Gender equality is when people of all genders have equal rights and opportunities. Thankfully, to many these days, such a definition of fairness often elicits a “Well, of course.” Gender equality seems obvious, like it should already exist.
For a variety of reasons, being a woman and a gender nonconforming person severely limits your opportunities in the world and changes how others treat you. This has been the case for centuries, and unfortunately, it will remain so for most of our lifetimes, even with continued work toward closing the gender pay gap, shattering glass ceilings, uprooting subconscious bias, embracing intersectionality, and spearheading other initiatives supporting a more equal world.
If you find that disappointing...same. But, the silver lining of such a depressing reality is that “duh” moment I mentioned before. That leaders today see the need for and validity of gender equality is progress of its own kind. Back in the 1970s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to convince a wary Supreme Court that sex discrimination even existed, and now five decades later, it’s not only an accepted truth but one companies and countries are aiming to address through policy. Fifty years is not a long time for such mass social progress.
Still skeptical? Here are some nuggets of proof. We asked these company leaders to answer, “What does gender equality mean to you?” You’re going to like what they had to say.
20 leaders on what gender equality means to them
Alana Karen, Author and Director at Google
“For me, across every aspect of equality, it's never again thinking about whether we're paid less, listened to less, promoted less, respected less, or given less access to opportunity because of what we are and not what we do.”
Jodi Long, Lowe’s HR Director, Field Operations, Lowe’s Home Improvement
“It means equal, or the same for women as men, regardless of the situation or opportunity. It means that a woman’s passion for excellence and productivity is not mistaken for attitude. It means there is no more conversation around a ‘glass ceiling’ because they no longer exist, and the person with the best experiences and abilities can obtain the role, the job, the opportunity they want. Ultimately it means that as I raise my daughter, she has exactly the same opportunities as anyone else and gender isn’t even a factor.”
Sarah Alter, President and CEO, Network of Executive Women
“At the Network of Executive Women, our focus is on Advancing All Women, and that means representation for all women, not just the rarified few. Equality can’t come without parity—without women in the C-Suite in equal proportion to men. But it also can’t come without women of color advancing at the same rate as the rest of us. Equality means parity, but it also means diversity—it means representation in all its fullest, most robust forms.”
Myesha B. McClendon, LEED AP, VP of Aviation at Milhouse Engineering and Construction Inc.
“Diversity in the workplace fuels creativity and innovation. It allows the opportunity to get all perspectives. I have worked to ensure that the conversation is how we can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace especially in executive leadership positions. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I understand the importance of supporting and advocating on behalf of women in engineering, and I am grateful for the female engineers that paved the way for me. Because of this, I started a scholarship fund for African-American women in engineering to encourage them to pursue degrees in engineering, which will assist with increasing diversity in engineering and in the workplace.”
Emma Duncan, Managing Editor, Schaeffer’s Investment Research
“To me, gender equality runs in nearly all facets of life. For women, the most prevalent location gender equality (or lack thereof) tends to take place is at work. This begins with the education process for many of us, and bleeds into pay, harassment, and difficulty moving higher in our career, comparatively to a (usually white) man. Being raised by two strong, educated, driven women gave me a unique perspective that I’ve never taken for granted, in building and working toward a career of my own. From a societal standpoint, as an upper management employee at a small company with several women at the helm, I want to say I am ‘lucky’ to be where I am at. However, success for women in the workplace does not come from ‘luck.’ It comes from perseverance, grit, humility, strength, and confidence from within, and most importantly, it comes from women who have preceded us and climbed their way to the top—readying themselves to give other fiercely driven, organized leaders their own opportunities to lead. I hope I can do the same for other women, as I continue to build and write my own story. I believe we will one day overcome gender inequality, but until then, we will continue our work by lifting one another higher. Besides, in 2021, we have already seen the biggest glass ceiling shattered so far, as our country swore in the first female, Black, Indian, Vice President; Kamala Harris. As someone with their own daughter, to be able to show her not just my own example of equality and leadership, but that of the world she is being raised in, fills me with hope.”
Mary Leigh Phillips, CEO, DriveTime
“Equality is about more than just the fair and respectful treatment of all team members, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic background, etc. It’s also about creating opportunities, celebrating our differences, and embracing each individual for what they bring to the team. As a female leader and working mom, gender equality is especially important to me. I’m proud to lead an organization that demonstrates diversity at all levels of leadership.”
Valerie Adams Henderson, VP of Communications, Carewell
“To me, gender equality means that the unique needs and aspirations of women and men are valued, considered, and—most importantly—rewarded equally. It means that women earn 100 percent of our male counterparts’ salaries, not 80 percent. It means that women make up 50 percent of leadership positions (RBG might have argued for 100 percent). I'm fortunate that at Carewell, our leadership team is 80 percent female. For most companies, the reality is more like 25 percent.
It means that my 7-year-old stepdaughter, who has the brain of a 40-year-old engineer and can kick anyone’s butt in speed-Lego-building, doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to be a kindergarten teacher because then I can spend more time with my children.’
Not that there’s anything wrong with being a kindergarten teacher. My own fiercely independent single mom was one and her career did, indeed, allow her to spend more time with me than many other careers at that time. But I want Gracie to choose a path based on her passions and aptitude, not the idea of children. My teenage boys have never once thrown out a career option followed by the words ‘…because it would allow me to spend more time with my family,’ and I want the same for her.”
Dave Hunt, Founder & CEO, Crossrope
"On a surface level, we are clear, consistent, and convicted that all individuals at Crossrope are treated equally, with dignity, respect, regardless of gender. We view this as common sense, as our ingrained way of being, but with acknowledgement, empathy, and disappointment that gender equality has not been the historical norm. On a deeper level, we understand that combating implicit or subconscious bias requires concerted effort and intentionality. To us, this does not mean hitting quotas or seeking virtue-signaling, 'check-in-the-box' initiatives. It does mean creating a culture and internal systems that support our point of view that a combination of our core values, merit, diversity, and equality of opportunity will help to create a virtuous cycle that advances gender equality within Crossrope and ultimately in the lives of our customers, as well."
Amy Reichanadter, Chief People Officer, Databricks
“Gender equality means creating an environment where everyone has the same opportunities for growth and advancement, and where equal pay for equal work is the standard. Understanding and meeting the needs of employees, which may be unique based on gender, is important. In parallel, a commitment to gender equality also requires regular assessments of all programs and pay practices to ensure they are bias-free. These steps will help support an environment where people can bring their unique talents and perspectives to work and be supported regardless of gender, to contribute the best work of their careers.”
Siska Concannon, VP of Marketing, Penn Interactive Ventures
“In order to achieve gender equality, we need to achieve gender equity first. The recognition that women, particularly non-white women, are not starting on an equal platform to men, and the process to provide proportional representation to the same opportunities. In the online gambling industry, to see more women in decision-making positions, to see more diversity-leading product development, marketing, finance, engineering, compliance, and strategy would also ensure we as an industry are building products and speaking to an audience that is much more broad than simply males. This has positive benefits across the spectrum of industry in ensuring women have a strong & powerful voice to further shape innovation and drive market expansion opportunities.”
Lynda Harden, Chief Operating Officer, Global Delivery, Radancy
“Defining gender equality is important; however, my desire for it stems from a lofty aspiration for human equality. In our efforts toward this goal, there is a need to prioritize key groups and address specific issues. My view has broadened to include all women, trans, and gender diverse people under that definition. In my profession, equality means basing decisions and actions on one’s character, skills and training, talents, qualifications, and results with no weight given to gender. Equity can then be measured through equal access to job opportunities, leadership positions, salary parity, and more. When hiring, developing, and promoting, I aim to prioritize the work of gender equality every day. And it is an ever-evolving process. I have been heard many times saying that ‘fair is not even,’ and I believe it applies to all aspects of life. It’s less about treating everyone the same, but ensuring that the needs, desires, and voices of everyone are valued equally.”
Katalin Juhász, Sales Development Manager, Kinsta
"Gender, I think, is an important part of everyone’s life; it defines us, it’s essential, and it’s a huge part of our personality. It should not be suppressed but celebrated. Respect, dignity, and diversity always come to me when I hear the expression ‘gender equality.’ Gender and gender equality are not something that should be defined along constraints or barriers, and that’s why I think the concept of gender equality is an amazing idea, but generally, there’s still a long way for us to go, learn and evolve."
Georgina Campbell Flatter, Director of Business Development, Emerging Markets, ClimaCell
“I like to think about gender equality from the perspective of female empowerment; And female empowerment is a necessary foundation for a peaceful and prosperous world. Who cares if you’re the only female in the room, as long as you feel empowered as a woman (or whoever you are) to be you and to be strong, to know your voice is being heard and that you can make a difference. We have work to do but, with the incredible female leadership I see day to day, I believe hope is around the corner. In fact.. I don't just "believe" hope is around the corner, I know hope is around the corner!”
Tanya Smallwood, Director, Sales Enablement, Frame.io
“A simple definition of equality goes something like, ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.’ For me, gender equality means operating in a place of justice for all women. It's about naming and addressing the systems (economic, educational, financial, health, social, etc.) that create inequity in the first place so that access to tools and opportunities are not just available but are also free from blockers.
We have a difficult road ahead of us to create a more just world, but I'm hopeful. Today's companies can and should be at the forefront of gender and trans equity. To start, like other strategic goals, companies can make gender equity part of their business goals. Diverse and inclusive teams make better business decisions, plus it's just the right thing to do. There are so many meaningful, creative, and practical ways to show women we are serious about our place in this world. There are no excuses for why we can't create a free, safe, and more just world for all women.”
Dorit Liberman, Chief Human Resources Officer, Markforged
“To me, gender equality is the cultural mindshift required so that women’s ideas, thoughts, and innovations are respected and valued at the same level as men’s.
My mom, who has always been a strong professional and role model to me, taught me from a young age that the ‘glass ceiling’ is a real thing and I would have to work very hard to break through it. Watching her determination and drive in life and career has inspired me to do the same.
Women should have the same opportunities from the get-go as men. They should be paid equally and should not have to invest more time or sacrifice more than men or even change their personalities to behave like men in order to get similar opportunities.
True gender equality will exist when we no longer seek to define it, when gender plays no role in how decisions are made or ideas are valued, and where more than half the population isn’t ignored for their input and thoughts.”
Gina Perini, Chair of the Board of Directors & Chief Executive Officer, Somos
“Gender equality means human equality. It is critical that we create companies where people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. We are all affected by gender inequality—women, men, trans and gender diverse people, children, and families—in that it prevents our society and our companies from thriving.
Having a diverse team has been a strategic priority from the moment that Somos was created. We believe deeply that by bringing diverse voices, perspectives and experiences to the table, we will be a more innovative and high-performing company.
And it’s not just good for society, it’s also good for business. A misconception about gender equality is that it only benefits women, but the data shows that this is not true. McKinsey reports that, around the world, gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to earn more than their competitors. And, just by adding more women to the workforce, the global GDP could go up 26 percent. The data makes it clear that gender equality is the engine for the global workforce.
Yet diversity isn’t just about bringing together people from diverse genders, races, ethnicities, religions, experiences, and perspectives, it is also about creating a culture where all voices are heard, respected, and valued. We strive to create a culture and value system that does just for everyone on our team. With diversity as a strategic asset, Somos knows that it will thrive today and into the future.”
Taylor Wolf, District Sales Manager, Columbia Distributing
“The way an organization knows they’ve achieved a truly equitable environment is twofold: first, when all groups are fairly and equally represented across the organization at all levels, and second, when all individuals of those groups feel respected, heard, and know the value they bring to the team.”
Marina Carreker, President, Bandwidth
“When businesses actively encourage everyone to lead a full life both inside and outside the office, it creates an expectation that bringing your whole self to work isn’t just acceptable, it adds value. If we support working families, we remove so many of the obstacles that keep women from succeeding at every level. I knew I’d found the right place during my first week at Bandwidth when a male colleague opened a team meeting by sharing how much fun he’d had taking the previous day off to volunteer at his child’s kindergarten field day, and how grateful he was to work at a company that encouraged him to do that.
Being a mom to young children is a huge part of who I am. The fact that I can show up at work as my full self—without ever worrying that I’ll appear less committed or serious than my colleagues—has allowed me to do the best work of my life.”
Keaty Gross, Director, Engineering, Frame.io
“Gender equality means that both aptitude and success are measured in the same way, regardless of gender expression or identification. There are days when this may feel out of reach, but anyone can practice it personally without waiting for the entire world to embrace it—simply hold yourself accountable for holding people to the same standards. Consistently check in with yourself on whether you would react the same to a person if their gender (or any other demographic) were different. Skills shouldn't be judged as an innate talent, allowing them to be out of reach for some but predictable and unappreciated in others. Opportunity shouldn’t be restricted based on preconceived notions of which type of person is likely to thrive if given a chance. If upon reflection you feel that an achievement has to be measured differently in order to be fair, then that’s a good time to either check your biases or reevaluate the system that is requiring unequal standards in the first place.”
Dana Fitzgerald, Vice President, Creative & Delivery Operations, Radancy
“On its surface, gender equality means pay equity, access to health care and an equitable division of domestic labor. It means seeing more women in spaces typically perceived as male-dominated. But this past year, it has become increasingly clear to me that the only way to have gender equity is to have racial equity. As we continue the conversation around a more gender equal world, those of us who are white women must ensure that intersectionality is at the forefront of these discussions and no longer an afterthought.”