No More Excuses

Vision 2020 National Advisor Laurel Bellows is Past President of the American Bar Association

By Laurel Bellows

We are the most effective generation of womankind ever—that is, if “effectiveness” is measured in terms of confronting legal issues involving women. But if women’s accomplishments are weighed against actually achieving equality of opportunity, freedom from violence, and fairness in matters concerning gender, our effectiveness is a blip on the achievement chart for the one hundred thousand generations of women that have walked upright. I fear that what we have accomplished will create a false sense that inequity will disappear, when what we have done is picked low-hanging fruit. So, if the past is prologue, the issues that face women today will still be present, and critical, a generation hence.

Women’s advocacy is grounded on moral principles that we ask others to embrace. We speak of women’s rights as human rights that are unalienable. Our advocacy is an attempt to enlist others to do the right thing for the sake of the right thing, like granting suffrage. But, try as we may, these principles are neither universally recognized nor given priority.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…
We don’t talk about a national restatement of Thomas Jefferson’s words that all “men” are created equal. We can’t know whether Jefferson meant “men” reflecting the mores of his day, or whether Jefferson would state that all “people” are created equal if he were writing today.

We do know that today, we are quibbling about equality. To avoid an absolute affirmation of gender equality, we hear the rationale that men and women are not equal; we are different.

Since the Declaration of Independence and before, we knew that all men are not the same.
Some are tall, some short, some football players, some rock stars, lawyers, actors, office workers, some are actors or office workers, and some are machinists; men come in many colors, religious persuasions and are gay or not. Poor and rich, city and rural, well- traveled or never traveled, high school and college grads or not…..we have accepted for more than 230 years that, except for twins, men are not identical to each other. Yet, we have accepted Jefferson’s statement that “all men are equal” for over 230 years.

Similarly, women are different from each other and from most men in looks, body strength, agility, emotional response, household responsibility, sole support of single parent households, community activism. Why is it that when the question is women’s equality, we quibble about the definition of equal? If all men are not identical to each other but nevertheless equal, why is it such an equality conundrum that men and women can be equal even if not identical as Thomas Jefferson proposed and Congress adopted in 1776?

We don’t hesitate to discuss racial equality, religious equality and now LGBT equality. We are, however, uncomfortable and unwilling to loudly tout the certainty of gender equality. We fear the Feminist label and the subtle retaliation or stigma that attaches to women’s equality advocates.
We are told that that terms like “comparable” or “equitable” should substitute for “equal”. We hear that the variation in compensation between men and women (between 50% and 19% depending on whether we are comparing White, African American, or Latina women to men) is not function of gender inequity, but rather caused by women who choose part time work, family friendly jobs and opt out of high paying opportunities. Yet, the statistics that measure comparable jobs for incomparable pay belie this rationalization.
Gender equality is the law. But apparently gender equality is still debatable.

Yes, we have celebrated many firsts and changed the face of the American workforce. We learned that framing issues not as women’s issues but as society’s issues attracts an audience and believers. Our successes most often arise when we have others tune in to their favorite radio station, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). When that happens, women are able to lower barriers or favorably resolve legal issues, even where female factors predominate. For example, after decades of failing to fund research for breast cancer, money was allocated only after the epidemic was cast as a public health issue that affects all Americans, not just women.

We crafted similar messages that resonated in favor of change. Diversity is rightfully touted as good for business; same for including a woman’s perspective in the boardroom and C suites of corporate America. Making credit available for women entrepreneurs provides jobs, stimulates the economy, and on a micro level feeds families and educates children. Law firms retain senior women lawyers to meet expectations of women general counsel. Quality of life for professional women redounds favorably for a better quality of life for male peers. When interested parties are convinced that change advantages society, rather than only women, we make progress toward equality. Philosophically, this is troubling.

Here’s the dilemma: Until women obtain broad recognition for their ideals, they must continue to be manipulators of the public interest argument to obtain fairness. But only so much progress can be made spinning women’s issues as public interest issues. And there are issues that solely belong to women and fights that primarily benefit women although our society gains greatly from diversity. Sometimes the game is zero sum, and gains for women come at the expense of individual men: The more women who find berths at the top, the fewer positions that will be available for men.

The mission of Vision 2020 is to achieve gender equality in time to celebrate the Centennial of the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. The suffragists who fought for our vote were beaten, jailed, ostracized, and chained themselves to the White House fence to underscore their total commitment to equality. They debated whether they should campaign for a Constitutional equality amendment. Recognizing the unlikelihood of achieving affirmation of full gender equality, the suffragists opted to obtain the vote first. They counted on us, future generations, to use the vote to assure gender equality. It never dawned on the Suffragists that women would not only NOT engage in a concerted battle for equality, but that many women would choose not to exercise their vote, or worse yet choose not to register to vote…and that our voices would go largely silent. Apparently, our long term strategy for achieving equality is to blend into our male society. Silent blending flies in the face of the suffragists’ sacrifices.

No more excuses.

The United States spoke for individual freedom by ratifying our Constitution more 233 years ago. Our Constitution provides for equal protection of our laws, but it does not specifically mandate gender equality, Since that time, country after country have adopted Constitutions that confer gender equality on women. Most recently, Zimbabwe and Tunisia adopted Constitutional provisions to affirming gender equality.

In the United States, we hear that a Constitutional amendment is unnecessary, that we have achieved equality and barriers are melting away year upon year. We hear that a gender equality amendment would be largely symbolic and not worth the effort. Or, that formal equality cannot incorporate the concept that women and men are different, with different needs and strengths and weaknesses. Instead of a Constitutional amendment, we relegate gender equality to legislation and court interpretation.

No more excuses. It is time to visibly affirm that equality of opportunity, pay, respect and a standard of fairness applied equally to men and women is the fundamental principle of our country, not subject to the whims of our Congress and the political composition of our Supreme Court.

What can we do to discredit rationalizations for inequality? How can we enlist others to join the cause of gender equality when equality is fearsome to so many? We need to address the fact that both men and women fear equality, but for different reasons. Women fear economic independence; fear losing the ability to depend on men for support; fear that they will lose custody of children. Men fear they will lose their jobs to women; fear that their place as senior executives, and as heads of household, is in jeopardy. Women and men fear sending their daughters to war.

The real question, the critical issue for the next 6 years, is straightforward: Can men and women ever move past the fear of being equal?

No more excuses. We must publicly, noisily, brilliantly radiate the courage we expect of others, and demand equality.
We hear that the variation in compensation between men and women (between 50% and 19% depending on whether we are measuring White, African American, or Latina women against men) is not function of gender inequity, but rather caused by women who choose part time work, family friendly jobs and opt out of high paying opportunities. Yet, the statistics that measure comparable jobs for incomparable pay belie this rationalization. We are told that that terms like “comparable” or “equitable” should substitute for “equal”.

Laurel Bellows is Past President of the American Bar Association and Founding Managing Principal of Bellows Law Group, P.C., in Chicago. She is a business lawyer and litigator. She represents executives involved in negotiating employment contracts, separation agreements, and related employment disputes, and she writes and lectures nationally on topics related to leadership, negotiation skills and business development.. Bellows was chair of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, a past president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and a former chair of the Commission on Women in the Profession. She was the second woman president of the 22,000 member Chicago Bar Association in 1991 and Past Chair of The Chicago Network.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

National Advisor Dawn Staley on women’s equality

Vision 2020 National Advisor Dawn Staley is University of South Carolina women’s basketball head coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist:

What Women’s Equality Means to Me
When I think about equality, I reflect on my own experiences in athletics. From growing up in North Philadelphia proving to the boys who dominated the courts that I was capable of playing with them, I have seen the tremendous growth of opportunities for women in athletics. And I am thankful every day for the women who fought, on a much larger stage than mine on the basketball courts at 25th and Diamond, to show that all women should have an opportunity to play.

Early in my life, before I even knew my calling to play the game of basketball, those women laid the foundation for me to get a college education through their work to enact Title IX. From there, I joined my own set of pioneering women, and we proudly continued to march forward.

Using our USA Basketball and Olympic platforms, we helped launch two professional women’s basketball leagues in the United States, showing the next generation of girls that they could be professional athletes, could carry their nation’s flag in the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic games.

Many of us coach that generation now, and I am charged again with helping them achieve their dreams. Their dreams are different than mine because my dream is now their reality, their normal. They dream of bigger things now – equal media exposure, equal financial reward for their dedication to the game, which matches that of any man.

As I work with them every day and see the possibilities for them, I feel a passion to renew the fight for them. The game of basketball has given me so much, and I will always give back to it with both hands. I know that I am coaching women who will do the same and, in the process, have the power to change the world we live in.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Vision 2020 National Advisor Donna Shalala on women’s equality

Vision 2020 National Advisor Donna Shalala is President, University of Miami and former US Secretary of Health and Human Services:

Generations have come and gone since Lizzy Stanton added two crucial words to the most hallowed phrase in our shared history as Americans: “All men — and women — are created equal.”

Equality is not just a women’s issue – it is everyone’s challenge. Universities can and must continue to be models that support universal women’s equality. I spend a great deal of time with young people and that makes it easy to see the changes in their attitudes about the roles of gender in our nation and the world; today’s students don’t have the hang-ups their parents did at the same age. It’s encouraging to see young men with different attitudes than previous generations, and it gives me hope for the future.

Institutionally, new generations of university leaders are poised to engage the entire university community in evaluating the quality and quantity of opportunities for women.

We must commit to supporting the academic trajectories of women – from the time they enter as students through graduate school, post doc, and finally their first hire. By offering networking and leadership opportunities and professional mentoring, universities build a strong foundation on which women can develop their careers, while laying the groundwork for success for future generations.

I remember the unfair stings of my own experience as a young graduate student when I was told that women in higher education were a “bad investment.” I won’t ever forget how much women have sacrificed to claim their rightful place at the table, in academia and other arenas. We have taken big steps as a nation and a society, but we still have a long way to go. We must keep firmly in mind that we risk our claim to global leadership when we leave half the population hungry for long-overdue and necessary change.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

In Pennsylvania, little gender representation

By Lynn Yeakel

“No taxation without representation” was the cry that ignited the American revolution. Women in Pennsylvania may have no representative of our gender in Congress after the current session. Allyson Schwartz, the only woman in the tri-state Congressional delegation, gave up her seat to run in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. There are six women across Pennsylvania running as major-party candidates for the state’s 18 U.S. House seats in the general election but they are facing male incumbents. Also, the Pennsylvania general election for Governor in November will be a Tom-Tom race, as Inquirer columnist Karen Heller cleverly noted.

How can it be that so few Pennsylvania women are engaged in the political process? Let’s start with voter turnout. Only 20 percent of all female and male registered Democrats went to the polls Tuesday. (In 2010 when the Republicans had contested primary races, 27 percent voted.) In addition, about 15 percent of the voting age population is not even registered.

Yeakel is Founder and Executive Director of Vision 2020, a center within Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.

 Imagine what the suffragists would think of this dismal percentage of participation by women. They marched, they demonstrated in front of the White House, they went to jail,  they went on hunger strikes and alienated friends and family – all to gain the right to vote for our half of the population. As Vision 2020 works with Mayor Nutter, the National Constitution Center and civic leaders to make Philadelphia the site of the national centennial celebration of the 19th amendment that granted women’s suffrage, we must register, educate and mobilize women to vote in our state and across the nation.

We must also encourage more women to run for office. It’s hard on many fronts – personal, professional, financial. And it’s no fun to lose. Ask Schwartz, McGinty, Margolies and Arkoosh how they feel following Tuesday’s results. But if women don’t run, we cannot complain about the lack of gender representation.

It’s been 22 years since I ran for the U.S. Senate. All that I learned from that experience, which changed my life in many ways, influences my work today. Yet so little has changed during that time in the Commonwealth. I was only the second woman in Pennsylvania history to win a major party nomination for U.S. Senate and no woman since has done that. Pennsylvania remains in the bottom of the pack in terms of women in state-level elected office.

From a positive perspective, there’s great opportunity for growth in civic engagement of Pennsylvania women. If women run and women vote, women will win. And all of Pennsylvania will win, too.

Lynn Yeakel is Founder and Executive Director of Vision 2020, a center within Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Four Resolutions We Must Make (and keep) This Year

Each year we make resolutions or promises to ourselves that are not kept. We promise to eat healthier than we ever have, read more, learn a new skill or forgive someone we haven’t spoken to in years. But, as we pile on our ritual resolutions we find that they are hard to keep up with. Let’s change that when it comes to advancing gender equality with four resolutions we should and must make.

1. Asking more women to run for office and more candidates to add women in leadership positions once elected. Vision 2020’s Rhode Island Delegates did just that with their Rhode Island GAP project, working Governor Chafee to elect more women in government. These women worked with their elected official to increase the number of women in state appointments from 15 percent (2010) to 34 percent (2013). In February, our Pennsylvania Delegate Dana Brown’s Ready to Run project will educate and train women who would like to run for office.

2. Mentoring or sponsoring a woman in your hometown. Did you know that women who have active sponsors are more likely to continue working at a company? Become a mentor or sponsor at least one woman you know. Learn more about how companies are using sponsorship here.

3. Adding the Pressure. Pioneers like Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, and our own Lynn Yeakel have paved roads that were once quite narrow for women by adding pressure and keeping it. We must continue to hold the media, elected officials, businesses, and others accountable for adding more women to leadership positions or removing demeaning images of women.

4. Giving back. Donating is just one way others can help. If we were to give just a few dollars to an organization that aligns with gender equality we can become one step closer to reaching a 50/50 society that will benefit generation to generation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Delegates Share State Initiatives with National Ally

Vision 2020 Delegate Carolyn Cook (D.C.), Kate Campbell Stevenson (MD), and Visionary Delegate Carmen Delgado Votaw

Vision 2020 Delegates Carolyn Cook (D.C.), Kate Campbell Stevenson (MD), and Visionary Delegate Carmen Delgado Votaw

On November 26, Vision 2020 Maryland Delegate Kate Campbell Stevenson, spoke on “Trailblazing Women, Past and Present.” at The Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues held in Washington, DC. The Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues (CWI) is a Vision 2020 National Ally that presents expert speakers on current topics which impact the lives of women, particularly public policies that affect women economically, educationally, medically and legally. They also cooperate and exchange information with other organizations that work to improve the status of women, nationally and internationally.

Campbell Stevenson shared why and how she uses the transformational power of the arts to promote women’s history and women’s leadership. Her one-woman show, Forging Frontiers: Women Leaders in STEM is Campbell Stevenson’s Vision 2020 Maryland State Initiative and features Marine Biologist, Rachel Carson and Arctic explorer, Louise A.Boyd along with contemporary STEM leaders.

She also recognized Visionary Delegate Carmen Delgado Votaw for her most recent honor being selected as the The National Women’s History Project’s 2014 Honoree as a Woman of Character, Courage and Commitment. Delgado Votaw joined Campbell Stevenson in sharing more information about Vision 2020 goals, initiatives and partnerships and also introduced Carolyn Cook, founder of United for Equality, LLC as a new Vision 2020 Delegate from Washington, D.C.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Today’s Teens are Tomorrows Leaders: Music City Girls Leadership Academy Lays Foundation

Patricia Pierce with her mentee Katie Delay from Chattanooga, TN.

Patricia Pierce with her mentee Katie Delay from Chattanooga, TN.

Leadership is a lifelong process and developing leaders in middle and high school is not too early to start. Teenage years are critical period for developing leadership skills. Young girls don’t necessarily recognize their leadership potential or realize that participating in school activities and sports provides excellent opportunities for leadership development.

Music City Girls Lead! is a leadership academy designed for high school girls in grades 9 through 11 in Middle Tennessee to develop and build on their leadership potential. It is being held as part of the activities leading up to the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four Basketball Tournament that will take place in Nashville.

The Champions4Women Committee of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee is partnering with Lipscomb University’s Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership to offer the leadership program. The program focuses on topics of developing as a leader, becoming an ethical leader in a multicultural society, developing vision and voice, learning to use technology in leadership roles, promoting wellness and health, and transforming vision into results. The girls participated in classroom activities and online learning as well as collaborating with classmates on a community project and having the opportunity to communicate with a professional woman who was assigned to be their mentor.

Twenty-eight girls graduated from the inaugural program. Dates for the second program will be announced soon. The girls may not have been sure what to expect from the program, but they left not only with leadership skills, but with confidence and determination to take an active role in their school and community and to make a difference. Our communities need these strong, creative, courageous young women to take leadership roles, because they are going to change the world!

This blog was written and submitted by Tennessee Delegate and Chair of the Champions4Women Committee Patricia Pierce

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment