I hate being a pill. I really do.
But I found myself playing the role of Chief Pill Officer last week at a couple of different events, where the topic was the advancement of professional women in business.
The case was being made that the stats around women in business are so compelling that progress is simply inevitable, be it in corporate America, venture capital, or start-ups: More diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams; women-run start-ups deliver better returns; companies with more gender-diverse boards perform better.
All great stats. All compelling. All driving to one big insight. But.
Look, I’ve been there. When I first joined the workforce, I was so sure that it was just a matter of time before we achieved something-that-looked-like-equality. The women who were my contemporaries were just so strong, so confident, so competent, so unstoppable.
Then mediocre bosses, life, societal expectations, the two kids, parents who needed care, being passed over for the first, second, third, fourth promotion exhausted them. And either knocked them out of the workforce, or off the “partnership track,” at least.
And it may be different now. That smartie Professor Scott Galloway thinks that it is; by his math, women graduating from college in higher numbers should inevitably lead to them earning more money, which would then, presumably, naturally close the wage gap over time. The old pig-through-the-python argument.
But that math never accounted for a post-Roe world. Or how women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are now being disproportionately hurt by inflation. Or, you know, the broken rung. Or the fact that for every director-level woman who does get promoted, two more quit. So count me among those women who, Gloria Steinem has noted, become more radical as they age (while men tend to become more conservative).
Perhaps the stats around women outperforming are a necessary — but not sufficient — condition for us to catch up. Perhaps we can agree that there are reasons to be optimistic. But can we also agree that there are no reasons to be complacent?
Because in these times, we see a lot of that — measures implemented in a crisis only to be dropped the second things start looking better. Resolutions abandoned or forgotten the second they’re deemed enough. Splashy political decisions made just in time for election season with quiet caveats and expiration dates attached.
If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that progress isn’t inevitable. The problem isn’t solved the second we see improvement, any more than adding another mile to your daily 5K means you’re ready for the marathon.
As our compliance team likes us to say: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
I’ll be less of a pill when the wealth gap is eliminated. When 250 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. (Current tally: 74. Black women: just two.) When “Most Powerful Women” rankings are a curious artifact of a distant past.
I’m a pill because we can’t afford not to be. Not yet.
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