Today marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. Next week, March 8 is designated as International Women’s Day.
If the past is any guide, corporate America will take the opportunity to communicate how committed they are to women: There will be commercials that will give you the chills, even as you try to fight getting the chills, because you’re really not someone who gets the chills. At least not from commercials. But you’ll still get the chills.
And then someone will point out that the company that made the commercial about the plucky girl who races boxcars has no women — plucky or otherwise — on its board.
Then there’ll be the publicity stunts. A candy company will switch out their anthropomorphic mascot’s heels for tennis shoes. And (fake) respond to the (fake) controversy (just in time for a huge commercial spot) before going back to the way things were. Oh and let’s not forget the fast food chains, which will flip their logos to “honor” us (of course, not permanently).
In the midst of this barrage of ads, newscasters will point to the progress women have made; and there are real points of progress to be celebrated. They may note that we now have the highest percentage of women CEOs in the S&P 500 ever. That US Women’s Soccer achieved equal pay with the men. That there are more women-run unicorns. That we have a woman Vice President.
Yet for so many women, these hard-won steps forward are only things they read about — they aren’t impacting their everyday lives. In fact, their lived experience can be quite the opposite: The Ellevest Women’s Financial Health Index is bumping along at the lowest levels of the past five years, representing the financial and economic pressure women are feeling. Factors pressuring the index include inflation, the low percentage of companies offering mandated paid parental leave, the persistence of the gender pay gap, and, notably, 2022’s reversal of women’s reproductive rights.
Perhaps even more exhaustingly, the “movements” of the past decade that appeared poised to advance women have … pretty much washed out. There will probably be a loooootttttt written about it around its upcoming 10th anniversary this summer, but suffice it to say that Lean In, for example — with its advice to women on how to climb the corporate ladder as individuals — did not address the systemic issues that hold women back in the workplace. And so the excitement around its launch never translated into sustainable progress. Meanwhile, Time’s Up and the 2017 Women’s March — each of which worked to bring women together to tackle a range of systemic issues — were both brought down by internal conflict (stoked by, it seems, Russian bots).
But the underlying issues holding us back remain: Don Lemon thinks a woman is past her prime at 50. (Or at least he did a week and a half ago, before whatever “intensive training” CNN is now putting him through.) While we may not particularly care what Don Lemon The Individual thinks, it very much matters what Don Lemon The CNN Anchor projects, because of the platform he has. It’s not a great distance from “Don Lemon dismisses women over a certain age” to “Don Lemon talks over his women co-hosts” — and the latter sends a pretty powerful subliminal message to its viewers of the pecking order.
And that’s just one overt instance. There are plenty of subtler “jokes” where that came from — thanks, Tiger — that continue to add up over time.
To top it all off, the irony of this year’s Women’s History Month is that the feel-good corporate messages will be fighting for airtime with companies — many of which may be struggling with earnings pressure during this strange “too hot? too cold?” environment — who are requiring workers to come back to the office. This, despite research that shows how important flexible work has become to employee productivity. This, despite the fact that the greater burden of the commute most certainly falls on the member of the family with greater responsibility for child care, for getting dinner on the table, for making sure the homework gets done, for making sure Granny took her pills, for making sure Chipper made it to the vet.
We all know who that person is: you.
And we see you. We celebrate you. And we’re working for you, regardless of what month it is, to help you build wealth (so that maybe — just maybe — you can give a hard pass to that commute). We believe that’s way more valuable than a chill-inducing commercial.
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