Feminism. Gender-equality. Pay gap. Discrimination. The patriarchy.
These phrases, amongst many others, constantly occupy our ever-lively campus dialogue. However, as a young woman I am often disappointed with the time we waste complaining when we could be out there doing. The only way to inch closer to progress is through action. Although it is important and imperative that we voice our grievances and concerns, this voice is lost without concrete illustration. Regrettably, we often let our own statements limit us even further. At times we sit anxiously yet motionless. We allow the limitations to persist in believing in their existence. Many will read this and ask, how could this be? You will be offended because I am telling you that you bear some responsibility for your own injustice. The system is f*cked up; no doubt, but until it changes we must learn to live and grow within it.
Fortunately, there are more opportunities for us than there were for our mothers. However, we would not be graced with them if it hadn’t been for their determination. I have witnessed this tenacity firsthand as I watched my mother leave for work every day. Early each morning she would depart, a forecast of meetings with men ominously in front of her. When people asked my me what my mom did, I proudly told them she was a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): a woman in an acronym position. In other words, I thought she was, and still think she is, a total bad ass. Still, we often associate these classic posts of seniority with men. Women with letters, more commonly known as women in leadership positions, continue to be a tiny minority. In 2014, only 5.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women.
As I grew older, the weight this figure bore on my mother and women in similar position became more evident, especially when she switched jobs. This time she had a new set of letters, EVP (executive vice-president). But something else didn’t change, she was the only woman in a set of five senior executives. A nosy, and perceptive 13-year-old, I asked her why she seemed so sad sometimes upon returning home from work. Most of the time, she proudly shared stories of victory and triumph, so instances that reflected a different attitude were readily evident. She told me stories of male coworkers who told her to stop being so “emotionally invested” and “motherly” when it came to workplace decisions and projects. This made me upset and confused. I was just beginning to become aware of the biases I faced as a girl. In class, boys told me it was weird that I spoke up so much, that I was being too opinionated for a girl. I had not realized that this sentiment would stealthily linger throughout every stage of my life. More important than the upsetting stories she told me was how she dealt with them. She said, “You are not in control of what others do or say, but you are in control of your reaction to it”. What I took away was that our reactions and responses to challenges are what help us overcome them. At times we hope that they will just be instantly vanquished, but their elimination will not materialize without experience.
My mother showed me that the system won’t change unless we learn how to defeat it as it already exists. When Pinnacle released their 10K (SEC filings), a document where the salaries of the top five highest compensated executives must be disclosed, my mother was the only woman on it. This marvelous accomplishment was tainted when the report revealed a glaring 14.5 percent pay gap. My mother’s contributions were valued 14.5 percent less than those of a man in a lesser position. 14.5 percent less than a man who ran a smaller division. 14.5 percent less. They told her she didn’t negotiate aggressively enough. As she told me this story, my blood boiled, I was nearly in tears. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t.” I exploded. I wondered how she could let them tell her she was wrong. How they could tell her it was her fault. But, despite my anger, I quickly realized her commendable self-awareness. My mother understood her personal responsibility to willfully change the circumstances women everywhere are presented with. She revealed to me that her failure to be accordingly aggressive throughout every salary negotiation in her entire career lead to this aggregate result. Although the circumstances she was presented with were not ideal, there were things she could do to strategically manipulate the procedure in her favor.
As women, it is a given that we have to fight harder and longer. Many tasks, goals and desires are not achieved without the assiduous conviction required to surmount additional hindrances. We cannot expect change to happen because we want it to; we must will change to realize. We cannot idly denounce the injustices presented to us. They are not grounds for pity or special treatment. They are opportunities for growth and triumph. They are challenges, not defined boundaries. The indisputable obstacles we are presented with as women will only prevent our progress if we allow them to do so.
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