US Women Could Use Some Good News. Here’s Some!

While America fixates on the multi-car pileup that is the Trump Regime, it helps to see women making progress somewhere.

I’ve just published a bookMs. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win – which chronicles the many ways in which Donald Trump and the GOP have rolled back rights and opportunities for American women since November 8, 2016, and offers a to-do list for fighting back. So, in a way, I’ve contributed to the depressing feeling that everything in America’s going to hell in a hand-basket these days.

Partly as atonement for giving my readers heartburn – but primarily as celebration of our resiliency and our resistance – I decided to tally some of the things that have happened since my book went to press in late November and hit e-store shelves this month.

It can be hard to contemplate the notion that things might be improving, given stories like Bloomberg’s December 20, 2018 report, which declared that women are on track to earn as much as men…in 202 years.

And it’s likely that news like the Bloomberg report caused two-thirds of Americans to tell pollsters in late 2018 that they’d seen no major gains toward women’s equality during the year. Democratic women were particularly pessimistic, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported.

Fortunately, the list of news items I’m sharing here is encouraging…and it’s growing by the day.

Political power shifts

The good news started, of course, in Washington, D.C., where more than 100 women now serve in the 435-seat House of Representatives, causing a quantum shift in that political body’s gender dynamics and rattling male status-quo norms and conventions to the bone.

And making the small women’s bathroom just off the House chamber the new gathering spot for Congress’ newest power brokers. As one woman remarked, while walking past portraits of five men to join the newly-crowded rest room queue, in words that evoked the lyrics of Nina Simone, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and I’m feeling good.”

Two Republican Senators – Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) made history as well, becoming that party’s first female members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their selection sought to correct the glaringly obvious absence of Republican women on that committee during the Senate’s late 2018 confirmation of accused sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Change comes to corporate America

As the new year dawned, the Los Angeles Times reported on a host of newly enacted laws in California that reporter Margo Roosevelt wrote, gave “minimum-wage earners, port truckers, farm laborers, sexual harassment victims, nursing mothers, high-powered female executives and workers injured on the job” reason to celebrate.

Among those laws, which supporters hope to see replicated in other states, is a bill signed by outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown in late 2018 that requires publicly traded companies to have at least one female director on their boards by year-end 2019. Larger boards must have at least two women members by July 2021.

Clearly, corporations still need to be pushed on the issue. A study by the Alliance for Board Diversity, released in early January, found that women and minorities “occupied 38.6 percent of board seats at Fortune 100 companies last year, compared with 35.9 percent in 2016. At Fortune 500 companies, the figure rose to 34 percent in 2018 from 30.8 percent two years earlier…but still fell short of the Alliance’s target.” That target: 40 to 50 percent diversity, “so we can have fair representation,” explained the Alliance’s chairwoman, Linda Akutagawa to The New York Times.

On the equal pay front, new research reported in the Washington Post’s LilyLines column revealed that requiring businesses to report publicly on gender-based pay gaps propels them to shrink, and sometimes even close, those gaps. A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper cited in the article revealed that “the gender pay gap declined by approximately 7 percent when companies were required to report salaries based on gender.”

The working paper also found that greater transparency leads companies to hire more women and makes it “more likely for women to be promoted from entry-level to more senior positions.”

And none of this hurts the bottom line, guys: “Wage transparency also left the profitability of those companies unchanged,” the report declared.

At least one company seems to be paying attention. On January 16, 2019, Citigroup Inc. became the first U.S. bank to publish findings of an internal gender-based pay study, which found that its U.S.-based “female employees earn 29 percent less than men do…[and] people of color earn 7 percent less than their white colleagues.”

Citigroup has now committed, the Bloomberg story continued, “to increasing U.S. female and minority representation at the assistant VP to managing director levels [where gaps in pay and role become most obvious] to at least 40 percent for women and 8 percent for black employees…by 2021.”

And in the paid family leave arena, a number of U.S. corporations – Starbucks, Walmart, and General Mills among the more notable examples – responded to the tightening labor market in 2018 by offering more generous paid family leave benefits to their workers.

#MeToo making a difference

2018’s #MeToo movement impacted American business, as well – adding more specific language on sexual misconduct to executive contracts, boosting training on appropriate handling of workplace sexual harassment, and tightening up definitions of “cause” for termination, to “allow [employers] to avoid paying severance or accelerating the vesting of stock when someone is shown the door.”

In an early January story in New York Minute (a New York Times online special section), Amanda Keohane reported on a Times investigation into powerful men who’d lost their jobs in 2018 following credible sexual assault allegations in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It found that, “of the 98 [accused men] replaced, 51 were filled (either in an interim or permanent position) by a woman.”

But not to deliver payback, the story continued: to make organizations better. “Female leaders tend to hire and promote more women; pay them more equally; and make companies more profitable” because they “foster more positive and respectful work atmospheres that encourage employees to be more collaborative.”

As UCLA professor Joan Williams remarked in the story, “Women have always been seen as risky, because they might do something like have a baby. But men are now being seen as more risky hires.”

Trustees of some of America’s top public pension funds weighed in on #MeToo, as well – demanding that companies in their funds tally the costs associated with sexual misconduct and report on what they’re doing to address the problem.

And male Congressional leaders finally responded on Dec. 30 to demands from their female colleagues to reform Congress’ own harassment rules. New requirements now in effect make it easier for Congressional staffers to present sexual harassment claims and require members of the House and Senate to settle claims out of their own pockets instead of with taxpayer funds.

Even news of a sharp increase in the number of reported rapes in New York City during 2018 was given a #MeToo spin by city officials.

“Police officials and advocates for victims said the publicity and outrage generated by the…movement has encouraged more victims to contact the police,” Ashley Southall wrote in The New York Times. New York City data, she added, reflected a broader national trend, in which, the U.S. Justice Department reported, “40 percent of the people who said they were sexually assaulted in 2017…reported the attacks, up from 23 percent in 2016.”

“They’re feeling more believed,” explained Maureen Curtis,” director of criminal justice programs for Safe Horizon, a crime victim advocacy nonprofit, who the Times interviewed. “There’s more compassion and there’s less blaming around the person who’s been victimized.”

And #MeToo issues “took center stage at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting” in January, where “top women in the field shared stories of their own struggles with discrimination” and “demanded immediate steps by the A.E.A. to help victims of harassment and discipline economists who violate the group’s newly adopted code of conduct,” reported The New York Times’ Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley.

The good news goes on: hiring changes in Hollywood that boost opportunities for women and minorities. A state health-care initiative launched by California’s incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom, which other states can replicate to resist GOP efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act. A Federal court ruling that paused Trump administration rules in 13 states to restrict women’s access to affordable birth control. New spending in California on early education and parental leave programs. And more.

Yes, we’re winning some wars. But there are still many to be fought.

So, take heart – and keep fighting! If you’re looking for actions to take, the final chapter of my book offers a laundry list of to-do items.

As does your local daily newspaper on any given day.

I hope you’ll read both.

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