We Need to Put More Women Front and Center in Public Dialogue | Opinion

In 1974, after I successfully managed an upset victory in a hot congressional race, the late Ruth Mandel, who co-founded the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, called to tell me I was now a role model and needed to tell my story in front of as many women as possible. At the time "role model," as I was described in a media profile, also meant that I was called a "perky suburban matron." While I did live in the suburbs no one would ever think to call me "perky" or at the age of 31, a matron.

Ten years later, after I successfully executed the complicated task of delegate petitioning that put Walter Mondale on the ballot in every Pennsylvania district, the man I reported to told me he was "surprised and amazed" that I could be tough enough to accomplish this task.

Repeatedly during and after the Bill Bradley for President campaign, I was asked incredulously, "You are the national campaign manager?"

Over the years, I served on numerous boards and all too often elicited an eyeroll and groan of "there she goes again" because of my emphasis on how policies and practices would affect women.

I suffered the slights silently because of the constraints of ambition which inhibited confronting those in charge.

Since entering my 70s eight years ago, I have been flattered by those that call me a trailblazer. However, I think "survivor of gender inequality" is a more apt title.

I waited until I was post-ambition to turn my inner turmoil and outrage into public action, when I no longer cared who I offended (or DGAF in today's parlance). Like many of my ilk after their last full time job, I landed at Harvard's Institute of Politics as a Fellow in 2009 and went on to teach at Harvard Kennedy School in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the institute hosted its quadrennial presidential campaign review. The review culminates in a discussion on the stage of the Kennedy Forum where students get to hear from heads of state, corporate CEOs and the like. I looked up at the stage to see five white men—yes, five white men—pontificating about Barack Obama's re-election. It sent me around the bend. I went on Facebook to declare that I was skipping the event because "where were the women?"

The response to my post included comments by some folks important to the Kennedy School so I was rebuked, "How could you do this?" to which I responded, "It was easy. There were five white men on stage."

I turned to women half my age to ask if this was unusual and discovered not only was it "usual," the fact was if they spoke up they were disparaged, dismissed and not invited back. Those conversations were followed by an increased awareness of what was going on around me: an important anthology about politics that had dozens of male authors and only one woman; ads for major conferences featuring all men on stage and lists of "best ofs" that couldn't seem to find any women to include.

I set out to give women the power that men have—the power of public presence. It's about who's talking and who commands the public stage because they most often drive our world, politics and the economy.

My answer was GenderAvenger, a non-profit community I founded dedicated to ensuring that women are always part of the public dialogue. We created simple tools anyone could use to measure gender equity, from the number of women on stage to the amount of time a man spent talking in a meeting. These tools create data that can start the conversation that begins the process of change. They give credibility to the arguments being made by those who used to be defined by "there she goes again" syndrome.

A woman walks in NYC
A woman walks in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

It's abundantly clear that as essential as legislative victories are, as helpful as more women on boards are and as important as the increased number of women elected are, real change and power is moving at far too slow a pace. In fact, in 2020 white men still dominated the guest slots on the five big Sunday political news shows, and women were only 32 percent of all guests. Zero countries have achieved gender equality according to U.N. Women. My friend Ruth Mandel would be dismayed to learn that data from the center she founded show women today only make up 26.7 percent of the U.S. Congress. In 1974, that figure was 3 percent. Progress has been made, but not enough.

And yet, the tide is in our favor. The pandemic has created a moment where people are desperate for change and business in particular is willing to listen. No one needs to suffer in silence, or duck rather than shout, in fear of the consequences to career goals that depend on the approval of men.

This moment needs to be led by those ready to grab the mantle of the new reality. So while I am looking back, I am looking forward to joining forces with The Female Quotient and handing off the work of GenderAvenger to younger, diverse leadership with Amber Coleman-Mortley at the helm. Women in the midst of their ambition will trailblaze into the future, who will speak out and enlist men and women everywhere to:

—Accept no excuses for "manels," where there are no women. Men can proactively ask who will be sharing the stage with them and refuse a speaking engagement if there is no women representation.

—Remind decision makers that the public face of an organization is key to its reputation. Leaving out the perspective of half the world's population at sponsored events or in the C-Suite sends a message to women consumers and clients about how they are valued.

—Act whether you have five or 500,000 followers on Twitter because you've got allies behind you. When you see inequity, a tweet, a retweet, a like, or comments that tag others in posts may take only 30 seconds, but it hits event organizers where it hurts and forces change.

Simply, the answer is dare to demand.

Gina Glantz is the founder of GenderAvenger. She is the former campaign manager of Bill Bradley for President and past chair of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.