I’ve been thinking a lot of gender equity these days. Well, actually gender inequity.
Perhaps it was prompted by the daily news barrage or pending legislation that threatens to strip women and minorities of their constitutional rights. Or maybe it was from watching TV shows that made me dream of a better world in which women and girls can rise to the very top of their professions…and thrive. Good fictional writers can help us envision a world that is full of possibilities.
For example, my husband and I just finished watching all four seasons of the Amazon Prime original series, Mozart in the Jungle. And we just loved it. The story was inspired by Blair Tindall’s 2005 memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music. Tindall, an accomplished oboist, spent 23 years as a professional musician in New York City, playing with such groups as the New York Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, presenting a critically acclaimed solo debut at Carnegie Recital Hall, and earning a jazz Grammy nomination. Indeed, she had reached the pinnacle of success in her field.
In the last episode of the fourth and final season, the charismatic conductor, maestro Rodrigo de Souza, played by actor Gael García Bernal, skips out on a big performance, but not before he hands the leadership reigns over to a very talented young musician and aspiring conductor, Hailey Rutledge. A woman.
Watch this short video, as actor Lola Clementine Kirke, who plays Hailey Rutledge in the TV series, conducts an ensemble premiering a new piece written by a female composer. This inspiring performance gives me the chills every time I watch it.
At the end of the season (and end of the series) we don’t know if this event was a big spotlight on Hailey’s new career and potential as a conductor, or if she might be considered as Rodrigo’s successor as the new conductor of the New York Symphony.
The dreamer in me likes to think it might be possible for her to be selected as the new conductor of the New York Symphony. But the realist in me thinks it is highly unlikely. Like many industries, the classical music industry is male-dominated. It is a rare thing to see a female conductor in a position of power in the classical music field. Of all the orchestras registered by the League of American Orchestras — which run from community and youth orchestras to multi-million dollar budgets — only about 9% have women as their music directors.
But still, a girl can dream…
In Pursuit of Gender Equity
It feels like an ongoing dance of two steps forward and five steps back. The data speaks for itself…
- A total of 41 (8.2%) of the Fortune 500 list are run by women CEO’s. (updated 2021).
- Of the S&P 500 company list, women currently hold only 29 of the CEO positions (5.8%) while women constitute 45% of their workforce. (source: Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nicolas College)
- Although boardroom diversity is increasing, women remain underrepresented, and progress is slow. And when women do make the board, their board tenures are shorter, and women are less likely to hold leadership positions than men. (source: Catalyst)
- It took 245 years for the United States to elect it’s first female Vice President. We have yet to have a woman President.
- COVID-19 pandemic causes millions of women to leave the workforce to care for their children and families.
- Very little progress (or interest) in closing the wage gap between men’s salaries and women’s salaries (especially women of color).
- New law in Texas strips women of fundamental rights over their bodies, while incentivizing complete strangers to act as bounty hunters, earning money as they sue anyone who would help these women get the health care they need.
Clearly we are a long way from gender equity. But courageous people continue to speak out about the issue…and the opportunity. They help us to broaden our perspectives and to change our behaviors and decisions about women and leadership. One such person is Dr. Paula Stone Williams.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Dr. Paula Stone Williams for my new book on the topic of fearless leadership (scheduled for release in 2022). One of my coaching clients recommended that I watch Paula’s 2017 TEDx talk about her experience transitioning genders. Her first TEDx talk was entitled “I’ve lived as a man and a woman, here’s what I learned.” She has done two other TED talks and in 2021 Simon & Schuster published her memoir entitled “As a Woman: What I learned about power, sex, and the patriarchy after I transitioned.” I read the book cover to cover.. and loved it.
I’ve chosen to share Paula’s third TED talk in my blog today because she introduces a really bold idea. She suggests that rather than men just making room for women at the leadership table, that they give up their own leadership seat to a woman. Give up. Step aside. Give you what was given to me – privilege and opportunity – so that you can fulfill your potential.
Now, that’s a lot to ask of a man. Or anyone really. And maybe men aren’t quite ready to sacrifice that much to help women achieve gender equity. But just imagine what the world would be like if more men would give up their male privilege to help women get ahead?
“We will not achieve gender equity just by giving women more leadership opportunities. We will not achieve gender equity until you are willing to give women YOUR leadership opportunities.” – Dr. Paula Stone Williams, TEDx MileHigh talk 2020
What are you willing to do to achieve gender equity?
Think about your wives and daughters, sisters and aunts, female friends and neighbors. Think about your female colleagues and customers, female teachers and educators, female caretakers, female nurses and female doctors, female public servants, female military officers, female entrepreneurs and female small business owners.
Is it right or good to hold them back from reaching their full potential? I think not.
Gender equality is in everyone’s best interest.