Women's History Month: A Tale of Two...

Published on April 15, 2021

Solange Brooks

Solange Brooks
Chief Executive Officer

Women's History Month: A Tale of Two...

Commemoration of Women’s History Month is behind us for this year, but the sweet feeling of women being recognized and celebrated for the vital role they have played in history lingers on.

The last several months have been tough for our country’s soul. First, there was the pandemic and our inability to fully process the tectonic shifts disrupting our family and professional lives. Then, the shock of too frequent acts of violence against Americans of color and the inevitable social unrest and protests across the country, vividly recounted by the media in infinite detail.

The country has had to reckon with the plain truth that Americans are deeply divided. The saving grace in all of this is a new feeling that America must do better – that we must do better for social justice, for the country’s recovery, and for, well, each and every one of us.

In 1859, Charles Dickens wrote in The Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”

For women, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times, and these are the times when we should begin to act in a deliberate fashion to ensure forward movement as a society.

The Best of Times . . . for Action

In Spanish, wisdom or “La Sabiduría” is most definitely female with all its experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Conventional wisdom says: Mothers, teach your sons to respect women! It is wise guidance since mothers are usually a boy’s first teachers.

Many of us are committed to making the issue of female advancement, inclusion, and respect not just a topic for 31days out of the year but rather a year-round focus. Coming out of Women’s History Month, it is with this wisdom, with this sagacity, that we must discuss exactly how to support women right now. Because when you support women, everyone benefits.

The worst of times . . . in Employment

Workplace Compensation: Supporting women in the workplace is amazingly simple: equal pay for equal work, a fundamental concept most (moderately intelligent) people can understand. One still finds positions that may have the same base pay but lack the opportunity to earn bonuses and other pay enhancements that are more often than not offered to one gender and not the other.

An important aspect of increasing compensation is access to upward mobility positions and mentorships. Training and development assignments with strong mentors are the most expeditious pathways to those highly coveted, well-paid positions where, usually, one can make a difference. Regrettably, these assignments and mentors are difficult for women to find in most firms, becoming not just a “women’s issue” but a fairness issue that affects us all.

In the financial services industry, for example, it is difficult to find a woman in a marketing or accounting position being selected for a training and development assignment within the investment team. Nothing wrong with being in marketing and/or accounting if that is your passion and your career focus. However, if a woman wants to pursue investments and has the aptitude and education but just needs an experiential opportunity to grow and be mentored into a new area of the firm, why not provide her with that opportunity? It is a win/win for the firm and the woman.

Mentors have proven to be invaluable for the Administrator’s position at the US Small Business Administration (SBA). All of us at the New America Alliance (NAA) were overjoyed when Isabel Guzman was selected and confirmed to be the next Administrator.

Her story, however, begins back in 2014 to 2017. While Maria Contreras-Sweet was the 24th SBA Administrator, she always had a smart young woman by her side. Maria was Isabel’s mentor. Maria quietly, unselfishly, and successfully mentored Isabel to be the next generation leader and Administrator, extending her legacy beyond her years. Well done, Maria and Isabel!

A Productive Work Environment: The pandemic has expanded our concept of the work environment vis-à-vis productivity. In the financial services industry, the corporate sector, and Wall Street, the old thinking determined that if a man or a woman wanted to be a team player and climb the ladder of success, they would be in the office, promptly available in the wee hours of the morning and staying late into the evening. It was understood that business obligations were placed over family ones to obtain maximum productivity. Basically, a person’s job trumped all other aspects of her life.

It is also believed that if a woman takes maternity leave, she loses precious career time that cannot be replaced. Upon her return, her wages would stagnate until she “got up to speed.” Regrettably, in some people’s minds, she never does. Often times after her maternity leave, she would be out of the “partners’ track” due to her new familial responsibilities. The loss of human potential is tremendous. The age of foolishness.

The pandemic has proven these beliefs to be a fallacy. With more and more people working remotely, it has been shown that many positions previously tied to offices could be successfully done from home and that one can be productive and attend to familial responsibilities as well. Anecdotally, the people who are most adept at balancing these two aspects of their life are more confident and more productive. Women being more used to multitasking and handling several responsibilities at the same time have been better prepared for these challenging circumstances.

So, re-think your position post-pandemic.

A Safe Work Environment: I spoke with women of various ages regarding the single most important action that can be taken to support women year-round. I assumed that for women in their 20’s and 30’s, the answer would be equal pay for equal work and opportunities to grow and make a difference. Imagine my surprise when the answer was: just ensure a work environment safe from harassment. It was unthinkable to me that certain environments are still hostile towards women, in which sexual innuendos and harassment are condoned. Every manager and worker must quickly face their responsibility to extricate these behaviors from the workplace by placing best practices and appropriate training to identify unconscious bias.

Lastly, please remember that harassment does not only happen to women.

Moving Forward with Action

We cannot begin to act in a deliberate fashion to ensure forward movement as a society without giving guidance for taking action, which we have gathered in the attached “15 Actionable Principles to Move Society Forward.”

I started my discussion relating the conventional wisdom of mothers teaching their sons to respect women. I would modify that sentiment for these our “best of times”: Parents teach your children to respect people and ideas. Instruction to our children – both boys and girls – is essential by all parents, not just mothers. Respect should be given to women, but also to men and ideas because we may not agree with each other but listening respectfully is the beginning of understanding and a return to sanity. Yes, Americans are divided, but it is my hope that in the near future, we begin to listen to each other courteously and attentively and that we teach our children well.

So, are you willing to join us in forging a stronger America by making the issue of female advancement, inclusion, and respect a year-found focus? Or will you go back to making it a topic for just 31 days out of the year?

Celebrate women, everyone benefits!

Solange Fernandez Brooks, Chief Executive Officer, New America Alliance

Women’s History Month: A Tale of Two… Attachment

If you want to support women, these are the 15 Actionable Principles that you can follow right now. Please share other actions you are taking to ensure we move our society forward.

1. Equal pay for equal work. Commit to pay equity standards across the organization and establish reasonable auditing processes to ensure pay equity.

2. Provide upward mobility opportunities: Training and development positions with mentorship.

3. Be a mentor. If you are in an accomplished, high-level position, mentor others. Remember: it is not only about you, but rather it is about bringing up the next generation and leaving a legacy.

4. Re-think what a productive work environment includes. Remember that people are multidimensional, and a life-work balance is important to many that will produce better results for the firm.

5. Ensure a safe work environment that is supportive and inclusive.

6. Provide maternity and paternity leave, equally.

7. Teach your children respect, kindness, and compassion for everyone. Be a role model for them.

8. Ensure that diversity and inclusion permeate your organization: have a written commitment to measure and improve diversity outcomes at all levels of the organization, and across all departments. And remember that diversity covers gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, different abilities, and diversity of thought . . . among others.

9. Commit to transparency (because light is the best disinfectant).

10. Develop Internships and Recruiting Programs focused on candidates of diverse backgrounds. Recruit people that do not look or think like you but add new perspectives and knowledge to your firm.

11. Hire women veterans – one of the most ignored, talented groups in the country.

12. Support industry groups that promote diversity and inclusion initiatives across the country.

13. Actively become involved in creating the next generation of women leaders via scholarships. There are many opportunities to support women in higher education.

14. Ensure women are on corporate boards and committees in the House and in the Senate.

15. Donate or volunteer in providing a safe place for homeless women and their children, particularly those escaping from a violent environment.

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