Published on LinkedIn on December 7, 2015
It’s December already, which means that along with my usual shock and dismay at how quickly time is marching by, it’s also time for reflection on the year that was. Around this time every year, I like to check in with myself to see where I’m at, and more importantly, where I’d like to go next. What have I accomplished this past year? What are my goals for the year ahead? Let me tell you, the latter list is always infinitely longer than the former.
I decided long ago that my purpose in life was to mobilize resources for the advancement of women and girls, and I activate around this purpose in many ways. I write, I serve as the Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions, I am an angel investor, I executive produce documentary films, I fund non-profit organizations, and I serve on their boards. The list goes on and on. I also have the privilege of often getting to address large groups, usually primarily of women, on a large variety of topics, including women and wealth, success in the workplace, and high impact philanthropy, and my speaking engagements have quickly become my favorite part of my work. In Gloria Steinem’s new book, she describes how there are certain events in your life that mark the before and the after, and a couple of years ago, one of my talks became one of my before and after events.
In 2012, I delivered a TEDx Talk that outlined how I came to my life’s purpose of advancing women and girls, and let me tell you, I have never worked so hard on a speech in my life. In this talk, I likened my commitment to women and girls to strapping into a roller coaster. I described that feeling of anticipation when you know that you are fully committed and there’s no going back from the ride, and how my passion for gender equality was the same. I was strapped in, fully committed to the cause, and there was no going back.
In my talk, I outlined four reasons why now was the time to stand up for gender equality. I talked about how the evidence was overwhelming that a gender balanced world was a more just world for all, and how men and women in greater numbers were starting to speak out about the injustice of the global imbalance between men and women. I pointed to the emergence of technology and its roll in the democratization of power, and I outlined how in our capitalist society, people are increasingly using their financial power to drive social change. I delivered this talk three years ago, but in looking back on the past year, it is amazing to see how these influences are stronger than ever in the push towards a more gender balanced world and I feel strongly that these trends will continue.
Evidence. When the evidence is compelling enough, action can’t be too far behind, and this past year in Hollywood provided a perfect example of this. The statistics surrounding female voices in Hollywood and pop culture have been dismal for decades, and in the case of female directors at the helm of the top 250 grossing films in a year, the numbers have actually gotten worse since the 90s. This past year, armed with this evidence, the ACLU filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in October, the EEOC officially began its investigation into Hollywood’s hiring practices.
However, the problem of gender disparity in Hollywood is much more widespread than simply who is directing a film, and 2015 saw an unprecedented level of actors and directors speaking out against the inherent sexism in the industry, including Jennifer Lawrence, Rose McGowan, Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Kirsten Stewart, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, and Helen Mirren. And it’s not just the women speaking up. From Mark Ruffalo calling out Marvel for its lack of female characters on Avengers merchandise, to Daniel Craig calling out Hollywood’s ageism and James Bond’s misogyny, men are increasingly standing up for the rights of women and girls, and not just in Hollywood. From the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign, to incredible men like Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is leading the charge for fathers to stand up for the rights of their daughters, the chorus of voices demanding gender equality is slowly becoming gender balanced itself. As Hillary Clinton so aptly put it, “Women’s rights are human rights”, and more and more men and women are coming to this realization with each passing year. ( for 200+ of the best reports on women and girls click here )
Technology. When I delivered my talk three years ago, I was hopeful about the potential of technology in helping to advance women’s rights, but I never imagined just how powerful it could be. 2015 saw countless examples of activism playing out on social media, including the hashtags #EverydaySexism, #RapeCultureIsWhen, #ShoutYourAbortion, #RedMyLips, #ToTheGirls, and #FreetheNipple. These movements allowed women to share their stories of sexism, harassment, and sexual assault, but also gave them a platform to inspire the next generation of women and encourage them as they begin to make their way in the world. One of the best examples of technology being used to highlight gender inequity came in June, when the Internet called out Tim Hunt for his sexist comments regarding women scientists and their impact on the workplace. Within days, social media was flooded with images of proud female scientists at work, all of whom made it perfectly clear that this level of sexism would not be tolerated any longer, and hopefully inspired millions of young girls to consider STEM careers.
Finally, purchasing power. Every time you spend a dollar, that exchange is an exchange of power, and this past year saw people increasingly using that power to hold corporations accountable for their actions and message. From calling out Bloomingdales for their recent holiday ad that appeared to endorse date rape, to the outcry over Bic pen’s ill-advised Think Like A Man campaign, customers are telling companies the world over that more is expected of them if they want our purchasing dollars. Perhaps the most noteworthy event of the past year in this regard came in August, when Target announced that its store signage for children would become gender neutral in an effort to reverse the negative impact gender stereotypes have on young kids. Some customers praised the move, while others were outraged, but at least Target took a firm stance on the issue and allowed customers the opportunity to voice their approval through their purchasing power. I can only hope that this is the start of a larger trend.
As I look back on the past year, there are so many encouraging and inspiring stories that give me hope for the future. But as any woman knows, the quest for equality is far from over, and for every story that makes me smile, there’s another that makes me want to bang my head against a wall. So today, I will be content in the knowledge that progress is being made, however slow it may be, but I know that I will not be content for long. Tomorrow, I start my list of goals for 2016, and the optimist in me knows that that will be one long list.
Photo with the Co-Creator of TED Women, Pat Mitchell. The announcement for TED Women 2016 just went out.