Last week, I was having dinner with friends when the topic of International Women’s Day came up. In observance of the day — which is meant to commemorate the struggle for equal rights — women around the world pledged to go on strike from work to force employers to recognize the impact they have on both the economy and society in general.
The idea left me feeling conflicted — and I wasn’t the only one.
Jennifer Denard, founder of #HealthITChicks, expressed my sentiments perfectly in a blog piece. “While I understand the premise behind the strike, I would argue that today — and every day, in fact — women need to show up rather than opt out. Today is a day you can use to highlight the strength, intelligence, and compassion of women by serving others.”
If we ever want to close the salary gap and help advance more women to leadership roles, showing up is exactly what we need to do, I told my friends. “It’s mind-blowing that we still don’t make as much as men,” I added, assuming we were all on the same page.
I assumed wrong.
“Yeah, but is that really true?” one of my friends asked, skeptically.
Now, for those of you who have never met me, I have no poker face whatsoever. Every emotion is presented and accounted for, right on my face.
“Um, yes,” I said, picking my jaw up from the floor. “It is true.”
Normally I don’t like to talk politics with friends, but to me, this isn’t politics. This is life. And so I rattled off some of the statistics I had read, like the fact that women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, despite receiving more college and graduate degrees than men (Institute for Women’s Policy Research). If nothing changes, it will take women 44 years to reach pay parity.
And it’s not just about money. Although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs in America, they lag way behind when it comes to leadership positions, with just 14.6 percent holding executive offices and 4.6 percent holding CEO status. In healthcare, women account for 78.4 percent of the labor force, but just 14 percent of executive office seats, according to the Center for American Progress.
Doesn’t sound like progress to me. It sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.
In fact, even in our own backyard, disparities exist. A HIMSS report found that in 2015, women made just 78 percent of what their male colleagues did in health IT jobs, representing a three percent drop from 2006.
The good news is that we’re seeing a push to drive more young women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) fields, which have traditionally been dominated by men, and more awareness about the lack of women in leadership roles. At this year’s HIMSS conference, there were roundtables and sessions addressing the gender gap in health IT, and awards recognizing the most influential women in the field.
These are steps in the right direction, but we can’t lose momentum. More women must be encouraged to get into fields like computing and cybersecurity, where they are significantly outnumbered (women hold one-quarter of all computing jobs and just a tenth of cybersecurity jobs). The latter represents a huge area of opportunity, with data indicating that the demand for cybersecurity talent is expected to rise to six million by 2019.
As leaders, you have the power to move the needle by doing things like establishing mentoring programs for young women, taking a hard look at the percentage of female leaders in your organization, and encouraging open dialogue about the disparities that exist.
If we want to make it a better workplace for generations to come, we have to be willing to challenge the status quo and have uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be all in — whether we have a poker face, or not.