It has been a tough couple of weeks for America and it has finally caught up with me. I usually sit down to write this blog with relish for whatever topic I have on my mind and sense of humor ready to go, but this week I can only think of dark things and many of them are still getting darker, it seems. My sense of humor has left the building.
With the fires raging in California’s North Bay Counties – not that far from where I live – it is devastating to see the impact on friends and on land that I have cherished and assumed will always be there. Several people I know have lost their homes and, while we can say “thank god they have their lives,” there is no escaping the trauma they have and will continue to experience. And this is only the disaster close to home. With the continuing struggles of those in Puerto Rico and Houston, Las Vegas and Mexico and elsewhere, it is really hard to sustain a positive attitude. It all feels a little apocalyptic and I don’t tend to think of myself as that prone to drama queen behavior. I think the drama is actually real right now and I am not a fan.
It has also been a very bad week for women in America. We have had rights to critical health needs revoked (e.g., elimination of mandatory coverage for birth control) and have had to listen to the horrific stories of Harvey Weinstein’s exploits. The latter is particularly annoying because it is written as a singular story, not as a clear trend about the behavior of those in power. In this same week, executives were fired from Fidelity and Amazon Studios for sexual harassment but we heard little about it. As you may recall, we had a spate of this in venture capital recently and also in Cable News.
A thousand points of evidence aren’t individual events – they are a damn trend. Given the number of events, I think we are talking a cultural norm. What the hell, people? And what is it with those that will cover up or turn their heads from the disgraceful, violent behavior of others? “If you see something, say something” is a phrase which has wider applicability than at airports. I had a friend ask me recently what I would do if I discovered similarly bad behavior and I can say without hesitation that I would report it. Because I have. That doesn’t make me a hero, it makes me rational and responsible. I beg more to join me in this vein.
I am glad women’s cries for help are finally being heard, though the lag time between complaint and action pains me to watch. No one waits around for the fire to put itself out in Sonoma – we need to do the same in corporate board rooms with regard to sexual harassment and other transgressions against women. Boards of Directors must adopt zero tolerance policies as well as charters that no settlements can be paid to anyone without board approval. No more hiding.
I saw a really good video by the actress Mayim Bialik talking about how she is hoping to ensure that the sons she raise aren’t going to join the ranks of those that instill fear in women. The line in it that really struck me was this one: “It is our job to do better than we can even imagine because we have inherited a broken world and it is our job to fix it. It is not your responsibility to complete the work but neither is it for you to ignore it.”
If we don’t learn, as a society, to treat women as equals, we will never solve the sexual predator problem, in my view. If women are lesser, they are lesser across the board and this plays itself out every day in every business in America. It is not always played out in sexual harassment, but it is almost always played out in unequal opportunity.
I went to see the movie Battle of the Sexes about the famous Billie Jean King v. Bobby Riggs contest and came away from it feeling enraged, not optimistic. A key story line in the movie is about King’s powerful efforts to create equity in opportunity and pay for women athletes. And while she succeeded in a few pockets (Grand Slam tournaments have equal pay), the truth remains that even now, nearly 45 years later, women tennis pros are STILL making far less money than the men. If you want to scream, note that in 2016, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, after defending their respective singles titles at the Western & Southern Open, earned $731,000 and $495,000, respectively. That’s right, people. And in the same year, Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., which IS an equal prize money event, resigned after saying that women players were “lucky” to be able to “ride on the coattails of the men.” As I said, it’s not just a sexual harassment thing. It’s a human rights thing. It’s a human decency thing.
And if you are still reading deep into my rant, and you are a healthcare person, how about this little factoid: In a study done by Doximity, which included input from 36,000 physicians, The data demonstrated that male doctors make, on average, more money than female doctors in every single specialty and every single metro area. I will not even delve into the fact that there are also studies demonstrating that female physicians tend to produce better clinical outcomes. We have all heard me rant before about the numbers of women who reach the CSuite so I won’t repeat them again.
So pardon me for being cranky today, but enough is enough. The fact that our so-called leadership in Washington DC saw fit to sign an Executive Order to nullify the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act, which was passed in 2014 to ensure companies given federal contracts are compliant with a various labor and civil rights laws, including two rules that advance the rights of female employees: wage transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, which are sometime referred to as “cover-up clauses.” I’m not, at this point, sure what exactly to do, but I’m going to keep trying. My efforts at CSweetener are a piece of that. My writing and public speaking is a piece of that. My actions as a responsible Board Member are a part of that. I ask that all of you continue to keep trying or start if you haven’t, because as Mayim Bialik so eloquently said, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work but neither is it for you to ignore it.”
We must do better. It’s incredibly great when people rise to the occasion during crises and become their better selves, as we have seen in the various disaster zones and after the disclosures about the numerous sexual predators in our midst. But it would be a whole lot better if people just acted that way most, if not all the time.
For my friends and the hundreds of thousands of others suffering in the fires, the hurricane zones and in Vegas, I am overwhelmed by sadness for what is happening to you and I hope you are surrounded by people seeking to do better.
And here are some stories that made me smile this week – the lights that broke through the dark – please feel free to share happy stories back! I’m sure we call can use them.