What's at Stake: Examining Women's Issues at the Ballot Box and Beyond

Election Day is more than eight months away, but the race for the highest office in the world has already hit a low point. The insults and verbal fist fights have at times made the election seem like a carnival side show. This race has been full of mudslinging, but the grime can't hide that hugely important issues hang in the balance. Polarizing and third-rail issues such as racism, immigration, and terrorism have exploded into sharp debates. But this year, perhaps more than any other, women's issues are in the spotlight.

With a woman largely expected to be the Democratic nominee it's no surprise that gender equality is at the forefront of political discussions. But by contrast, nobody expected that Republican nominee Donald Trump and all of his recent antics would be the frontrunner.

The theatrics of this election have caused huge numbers of people to pay attention to these battles. This has coerced politics into a peculiar junction in popular culture, with several of the Republican Presidential debates breaking ratings records, drawing about 25 million people. That's nearly enough to crack the top 10 most watched TV events of the year, nipping at the heels of College and NFL playoff games. The debates have become proxies for high-stakes reality TV.

Like a reality show contestant, female candidates are judged according to higher standards than men, if not impossible-to-achieve contradictory standards. Hillary Clinton is expected to be tough but not bossy, warm but still able to "take charge." Clinton's wardrobe is always a discussion topic as well. Folks often mock her for wearing a pantsuit -- something that would not even be an issue if she was a man.

Women's portrayals have implications that extend far and wide outside of politics. In the media world, how women are represented in front of the camera is as big a problem as how media stories portray women. The 2015 Status of Women in the U.S. Media report revealed that women are on camera only 32 percent of the time compared to men, and write just 37 percent of print stories news publications. Meanwhile, despite the likely fact that a woman will lead a major party ticket for the first time, men report 65 percent of political stories.

This perception is crucial, because how much a woman is valued affects how much she's paid for her work in real terms. In fact, The New York Times recently printed a story with the shocking news that as more women enter a male-dominated field, the more the pay decreases.

The gender pay gap is found in many professions, regardless of training. According to a study from Harvard scholar Claudia Goldin, women who are surgeons earn 71 percent of what men earn, while food preparers earn 87 percent. We also see this when comparing fields that have equivalent responsibilities but differences by gender. Janitors, who are usually men, earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners, who are more commonly women. These differences cannot be fully explained by things like education and experience. It's hard to think that discrimination or bias isn't a factor.

It looks like changing how women are portrayed in the media is going to be a long haul. But there are things that can be done to create short term improvements to how women are paid.

One basic change is to publish everyone's pay, so it's clear how much men are paid versus women for the same job. Doing just this has worked in California's cities where a law requiring the publishing of municipal salaries led to a reduction in men's pay to more fairly match their female colleagues. On the national level, President Obama made this a requirement for all federal contractors.

Women can't wait for laws and corporate policies to change, they must take action themselves. According to a study at Carnegie Mellon, when receiving job offers, 51.5 percent of men and 12.5 percent of women asked for more money. Negotiating can be uncomfortable, but it's a necessary skill. Women must do a better job of knowing their value and fight for what they deserve.

I too see women's status in the country at-large reflected in the Public Relations industry. Though women hold approximately 70% of all PR jobs, PR agencies are mostly run by men. However, I am hopeful, as I see action is being taken. Things are starting to change but we have a lot more to do. For example, at Ogilvy PR, I sit with 8 other women on our new 17-strong company board. Diversity and inclusion is extremely important to our Global CEO Stuart Smith and he is taking action to drive across the agency. Still, we must work to ensure that initiatives like this are reflected throughout my industry, and across all industries.

The misogyny in Politics we are seeing does not just effect women running for the highest office, but every office. There is a real danger that if this rhetoric goes unchallenged it will set us back decades in attitudes to gender quality. So our response must be two-fold; both at the ballot box and beyond it.
We are obligated to vote in the general election if we want to effect the change. Today, women must also actively work to make change within our personal and professional lives. By doing so, we can take greater control to create the type of world and professions that we deserve.

Dave Rosenthal contributed to this blog.