Perspectives

Joy McBrien

How can Minnesota best support women? … Ask a woman

Achieving economic equity for women is an institutional problem that needs the attention of men and women

By Joy McBrien
12-23-2015

Let’s start with the celebration. Minnesota is ranked No. 1 in the nation — again —as the best state for women. Woohoo! [Insert band-playing and confetti-tossing!] In 2015, Minnesota earned this ranking based off research conducted by statusofwomendata.org on health and well-being, political participation, work and family and poverty and opportunity. 

However, if you’re like me, that ranking will cause you to wrinkle your brow with confusion and skepticism. Really?! The best state for women?

Here’s the reality: In Minnesota, we can celebrate because we pay our female counter parts 80 cents to the male dollar.  Drum roll please — that means we are 2 cents above the national average, based on statistics from statusofwomendata.org. But women still aren’t being paid fairly, and in the workplace she’s likely to receive comments on her looks rather than her intelligence. It’s still rare to see a woman in a defined leadership position; in fact, according to NYTimes.com, nationally, there are fewer women CEOs than there are CEOs named John. And, while we ladies make up 51% of the population, we only hold 33% of the seats in the Minnesota Legislature (though statusofwomendata.org tells us women of color hold no statewide elected offices), and women are 26% of our state’s entrepreneurs. Further, Minnesota is the second worst state for Black Americans, based on an MSN article listing the five worst states for black Americans. And still, Minnesota is doing the best for our nation’s women? Uffda!

This is a systemic problem. We trust that Minnesota companies aren’t intentionally holding women back, but still we’re not seeing definitive gender parity in higher level leadership roles in this great state. This not only prevents talented women from advancing organizations, it also hurts our communities. Globally, women invest 267% more in their own communities than their male counterparts (U.N.). By empowering women to take on positions of leadership, we can positively transform our communities and effectively close the gender gap. When women are in leadership positions, they invest in girls’ education, reduce sexism in the workplace, choose more ethical means of sourcing products and tangibly empower women through mentorship and role modeling.

Even with the No. 1 ranking, I’m asking and hoping Minnesota leaders do not stop their efforts to fully engage women within the workforce. I truly believe creativity and innovation come out of diverse inputs, thus it is impossible to achieve the highest level of success when women and minority populations are not present in leadership circles. It is diversity that expands our minds, pushes new perspectives forward, and allows us to thrive in a way we could never achieve in uniformity. Additionally, if you’re selling products, I guarantee you’ll find greater success if you start involving the gender that is responsible for 85% of consumer purchases.

What I’ve learned on my path to creating my social enterprise Fair Anita is:  It’s going to take everyone, no matter your gender identity, to create equity. We all must reevaluate our organizations, especially by recognizing inadvertent bias in the workplace. Where are women missing from the table? How can we support the women around us to succeed? This is the foundation of Fair Anita’s mission: to build a “women invest in other women” culture.  For me that means investing in the future of women by creating economic opportunity.

Where to Start

Women: Invest in one another’s success. Make a conscious effort to change our existing “women hate on other women” culture to a place where women invest in one another’s brilliance, abilities and potential. When we surround ourselves with a community of supporters, we all win.
While we owe much gratitude to the women in Minnesota and their countless allies who have fought for equality for generations and have created our No. 1 status today; let’s not assume the work is over.  Minnesota can do better. Minnesota must do better. I look forward to being among the people that make this happen.

Men: Start with your language; are you still calling grown women “girls?” Understand that your choice of words plays a big role in creating a culture of respect. Challenge men around you to give women opportunities to lead. Look for ways to bring women into the conversation, and once they’re there, make sure you give them the space to share their opinions while you genuinely listen.

Bio

Joy McBrien is the Founder and CEO of Fair Anita, a social enterprise that empowers women around the world through dignified jobs and fair trade relationships by selling ethically produced jewelry and accessories.

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