Today is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In guaranteeing women the right to vote, the Amendment engendered the single largest expansion of democracy since our nation’s founding, notwithstanding the enormous barriers that women of color have faced for decades. It’s particularly important to note its significance as we approach this very important election, the outcome of which will reverberate for generations. W2O is so committed to getting out the vote in November that we’ve made Election Day a company holiday.
Although the term probably didn’t exist 100 years ago, I like to think of the suffragettes who tenaciously fought for decades to win the vote as pioneering badasses. A badass, as once defined by famous and very likeable badass Katie Couric, is a woman who “stands up for herself, is confident and is not afraid to challenge the hierarchy, the patriarchy or conventional thinking…somebody who believes in something and sticks with it and who strives for excellence and demands the same level of excellence from others.”
I was raised to be highly independent and, through life’s ups and downs, have become incredibly resilient. This, combined with having great role models in my life, from a strong working mother to mentors and bosses who informed my career path, including, for the past 15 years, one very badass man, our CEO and founder, Jim Weiss, has made me who I am today. Jim and I coach and help the men and women at W2O channel their own unique, hard-driving qualities every day, making W2O an organization that pushes the boundaries to what is possible for ourselves, our clients and the greater healthcare industry.
On top of the challenges we women face at work, we are often the CEO of our families – whether or not we have children. We (generally) spend more hours than our partner taking care of the house, children, pets, aging parents and other relatives, an imbalance that has only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is even harder for single parents and parents with children with special needs. We must stay awake to this, have empathy and create support programs and systems that allow our women employees to thrive.
Making W2O a Healthier Workplace through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
At W2O, we work hard to champion diversity, equity and inclusion because workplace inequality is still an obstacle for women, who on average earn 81.6% of what men are paid (and it’s worse for women of color). According to McKinsey, women – particularly women of color – are underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite widespread corporate pronouncements about gender diversity. Men are more likely than women to be hired or promoted into manager-level jobs, a bias that causes an unabating shortage of women at senior-level positions.
Today, 70% of W2O’s workforce and 61% of our leadership is women – we are proud of our progress, yet we know there is more to be done especially for women of color, and we are committed to addressing that. Equality, as we well know, is not just a women’s issue; it’s a social and economic imperative for everyone. The McKinsey report found that, when employees believe they have an equal and fair opportunity for advancement, they are happier with their careers, plan to stay at their companies longer, and are more likely to recommend them as great places to work.
W2O has much more to do on DE&I, and we’re acting urgently to close the diversity gap and create a culture where all employees feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
We recently committed to create an entire department dedicated to DE&I and have both hired leaders from the outside and promoted from within. We are also implementing new software to track data on hiring, compensation, promotion, pay equity and employee retention to ensure we are measuring our progress.
These actions build on our existing initiatives, including unconscious bias training and our employee resource groups – W2O Fusion, W2O Out and Women of W2O – that provide professional resources and support to help advance careers. We also support multiple initiatives and groups that are focused on issues of racial justice, including the Black Economic Alliance, The Center for Excellence in Life and The LAGRANT Foundation.
The Torch Has Passed to Us
So, as we honor Women’s Equality Day, we give thanks to those badass suffragettes who endured beatings, sexual harassment and even jail to win our right to vote, and the many women after them who fought for equality. We’re not done yet; there is more work to do!
Now the torch has passed to us to make women’s equality – indeed, equality for all underrepresented groups – happen. We have to relentlessly pursue our goals, be courageous and take chances, see obstacles as opportunities to learn, and rewrite the rules that no longer work. And of course get out and vote!
And for women who do make it to the top, to borrow a phrase from the chanteuse Edith Piaf (yet another badass), remember to send the elevator back down to bring others up.