What I Would Tell The Next President

president picOriginally published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 23rd, 2016

On January 29th, 2009, a mere nine days after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was his first piece of legislation as President, and it set the stage for a presidency that has been visibly committed to equal rights for men and women. Since that historic day over seven years ago, Obama has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued an executive order that mandated federal contractors to publish pay data according to gender and race in order to combat the wage gap, and this May, the White House will host The United State of Women, a three day summit in Washington DC that will tackle gender inequality across a range of issues, including education, health, leadership, and economic empowerment. Throughout his presidency, Obama has never been shy in declaring his commitment to gender equality, often referencing his two young daughters as his inspiration, but with his presidency soon coming to an end, it’s time to look to the future. Come November 8th, the United States will have a new President, and regardless of who that President is, I have one question I want to ask them: What are YOU going to do to improve gender equality in this country?

Yes, this is another post about gender equality, and believe me, I wish it wasn’t. I wish I could ask the future President a different question. I would love to sit down and talk to the future President about foreign policy or how to grow the economy. That being said, gender analysis is an important consideration for both of these issues, as it is for pretty much every issue, and it is my belief that if the United States was a country that took the lead on women’s equality, we would take the lead on a lot of other issues as well. Sadly, we are far from being the leader in this arena.

In the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual paper published by the World Economic Forum that tracks 145 economies according to how well they are utilizing their female citizens, the United States ranked 28th in the world, directly below Mozambique. Additionally, with issues such as campus sexual assault, rape culture,  gender pay gaps, sexual harassment, lack of quality childcare, inequitable access to capital, lack of women in leadership positions and TRAP laws dominating the headlines, it is clear that this country has a long way to go if we want to improve that ranking.

But just for a moment, imagine what would happen if we had a President who was dedicated to bringing greater gender balance and gender intelligence to their leadership and political agenda. Imagine what we could achieve as a country if every citizen, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, had a more equal opportunity to thrive and contribute. Imagine if the decision makers in all walks of life had diverse and varied life experiences to draw upon when making these important decisions. It’s an amazing vision for the future, and it’s what keeps me going in my work when all I want to do is bang my head against a wall. I recently attended the Skoll World Forum, a gathering of over a thousand of the world’s leaders and doers in the field of social entrepreneurship, and the issue of the lack of moral, authentic, and compassionate leaders came up more than once. Where are the world leaders that we truly respect, who are doing the “right” things, and who inspire us to be all we can be and do all we can do to make the world a more just and equitable place? Seriously, try to name some!

Thankfully, there are a few who while perhaps far from perfect, at least give us some hope. Last October, I was proud to watch as my fellow Canadians elected Justin Trudeau as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. Almost immediately, Mr. Trudeau made it clear that gender equality was going to be a core component of his platform when he unveiled the 29th Canadian Ministry; the first gender balanced ministry in Canadian history. When a reporter asked he why he felt gender equality was important, he simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Frankly, that’s all he really should have to say on the matter.

But it isn’t just Mr. Trudeau and Canada where gender equality is being addressed by world leaders. From Finland and Sweden, to Indonesia and Rwanda, world leaders across the globe are realizing that the key to economic development and social prosperity is gender parity, and it’s not just because it’s the morally right path. Research across all sectors have shown that when women and girls are empowered, everyone, every man, woman, and child, reaps the benefits. Together with Women Moving Millions, I recently put together a list of the top 200 reports that supports this argument, but the effort continues. I am currently curating a list of the top 300 reports that should prove once and for all that supporting and empowering women and girls is indeed a powerful strategy if you want peace and prosperity. If you cannot wait for me to share the final list, you can download the current version that at present includes 269 reports here. If you do take that step and you find that I am missing your favorite report, add the link in the comment section and I will include it.

With so much research, evidence, and common sense behind the idea that making women’s rights and inclusion a priority is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, why has no country ever achieved it? Well, the reality is that this sort of change is not going to happen overnight. As Elizabeth Banks put it so astutely at our Women at Sundance gathering earlier this year, “We are up against something, which is the entirety of human history”, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing forward. If you were to be elected as the President of the most powerful country in the world, isn’t that be something you would want to be remembered for? Changing the course of human history for the better? My guess is that the answer would be yes.

The White House Forum on Women and the Economy

Last Friday, President Obama hosted a White House Forum on Women and the Economy. The forum addressed the important role that women play in the economy.  There are pages of facts in our resources section organized by category if you want to take a look.

As part this forum the White House Council on Women and Girls released a new report entitled, “Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward, The Key to an Economy Built to Last.” This report examines the Administrations persistence to ensure women have support through all stages of life. The Executive Summary itself is bold, compelling, and empirically sound!  Could this serve as a wake call to as the economic power and possibility of women? He certainly has the women’s vote in this country and this is why.

The report states, “Today, more than ever before, women are playing a central role in the American economy. Women now make up nearly 50% of our workforce, are a growing number of breadwinners in their families, and are the majority of students in our colleges and graduate schools. American women own 30% of small businesses, which generate $1.2 trillion a year in sales. Since 1962, women’s participation in the labor market has risen by 20 percentage points while the United States’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than quadrupled. And according to a report by McKinsey, if the United States raised female labor participation rates to the average participation rate of the top 10 states, our economy would add 5.1 million women workers, the equivalent of a 3-4% increase in GDP.”

With women owning 30% of small businesses, controlling 80% of consumer discretionary spending, and accounting for 67% of college graduates (70% of the 2012 valedictorians) it is right for the administration to have this focus.  More surprising is how this did not come to be prior to 2009. The shocking contrast is between these measurements of presence and impact ( current and potential)  and the lack of representation in leadership positions in this country across all sectors.

As a father of two young girls President Obama said, “Every decision I make is all about making sure [my daughters] and all our daughter and all our sons grow up in a country that gives them the chance to be anything they set their minds to; a country where more doors are open to them than were ever open to us.” As the mother of a son and daughter, I could not agree more.

Though I do have some issues with our President on the economic front, his stand for women and girls is notable.

You can see President Obama’s full address here.  Worth a watch!!!!

Women’s Issues are America’s Issues By Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett is Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.  I subscribe to their weekly newsletter and this piece was featured  today.  Given it is 11/11/11 and Veteran’s Day – I thought this a wonderful post.

Do I think President Obama is putting a gender lens to his agenda? Yes.  Do I think he has put some incredible women in leadership roles? Yes.  Do I love that he has set up this office? Yes.  Do I share his prioritization of getting American’s jobs? Yes.  Do I agree with how he is going about it? Sorry …no.   That is a separate blog entry. Regardless this is a great article –  thank you Valerie and I hope to see you next week in Washington!

“On Wednesday evening, President Obama addressed a dinner hosted by the National Women’s Law Center, and delivered a powerful speech on the importance of continuing the fight for equality for women and girls. The dinner honored women Freedom Riders, who put their own lives in jeopardy in order to fight for the end of segregation in the South.

It was an honor to spend an evening with these courageous women, and it was a moment when our nation’s past and present were truly woven together. One Freedom Rider whispered to the President Obama that on the day he was born, August 4th, 1961, she was in jail in Mississippi.

The Freedom Riders’ stories should remind us all that change is hard. Very hard. It takes time. But with conviction, determination, and sacrifice, change is always possible. And when it comes to securing equal rights and opportunities for America’s women and girls, our country has made great progress in just a few short years.

Change is the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the very first bill President Obama signed into law, which strengthens a woman’s right to equal pay.

Change is health care reform that makes it illegal to deny coverage for women with pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer or being a victim of domestic violence, and requires insurance companies to cover preventive care, including mammograms and contraception.

Change is investing in STEM education for girls, so that America’s women can be equally represented in the next generation of scientists, researchers, and engineers.

Change is nominating two women to the Supreme Court, so that for the first time in American history, three of the nine justices are women.

Change is creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, which focuses every federal department and agency on working together to improve the lives of women and girls, recognizing that the issues that primarily affect women are not just women’s issues. When a woman is paid equally for equal work, her family is better off, her community is healthier, and our economy grows. When women succeed, America succeeds.

I could not be prouder to work on behalf of a leader who truly understands the importance of these issues. President Obama has worked tirelessly to make sure that women and girls live in a country where, as he put it, “there is no limit on how big they can dream or how high they can reach.”

Yet, President Obama recognizes that we still have a long way to go. Women continue to trail men in science and math, subjects that will be absolutely critical for the jobs of the future. Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. And like every group of Americans, women have been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the recession that followed.

As President Obama pointed out, there are those in Congress who don’t seem to understand the urgency of these challenges. Republicans in the Senate have blocked the American Jobs Act, which would cut taxes for nearly 80 million women. They voted down a measure that would have put hundreds of thousands teachers – about three-quarters of whom are women – back in front of the classroom, where they could help prepare our kids for the future.

The President will continue to urge Congress to put politics aside, and do the right thing for American families. And if Congress refuses to act, he will continue to take steps to improve the economy without them. Because if we harness the potential of every American, there is no question that we will out-compete the rest of the world for the jobs and industries of the future. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when the winners of the Google Science Fair were announced. Over 10,000 young people submitted projects, from 90 different countries. In many ways, this competition was a metaphor for the global competition that will define the 21st century. Citizens and countries will compete for the jobs and industries of the future, and as they do, STEM skills will be absolutely critical.

So President Obama was thrilled when he heard that this year’s winners were three teenage girls from America. After the announcement, President Obama invited all three girls to the White House, so he could personally congratulate them on their achievement. I had the chance to meet these young women, and they were extraordinary. Not only were they very smart, they were full of passion and enthusiasm about learning so that they could contribute to society.

As President Obama said on Wednesday, they demonstrate that America is still “a place where ideas are born, where dreams can grow, and where a student in a classroom or a passenger on a bus or a legal secretary in an office can stand up and decide to change the world.” Continuing our journey toward a more perfect union won’t be easy. It never is. But as women throughout our country fight for change — for equal rights and equal opportunity — the White House will be a partner in their work. ”

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