The Path to Gender Parity: Every Route Matters

iStock_000007716967XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Our focus, at The Glass Hammer, is on women’s career advancement at the mid and senior levels. In the past few years, we have seen more women stepping up to leadership in many industries, as well as in politics and the non-profit sector. But not a lot more. We are dealing with very incremental, hard-won change, which is one reason why we believe the issue of women’s advancement (in all spheres of life) is cultural.

It is cultural within the context of each individual organization, and it is cultural within the context of each industry. It is cultural in the wider sense of our society as well. Because all of these spheres affect one another, it means work must be done concurrently in each of them.

Work must be done in each sphere to achieve broad, difficult, cultural change, and that’s how large organizations like the National Council for Research on Women make an impact. Earlier this week, the NCRW held its annual awards dinner in New York. This event draws together folks from every part of the garden of change-agents, ensuring ideas are pollinated and everyone understands we’re in this together (and yes, they draw in much-needed funds from the pockets and purses of well-meaning donors).

As Aine Duggan, NCRW’s new President remarked, there are many routes that we must take to achieve gender parity. On International Women’s Day, perhaps we should each reflect on why we have taken our particular route and why it leads toward women’s advancement.

Many Routes

Addressing the audience on Tuesday night, Duggan said, “To me, the idea for one road is not so necessarily natural.”

She described how, as a girl growing up in rural Ireland, when her family went on an outing, her father would choose a different route home each time – one meant a riding past important monuments and scenery, one meant a possible stop at a candy store, and one could mean a trip to visit relatives along the way. The experience of variety, she explained, was greater than the sum of its parts.

“That balance, that mixing back and forth of the routes, that made life into something more.”

She continued, “We don’t necessarily need to go down each other’s routes. What I do think is important is that we have some place where those routes meet. We are the nexus. We are the firestarters.”

NCRW in particular stands at the crossroads of many different routes, all working toward the advancement of women: the private sector, university and community researchers, advocacy groups, and policy makers. What’s more, individuals and groups within these sectors are, in many cases, focused on different pieces and parts of the issue.

But the point is that none of us work in a vacuum. Each small or large change that one person or group achieves influences the others. Each route is necessary as we embark on the path to gender parity.

For this International Women’s Day, let’s think about how we can better work toward women’s advancement and equality. How does our own route help break down barriers and change the cultural attitudes that hold women back? What paths are others traveling that might be different than our own? And how can we unite with them to make a difference?