What does the Presidential election mean for gender equality?

The election of Donald Trump is being viewed by many as a setback for gender equality in America. The prevailing wisdom says, if only we had broken through the highest of glass ceilings and sent a woman to the Oval Office, then we would have affirmed the clear and present path to gender equality in our workplaces.

So how do we advance the women’s agenda in the aftermath of the Presidential election?  On our campus at Simmons College, we continue to educate and to advocate for equity and advancement of women and under-represented groups.

Since the election, we:

  • Held an open, standing room only conversation, enabling our community to voice their opinions and concerns about the national climate on race, ethnicity, and gender.
  • Held a standing room only panel discussion featuring political science faculty, “What Just Happened?” to dissect and analyze the election results.
  • Hosted one of 20 national conversations across the U.S. and abroad on board diversity sponsored by 2020 Women on Boards
  • Introduced the longest running and the nation’s premier Women’s Leadership Conference to the world by holding it in Berlin last week.
  • Proudly availed our in-house expert on gender and policy Christina M. Knowles to moderate a panel at the Massachusetts Leadership Forum with leading journalists, elected officials, and political activists entitled, “Where do we go from here?” on gender and the 2016 election.

Next month we are hosting lawyers from the ACLU and the Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Economic Justice to talk with the entire community about civil rights.

But we cannot and will not stop there.

Determine clear and attainable goals

With fewer than 15 percent of corporations in America having a woman CEO, we must voice realistic goals on the issue of gender equality. Although an analysis from April 2016 by McKinsey & Company estimates achieving full gender parity could add $4.3 trillion to the country’s economy in 2025, we cannot expect such a leap. In fact, we are not even asking for 50-50, because many people who are leaders of organizations deserve to be in their positions. It cannot be about leapfrogging anyone. But we must call the question. Name it. To ensure women have the same opportunities, and to advance their careers as men have had for centuries, it will require big changes.

How these goals will be reached

First, we recognize that the foundation of today’s rights was built brick by brick over generations. For example, it is now illegal to discriminate against a woman’s credit application on the basis of gender. Women may not be terminated from their jobs because they acknowledge being pregnant, as I personally faced in 1968-69 as a public schoolteacher. And, thanks to the suffragist and civil rights movements of the last century, women today have the right to flex our muscles as a significant voting bloc with open and free access to the ballot box.

But it is clear that you cannot rely solely on the law to guarantee a path to leadership opportunities for women. Nor can you rely solely on the president, him- or herself. To make legitimate inroads in gender equality in the workplace, it will require a change in our values and culture. No easy task.

How does one go about changing values and culture?

An educated citizenry is one of the founding beliefs of our nation, and we need to rely on these principles to shift values and cultures. Growing up when I did, many families believed that women just couldn’t do certain things, and that it would be a waste of money to pay for a woman to go to college. Those beliefs are still held by many Americans today, and they paint a stark portrait of the need for education on issues of equality.

Further, we need everyone to believe that women can successfully lead important organizations like the government of the United States or an international corporation that has many employees and shareholders depending on its performance--places where there’s a great deal at stake, financially and strategically. If people see more female role models who can actually do these kinds of jobs and assignments effectively, then perhaps we will soon begin to see real progress for gender equality.

Redouble your efforts

The election of a woman as president would have been very important to our country; but even if we were celebrating the election of President Clinton, our work would still be necessary. Changing the minds and values of our fellow Americans won’t be easy, but for those of us who care deeply about gender equality, the struggle will continue.

The election of a man who has a checkered past at best in his treatment of women may be viewed as a setback, but here at Simmons it has served as a call to action. And it must be viewed as such to all of you as well. We all must redouble our efforts to keep the issue of gender equality front and center, knowing that America’s women deserve it, and also that the American economy demands it.