Thank you Madonna, Serena, Emmy, the women on the U.S. Women’s National soccer team, and all the other women around the globe who are demanding equal pay.
Why do I applaud these powerful, famous women who make more money than I, a white, middle-class woman from a suburb of Boston, will make in a lifetime?
Because I believe gender equality – and equal pay – needs to be addressed at all levels and in all walks of life, from the rich and famous to the very poorest. These powerful women are speaking up for their rights as women in fields where men dominate with higher salaries, better treatment, and preferential treatment.
I applaud their efforts, and even if they are not completely altruistic, I believe they will have a positive impact on gender equality for all women.
Gender inequality and poverty go hand-in-hand
I am not super rich, but I make a good salary and live a comfortable, abundant life. I feel safe in my surroundings, and I have access to plenty of food and water and to some of the best healthcare in the country, perhaps even the world.
But the reality is that millions of girls and women in developing countries do not have these privileges. Many are victims of poverty and inequality, and are denied basic human rights such as good healthcare, education, equal pay, and citizenship. Worse, too many are simply trying to survive extreme violence.
ONE.org is a not-for-profit advocacy organization that fights poverty through justice and equality and aims to decrease poverty through the education of women and girls through its Poverty is Sexist campaign. According to the organization’s 2016 report, too often “being born poor and female means a life sentence of inequality, oppression, and poverty – and in too many cases it is also a death sentence.” In its 2015 report, ONE.org says that maternal mortality alone claims nearly 20 times more lives in a country like Sierra Leone than in Switzerland.
Where do Madonna and the others fit in?
In its brochure, Gender Equality: Why It Matters, the United Nations says that women and girls represent half the world’s population – and half of its potential. However, a recent American Association of University Women report cited U.S. Census Bureau data that indicates women working full-time in the United States typically were paid just 80% of what men were paid in 2015. The report also says that at the rate of change seen between 1960 and 2015, women can expect to reach pay equity with men in 2059. At the slower change of rate seen between 2001 and 2015, women should not expect to achieve equal pay until 2152.
That’s why I applaud the U.S. Women’s National soccer team, which recently appeared on the news program 60 Minutes to share the inequality they experience – in both pay and treatment – compared to the men’s team. Despite winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, the women receive dramatically lower fees, and they are fighting their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, in an attempt to be treated equally.
I also applaud tennis player Serena Williams, a 22-time Grand Slam Champion, who wrote a letter, published in The Guardian, about the double standard of women in sports. Williams opens with the salutation: “To all the incredible women who strive for excellence.” She describes how her family encouraged her to dream big from childhood, but points out that many women don’t get such positive support. She says, “…when the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts.”
As Williams says in her letter, “We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits.”
And I applaud Emmy Rossum, an actress on the popular U.S. TV show, “Shameless,” when she stopped production and demanded to be paid the same as her male counterpart – not only going forward, but retroactively as well.
And finally, I applaud Madonna – who recently was presented with Billboard’s 2016 Women of the Year award – and her direct (some would call blunt) acceptance speech that started with this statement: “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying, and relentless abuse.”
The world is taking action
I share these superstar stories simply to show that women are standing up for their rights – and the world is listening. Rossum’s seasoned co-star in “Shameless,” William H. Macy, supported her fight for equal pay, noting, “She works as hard as I do. She deserves everything…”
I am lucky enough to have SAP as a client, so I see firsthand how businesses are standing up for women and making a difference in gender equality as part of its vision and purpose. For instance, SAP is the first multinational technology company to be awarded the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certificate. This recognition is for its global commitments and actions in achieving and sustaining gender diversity and equality in the workplace.
As the UN states, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.”
Thank you to every woman – and man – who is standing up for this basic human right. I applaud you.
For more insight on gender bias in the workplace, see The Gender Gap: Diversity Adds Value.