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Corporate feminism has sold us a lie about women in the workplace, says Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani

March 11, 2022, 1:30 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The House votes to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, Hungary gets its first female president, and we need a new definition of working motherhood. Have a great weekend.

Today’s guest essay comes to us from Reshma Saujani. The Girls Who Code and Marshall Plan for Moms founder is the author of a new book, “Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think).” In this piece, she argues that mainstream feminism hasn’t attained the protections and support women need, and that we need a new definition of working motherhood in America. 

– A new definition.  Over the course of the past two decades, corporate feminism has savvily sold us a pop version of feminist progress, pack­aged in pink pussy hats, Notorious RBG swag, glossy pictures of women on corporate homepages, and gauzy campaigns to support Women’s History Month. But don’t be fooled. We had all that and the workplace still didn’t work for women.

When a top manager signals, however indirectly, that a woman’s pregnancy and motherhood responsibilities are a “burden” on other staffers because she needs to pause a meet­ing to answer a text from her kid, or that being “off duty” (and off email) in the evenings and on weekends makes you a less-than-ideal employee or that a staff meeting is more important than picking up a sick child from school, we need to call this out for what it is: corrosive practices that drive women from the workforce.

We need to rethink the outdated economic models that have erased the impact of the essential work traditionally done by women. We need to cre­ate workplaces that are not built around only men. We need to start talking about and to corporate leaders, managers, work­ers, political leaders, and policymakers who need to radically redefine the workplace so it works for women. And we need to do it now.

“Pay Up: The Future Of Women And Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think)” by Reshma Saujani.
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

As we inch our way out of what was hopefully the worst of the pandemic, a new working model that promises “flexibility” has arisen, yet this new paradigm threatens to further derail the mental health of working mothers, demanding they are now on 24/7 in both parenting and work roles. Working from home for women is vastly different than it is for men thanks to deeply ingrained inequalities in expected gender roles. A crying tod­dler, for instance, is far more likely to interrupt a woman’s Zoom call, and a woman is more likely to pause her day to do domestic chores to keep the household running.

It’s no won­der McKinsey cited a gross disparity in 2020 between the sat­isfaction of women and men working remotely; 79% of men reported having a positive experience working from home compared to 37% of women.

Without making deep systemic changes, we risk the mass exodus of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic being only the tip of the economic iceberg. Today there are still 1.1 million fewer women in the workforce than there were two years ago (men have recouped all their pandemic related job losses). One in three women is considering leaving the workforce or changing jobs.

The industries that employ mostly women, includ­ing education, childcare, healthcare, domestic service, restau­rants, and retail could continue to be crippled. The vicious cycle will then grow wider and deeper as the dearth of childcare options forces even more working mothers to leave their jobs. For the 40% of American women for whom working is a necessity for survival, this is no joke. A world in which women no longer have enough income to be economically independent is pretty scary.

Consider a workforce stripped of its diversity, in which women’s voices no longer make up half the conversation. As of 2019, women were on track to make up a majority of the college-educated labor force. Losing that level of talent not only wipes out 30 years of hard-won progress for women in the workforce and poses a human resources risk; it severely impacts workplace innovation, a crucial element for business survival. A study released in 2019 by Accenture drew a direct line between equality and innovation, reporting that innovation is six times higher at organizations with more equal
workplace cultures.

We need to act fast to create better working conditions for moms, whether they work from home, in an office or a factory, to reverse the stunning trend of women exit­ ing the workforce by the millions. We started the conversation—now it’s time for women, families, employers, and policymakers to come together to demand a new definition of working motherhood in America.

Excerpted from Pay Up, published by One Signal/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2022 by Reshma Saujani.

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Overdue reauthorization. The House approved the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as part of a $1.5 trillion spending package. The legislation is expected to pass in the Senate. VAWA expired in 2019. New York Times

- Presidential first. Katalin Novák was elected by the Hungarian parliament as the first female president of Hungary. Novák has been a key deputy to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and is likely to support his agenda. Guardian

- Smart and single. Bad news: being smart and single can hurt young women's careers, according to new academic research. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and George Washington University examined both perceptions of single people and the careers of people with MBAs. Women who were single and earned high business school entrance exam scores experienced more career setbacks than any other group. Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Kristin Sharp will be CEO of Flex, a new industry association for the app-based economy. Former Beautycounter exec Lindsay Dahl joins Ritual as chief impact officer. Expa promoted Yuri Namikawa to partner. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Not-so-safe sport. Efforts to rid the competitive equestrian world of prominent figures accused of sexual harassment have not been easy among the "insular, almost snobbish community." Instead, many in horseback riding have opted to stand by men who were banned by SafeSport for sexual misconduct. Bloomberg

- PM apology. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologized to a group of Greenlandic Inuit who were "removed from their families and taken to Copenhagen more than 70 years ago as part of an experiment to create a Danish-speaking elite." The PM told survivors and their families that what happened to them was "inhumane." Guardian

- Take two. The trial of Sunny Balwani, the Theranos executive accused of fraud alongside founder Elizabeth Holmes, began with jury selection on Wednesday. As part of the defense in Holmes now-wrapped trial, the Theranos founder claimed that she suffered abuse in her relationship with Balwani, which he denied. Balwani will now defend himself against the same 12 charges Holmes faced. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Abbott Elementary partners with Scholastic to provide free book fairs at underfunded schools Variety

Why is it so hard for married women to keep female friendships? Elle

The Bridgerton effect is real, but Simone Ashley is ready Glamour

PARTING WORDS

"It didn’t kill me, and it gave me that much more energy to go build again."

-Outdoor Voices founder Ty Haney on her exit from the brand. She's building a new platform for blockchain-based customer rewards. 

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