems overwhelmed. Vote for a woman—and let it be okay that it’s because she’s a woman. Because our best hope for progress in the future is for us to come together about this issue.

All women need more help and support in all corners of their lives, but my expertise is women in the workplace. So with that in mind, here are some ways we can all take action at work this week to set the stage for more gender diversity and equality.

Know the Facts

Did you know that Morgan Stanley has proven that companies that are more gender diverse deliver better financial performance? To me, that’s the most salient fact to be armed with every day. When we’re talking about the workplace, it’s so easy to get bogged down by whether diversity programs are merited or effective or even fair, when what we should be talking about is how diversity programs will contribute to the bottom line.

So this year, I challenge everyone to make their case for gender diversity where they work. Let’s show the world how more women yields more value to a company.

women's equality day
Fairygodboss ; DESIGN: Viviana Duron

Thelma and Louise It

In my executive role at The Wall Street Journal, I was extremely lucky to have a best friend and business partner who was a senior member of our human resources team. This friend complimented my outfits and watched Beyoncé videos with me on YouTube, but she also gave me valuable and tough advice about my performance as a leader at work. When I wasn’t in the room, she had my back. When I did something right, she told me. When I did something wrong, she told me. Likewise, I gave her career advice and coached her through difficult situations.

Both of our careers benefited from the support and insight we shared from different corners of the organization. It makes me wonder why these types of alliances don’t happen more often—especially because they seem to come naturally to men.

So today at work, figure out who your partner is going to be—and start planning. Share your goals. Share feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And get each other promoted. (And then promote other women, too.)

Don't Forget About the Men

Last year, Fairygodboss conducted a survey of men about gender diversity in the workplace, and only 30% of the men surveyed felt that there was any gender discrimination in the workplace.

News flash: James Damore and his Google memo prove that at least 70% of men were wrong. Because there is blatant sexism even in progressive and sensitive workplaces like Google. The issue is that men don’t see it, and it’s not their fault. They aren’t the victims of the discrimination, so why would they see it?

Your mission is to point it out to them. Help them understand what you see, where you see it, and where you’re coming from. Get them on board, and help them be a champion.

Ask for What You're Worth

It’s a hotly disputed topic, but like it or not, many women just don’t command the same pay as men in similar roles in the corporate world. There are many factors that go into this phenomenon, but the one for us to zero in on is that women don’t ask for raises as often or as aggressively. I know that I became gun-shy after having my children because I wanted more flexibility to spend time with them.

As a matter of fact, we’ve had several stunned women reach out to Fairygodboss when they get promoted to manage a team, only to discover that the men reporting to them make more than they do—even post-promotion.

Men are never gun-shy about asking for raises. In her book, Own It, Sallie Krawcheck relates that the women who worked for her rarely asked for promotions, while the men wore out the carpet coming into her office to ask for raises.

So get on it! Are you paid fairly? Should you be making more? Start asking for a raise every month until you get it. Get persistent and insistent. Because you are not just asking for your own raise, you are asking for it on behalf of women everywhere.

Let Go of the Judgment. It Holds Us All Back

Have you ever thought to yourself, "why is she wearing that?” or “why did she say that?" I have, and it’s my worst habit that I’m trying to break. Women judging other women is one of the biggest issues holding us back. When we judge others, we’re also imposing the same sort of judgment on ourselves—and in my opinion, this judgment is a major driver of the confidence gap between men and women at work.

The most important thing we as women can all do to support each other—and ourselves—is to free ourselves of this judgment. Instead of figuring out what’s wrong with what other women are doing, let’s figure out what’s right. Let’s hold each other’s hands so we can march together and make a stronger future for our daughters. Here’s to celebrating Gender Equality Day for real on August 26, 2018.

What steps will you take to ensure equality for women all over the world?

Denise Vasi DESIGN: Haobin Ye

This post was originally published on August 26, 2017, and has since been updated. 

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