A key line from the recent and rather quietly received film Suffragette, bookended in the trailer by scenes of swinging billy clubs and exploding buildings, goes: “We break windows. We burn things.‘Cause war’s the only language men listen to.”
The movie depicts the often violent fight women in England waged to win the vote more than one hundred years ago. Contrast that with the relatively quiet, if active, conversation we’re having about women in the workplace today. We’re throwing words around. But are we making change?
The older generation of feminists may well be wondering why we aren’t all marching in the streets (or even making the effort to go see the movie, for that matter). After all, the latest in the many research reports that have fueled the conversation, this one from McKinsey & Company, finds that, at our current rate, “it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity.”
Imagine the trailer for the film about that struggle: A young actress playing Jennifer Lawrence sits before a laptop, writing a wage gap essay. A female manager looks, unsuccessfully, for the ladies’ restroom in the executive suite. While a newborn sleeps nearby, a husband and wife thank their lucky stars that Grandma is willing to care for the baby so they can both keep their jobs and avoid steep childcare costs.
Clearly, these are not the makings of an action-packed drama. Where’s the outraged commotion? Where are the gathering masses demanding change for the better?
The answer, of course, is online.
Certainly, there are intrepid advocates out in the actual streets holding signs that read “Fight for $15” and “Stop the War on Women.” But more often than not these days, instead of gathering on the steps of the Capitol or in living rooms to lick stamps, we’re filling out online forms.
You can sign your name in favor for paid leave on Change.org or the National Partnership for Women & Families site. You can share stories of struggling to make a living wage at Raise the Minimum Wage. You can advocate for high-quality childcare and pre-k with WithinReach. And if you want a soapbox for your particular women-in-the-workplace bailiwick, you can surely find a Twitter chat to join (try: #worktoequality, #WomenInFront, and #gendergap)—or kick up your own storm!
The idea behind this kind of online advocacy is the same as it was for our street-marching forebears: Speak collectively, and loudly enough, so that those in power will have no choice but to listen. But the Internet also bestows collective power on the masses to effect change themselves.
For instance, BuyUp Index lets women use their wallets to support other women. The app rates companies on their commitment to gender equality by examining workforce diversity, employee policies, and marketing tactics. In the future, BuyUp Index says it hopes to allow users to not only make spending decisions but also to “talk back to companies: to tell them what you like, and what you don’t.”
And at InHerSight, we’re giving women a platform to do that kind of talking back to employers while also helping fellow workers. Our goal is to reform employee policies and culture from the inside out by asking women, via a three-minute survey, to rate their own workplaces. Users can weigh in on 14 key factors, including development opportunities, family growth support, salary satisfaction, and flexible work hours.
At InHerSight, we’ve specifically set out to capture experiences, not statistics. We’re measuring the reality of our workplaces and what company policies and cultures actually mean for the women who are experiencing them. After all, just because a company has an established policy of flexible work schedules, for example, doesn’t mean that those who avail themselves of it aren’t penalized. And if you’re not measuring the real problem in real workplaces, then there’s no hope of finding a solution.
Ultimately, InHerSight is taking individual experiences that might be anecdotal on a small scale and raising them, through the cumulative capacity of the Internet, to the level of actionable data. And companies are listening. We field a steady stream of inquiries from companies seeking to understand how to use the collected data to make the improvements female employees are looking for.
There has always been power in numbers. We used to wield it in the streets. But now, online, we have a better tool for amassing both people and information. So perhaps today’s sticks and rocks are data. And rather than waging war, we are speaking in the change-making language of cold, hard facts.