US Olympic Women #1! US Women? #28

DSC02229On August 26th, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was certified as law, granting women the right to vote throughout the country. In commemoration of this important day, every US President since 1972 has proclaimed August 26th as Women’s Equality Day, not as a celebration of equality achieved, but in recognition of the need to continue to work towards greater gender parity. Because whether or not people want to believe it, there is not a single country in the world that has achieved true gender equality. Not one. How do I know this? The research says so.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum has published its annual Global Gender Gap Report, which analyzes a country’s gender gap in four main indexes: education, health, political representation, and economic participation. The latest report, published in 2015, ranked 145 countries on a scale of 0.00 (inequality) to 1.00 (equality), with Iceland topping the list at 0.881 and Yemen in last place at 0.484. The United States was ranked 28th (a drop from 20th in 2014), just below Mozambique, and well below developing countries such as Rwanda, the Philippines, and Namibia. All of the statistics, data, and research that are used to compile this report can be found on the World Economic Forum’s website.

When looking at the country profile of the United States, it’s clear that the political representation score is where progress is needed most. In 2015, the United States scored just 0.162 out of 1.00, which is good enough for 72nd among the countries ranked. The scores for women in parliament and women in ministerial positions are slightly better at 0.24 and 0.35 respectively, but the fact that the US has had no female head of state in the past 50 years (or ever), registers as a 0.00, thereby dragging the overall score down with it.

Where the US ranks the best in terms of other countries is in the economic participation and opportunity index, where a score of 0.826 lands the US at 6th in the world, but in terms of individual scores, the US is doing well with 0.975 for the health and survival index and 0.999 for the educational attainment index. Perhaps surprisingly, these higher scores are only good enough for 64th and 40th in the world respectively, indicating just how many countries are near or past equality when it comes to health and education.

2015 marked the 10th edition of this annual report, which means that we now have a decade worth of research and data to analyze in terms of progress around the world, and the good news is that progress is being made. Over the past 10 years, fully 94% of the 109 countries that have been tracked since 2006 have made progress towards gender equality, with the health and education indexes nearing equality, and political representation making the largest gain from 14% in 2006 to 24% in 2015. Overall, the world is moving in the right direction, the just direction, but we’re not there yet.

This will come as no shock to anyone who has read the average Youtube comments thread, but the idea that we still need a Women’s Equality Day will enrage a certain subset of the Internet to a baffling degree. I often write about gender equality issues; always in the most respectful way I possibly can, and the attacks can be truly shocking. Efforts to lift up women – to ensure that they have the access and resources they need to thrive – does not equal pushing down men. I have been called a “reverse sexist” more than a few times in the comments section to other posts, so allow me to provide the proper definition. Sexism is defined as discrimination based on a person’s gender, which means sexism affects both men and women.

I believe that greater gender equality will benefit both men and women, because the full participation of women in all aspects of society will, as the research shows, have broad based positive economic and social results. There are literally hundreds of studies that attest to this. If you can cite any evidence to the contrary, please feel free to share. Seriously, share it. Furthermore, LinkedIn is primarily a social network for business oriented people, and make no mistake, gender inequality is a huge business issue. Once again, check out the research if you don’t believe me.

So what might be different for a country and for the people that live in that country when it not only reaches but sustains gender parity? Furthermore, what might be different when not only one country in the world achieves this, but a critical mass? Since no country has yet to achieve true gender parity, we can only look to the hundreds, if not thousands of studies that say our world will be a more just, safe, and prosperous world for all. So does Women’s Equality Day matter? Heck yes it does.

Photo with Marie Wilson in 2013 – Marie was the the founding President of The White House Project and The Ms. Foundation. She has written Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World and Getting Big: Reimagining the Women’s Movement (coming soon!)



Women Are Rocking It At Rio! But…

Olympic postEvery four years, athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Olympic Summer Games. Over the span of two weeks, athletic feats that defy comprehension are accomplished by men and women of every race, religion, and orientation, and the rest of us mere mortals can only watch in awe. To be an Olympic athlete is to dedicate your life to the pursuit of excellence, and as a viewer, to watch the results of decades of hard work manifest in feats of athleticism, grace, and power is something truly astonishing to behold, not to mention incredibly inspiring.

Even more inspiring is the fact that the Rio Olympics are shaping up to be the most diverse in history, with record numbers of female and LGBT athletes competing. Team Canada’s delegation (my home country) is 60% women, with the first 12 medals of their 13 medal haul (as of my writing this) being won by women, while Team USA sent a record 292 female athletes to Rio. In the first week of competition, Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming gold medal, while Simone Biles proved that in the world of gymnastics she’s in a league of her own. Katie Ledecky went into her 800m freestyle final holding the top 12 best times in the world for that event and still managed to post a new world record, while Aly Raisman’s floor routine caused jaws to drop around the world. When it comes to Rio 2016, it’s clear that the women of the Olympics are killing it.

For Team USA, its record number of female athletes comes just 44 years after the historic passing of Title IX, a federal law mandating that any federally funded educational program or activity cannot discriminate against participants based on their gender. Since its passing in 1972, women and girls’ participation in sports has soared at both the high school and university level, and the effect of this is being felt throughout these Olympic Games, where the first USA medal came courtesy of Ginny Thrasher in shooting, and an upwards of 70 medals are expected to be won by American women. All this despite the fact that there are still 169 events for men and only 137 for women. (WSJ)

There’s a lot here to celebrate, but unfortunately, if you were to scroll through the headlines being generated by the female Olympians, one dominant news story of these Games has been the sexism inherent in some of the media’s coverage of the women’s competitions. Thankfully, many people are calling out the media on this sexism, as a quick scroll through Twitter will see both men and women fighting back against the sexist headlines, coverage, and commentary that unfortunately is far too common in sports broadcasting, and which has a long, documented history at the Olympic Games.

While sexism is unfortunately a problem that can’t disappear fast enough for me, one of the many memorable sights of the games has been watching the US Men’s Basketball team members cheer on the women’s beach volleyball power duo. They are so into it! Yesterday I watched with them as Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross defeated Australians Taliqua Clancy and Louise Bawden to make it into the beach volleyball semi-finals, and while much has been made about the media’s coverage and commentary of female athletes who are also mothers, I think it is a wonderful thing to acknowledge these supermoms. Walsh Jennings, at 38, is one of the older athletes to compete at these Games, and not only is she a mother of three, but she is a three time Olympic gold medalist, winning her last gold medal in London when she was five weeks pregnant. As a mother of a teenage volleyball player, I’m thrilled that my daughter has such amazing role models like Walsh Jennings who prove that women can be both mothers and Olympic athletes, and will be celebrated for being awesome at both.

Jacki Zehner Body BuildingIn general, sports are an incredible learning opportunity for all athletes; a place to develop not just athletic prowess, but leadership skills, commitment, character, perseverance, patience, sportsmanship, persistence, and self confidence. A recent study by EY found that participation in sports advanced women at all levels, and prepared them for a life of leadership in the corporate world. For myself personally, I was a national bodybuilding champion in Canada when I was a teenager.  Believe it or not, I was twice Canada Junior Champion in my weight class, and I absolutely believe that all those hours spent in a mainly male gym was good training for life on the fixed income trading floor.

Every four years, the Olympics are a celebration of athletic ability that bring together men and women from around the world, and the first week of the Rio Games has provided us with no shortage of incredible moments and inspiring performances. I can only hope that the media has realized that viewers will hold them accountable for how these Games are covered, and that from now on, they will focus on all of the positive aspects of sports and how athletics can help young men and women in so many ways beyond the confines of competition. As we head into the second week of competition, I hope we can continue to celebrate the achievements of all of the athletes and marvel at the ability of sports to bring the world together to cheer them on.

The Glass Ceiling Has Been Shattered

Jacki HillaryAs published on LinkedIn Influencers on July 29th, 2016.

“I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I am a Canadian.” Those two simple statements have saved me from a lot of arguments over the past few months. Who are you voting for has become one of the first questions people seem to ask these days. It is not that I don’t have opinions, I have many, but I have chosen to be somewhat quiet on the topic. Why? Because I have been practicing my listening. Also, as a Canadian, I cannot vote in the US, and I fully respect that everyone has the right to vote for whichever candidate they choose.

To be clear, I have dreamt about the day that a woman would not only become a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States, but would win. I have thought about this for decades, and in the year 2001, it became the core plot line for a Wonder Woman screenplay I was working on at the time. That is a long story that you can read about here. The reason that having a woman President was so important to my story was because I saw it as a game changer. If and when a woman, a great woman, a qualified woman, a remarkable woman, ascended to the most important and powerful role in the world, the journey towards a truly gender balanced world would take a GIANT leap forward. In my make believe world, my lead character Wonder Woman, would use her superpowers to help make it happen. Not by forcing voters to choose her candidate, but by using her lasso of truth to make sure each of the candidates were in fact telling the truth. There was a lot more to it, but wouldn’t that be a handy device to have right about now?

So tonight, with Hillary Clinton accepting the nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention, I honor the moment. How could I not? This is the first time a woman has received such a nomination from a major party.  Whether you support Hillary or not, it is a game-changing moment.

Below are some highlights that I pulled from tonight’s program.

Chelsea Clinton

Firstly, I think she is awesome! As a mother of a 16 year old daughter who I think is one of the most amazing people on the planet, I know what an incredible bond it can be, should be, between a mother and her girl child. If you can be judged by the character and accomplishments of your children, then Hillary rocked it. May I be so blessed. Of course, you can say that Chelsea has been given every privilege and that is true, but I have seen lots of kids grow up with similar levels of privilege and turn out to be, well, not so nice and very self-interested. That is not Chelsea. She came across so natural, so poised, so honest, so likable. Amazing job.

The video by Shonda Rhimes with Morgan Freeman. 

I get that the whole point of that video was for us to leave feeling that Hillary Clinton is a complete gift to us all. So good job. That was what I was left feeling. But what was also clear from the video, and from other speeches, is that she has a life-long commitment to children, to families, and to public service.  Making the statement, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights” was a game-changing moment, and one of the most important speeches of all time. She said that over 20 years ago at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I am glad they featured it.

Also, when they hugged on stage I truly lost it. What a moment. A moment for mothers and daughters everywhere.

Hillary Clinton – Some of my favorite lines from her speech.

We will not build a wall, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a job can get one.

As Secretary of State I went to 112 countries.

Don’t believe anyone who says I alone can fix it.

America needs everyone of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to make our nation stronger. Stronger Together. It is not just a slogan, it is a guiding principle. The economy needs to work for everyone.

My job titles tell you what I have done, not why. In all these years of public service the service part has come easier to me than the public part.

Caring is not enough. To drive real progress you have to change both hearts and laws. You need understanding and action.

When there are no ceilings, the sky is the limit.

I believe America thrives when the middle class thrives. Our Democracy is not working the way it should.

In America, if you dream it, you should be able to build it.

If fighting for equal pay and affordable child care is playing the woman card, then deal me in.

America is great because America is good.

Let’s be stronger together my fellow Americans.

Last thoughts

I am ending with one of my favorite quotes included in my Wonder Woman report.

“If ever the world sees a time when women will come together purely for the good of humanity, it will be a power as the world has never seen.” – Matthew Arnold, circa 1800

The photo was from 2013 when I received the Global Fund for Women’s Global Philanthropy Award. It was presented to me by Hillary Clinton. I was truly touched by how gracious she was, and how personal she made the award. Also in the photo is Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, President of The Global Fund For Women. Love her!