Reading recent headlines, one could be forgiven for concluding that the march towards gender equity had slowed or even stalled.
Hundreds of women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment by male bosses and coworkers who preyed on them with near impunity.
Women are a majority of the population, but make up only 20 percent of corporate board seats and 6 percent of CEOs.
And while the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled since 1971, most of that progress occurred before 2001. In Missouri and Kansas, less than a quarter of state legislators today are women.
But there are also reasons for optimism, especially here in the heartland, where women are stepping up to demand equity in the workforce and in the halls of power.
Here are four signs of progress that we can build on as we strive to achieve equity for women.
1. Women are increasingly banding together to speak out and report sexual harassment in the workplace. This is essential to holding abusers accountable for their actions and sending a message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. One way to continue this progress is to expand access to the tools and information women need to identify and report sexual harassment when it happens. Women’s Foundation recently teamed up with community partners in Missouri to create an online resource so that employers and interns have the tools to report, identify and prevent sexual harassment.
2. Recent census data showed that the national gender pay gap decreased by the largest amount since 2007, with the female-to-male earnings ratio climbing to a record 80.5 percent. There is still more work to do, and by educating employers on best practices we can accelerate this progress and ensure that women finally receive equal pay for equal work.
3. More women are raising their hands to serve in leadership positions. Thousands of women are running for state, local and federal office. One of our signature initiatives, the Appointments Project™, has received more than 700 applications and placed more than 82 women on boards and commissions in Missouri and Kansas. In Kansas City alone, thanks to the leadership of Mayor Sly James, the percentage of women on city boards and commissions has gone from 33 percent to 42 percent in just three years. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens also recently delivered on his commitment to appoint 30 women to statewide board and commission seats in 25 days in honor of Women’s Foundation’s 25th anniversary.
4. Women are also starting businesses at a faster rate than their male counterparts. Since 2007, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States has increased by a whopping 45 percent. Entrepreneurship is a critical avenue for women to pursue high-paying careers that are more rewarding and more flexible. Sensible reforms to occupational licensing regulations could empower even more women to enter new professions and start their own businesses.
There are times when challenges facing women feel insurmountable. That's when it's most important to stay focused on our solutions, and the progress we can make – and are making. Whether it's putting a stop to sexual harassment in our workplaces, or closing the pay and leadership gaps, we're working towards solutions that will economically empower women in the Midwest and beyond. Only then, will true equity be a possibility.
Read the original Huffington Post blog post here.