Women are not “diversity” or a “minority” — we are half the voice — and it’s time Democratic candidates pay attention. Asking women to lean in more is not the answer; nor is the current deafening policy silence. Hype and coverage during waves of #MeToo scandals did not equate to action. We can seize this moment to change our narrative as much as the fight to abolish slavery, the push for women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement did.
The pivotal question for Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio is: Is any presidential candidate poised to execute historic change for women?
Innumerable studies have shown the benefits of the contributions of women, including a $4.3 trillion annual boost to the GDP or a 26 percent ROIC increase for U.S. corporations with enhanced board participation. Countries that empower women rank the highest on the human development index and in happiness, quality of life and wealth. Still, the United States ranks 51st in gender parity globally, 98th in political parity and fares grimly on corporate leadership and entrepreneurship by women.
Our leaders bully congresswomen and endorse a string of “terrific” guys and their enablers (Roy Moore, Jeffrey Epstein, John Hyten, Brett Kavanaugh, et al). The president’s Cabinet, 35 percent of which was women under President Obama, is now a dismal 17 percent, with women in fringe positions. How can our democracy deliver for all its citizens if half remain underrepresented?
A combination of incentives, taxation and regulation can turn the tide. Incumbents eager to maintain the status quo will scream about socialism, quotas and tampering with market economics. The zeitgeist has changed though; the women’s movement is surging, good men are active allies, leaders are publicly committing to change, some corporations are voluntarily signing parity pledges and institutional investors love balance.
If we are open to learning from the world, here are seven “parity call to arms” for the presidential candidates:
Appoint women to half of your cabinet: After much ado, women hold 23 percent of U.S. congressional seats and 18 percent of states’ governor’s mansion. But we have had zero women presidents and zero vice presidents after more than two centuries. In contrast, six countries established gender parity cabinets in 2018 alone, including Canada.
Mandate a third of corporate board seats for women: Our current high of 6.6 percent women as Fortune 500 CEOs and 22 percent on boards needs overhaul. The 2018 California law mandating and minimum number of women on boards is a positive step. Norway mandated that 40 percent of board seats be held by women and several Western European countries have followed suit. Fixing boards is also a first step to addressing the paucity of C-suite and senior leadership for women.
Increase women’s access to financing: Women entrepreneurs don’t lack vision; at 40 percent, they are surging the fastest. However, they are starved for financing and locked into subscale businesses. Less than 8 percent receive external financing, securing only 14 percent of funding from the Small Business Administration and 2 percent venture capital dollars. Hold the SBA to a minimum of 30 percent loans for women and implement incentives for private financing.
Ensure national paid parental leave: The United States is the only developed country without nationally mandated parental leave, legislation that has both bipartisan and popular support. Stop asking women to propagate mankind while being penalized with nits to their finances and careers.
Enforce equal pay laws: Forget the rhetoric and act on this pervasive issue that hits working women with a 22 percent pay gap. In 2018, Iceland imposed a fine for unequal pay. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to better track enforcement. Implement our federal laws with financial repercussions.
Ensure universal and affordable access to abortion: States blocking access to abortion are not “chipping” or “whittling” away — they are hacking away at this federal protection with a battle ax. Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure a federal safeguard against state restrictions and bans. Pass the EACH Women Act to restore Medicaid coverage for abortion, other federal programs and private insurance. Pro-lifers should focus on the 450,000 children abandoned to foster homes and adoption instead of forcing low-income women into motherhood.
Fix women’s honorifics: The marital labels of Miss and Mrs. are archaic, irrelevant and discriminatory. Let’s do away with this and hope the world will follow suit. Women’s accomplishments and identities deserve to be in their own names.
Women are not asking for reparations, certainly deserved given the scale of absolute historical injustice. The vote came 150 years late; the Equal Pay Act was passed only 56 years ago; women were not allowed independent credit cards until the 1970s; and religion has relegated women to second-class citizens since the beginning of time.
We are asking for half of the sky.
Rohini Dey, Ph.D., formerly a World Bank economist and McKinsey & Co. management consultant is now a restaurateur based in Chicago.