Gender Equity Is More Than A Maternity Policy

The ITA aims to educate women AND men on these key issues

Aimee Schuster | Principal, AHS Consulting | Co-Chair

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

My father took me to open my first bank account at 10 years old. The experience was the first of many through which dad pushed me and my sister to be as self sufficient as my brother — even if I had only a few dollars to invest, he felt it was important that his daughter not rely on a man financially. My dad was the very first man to be my mentor, or more specifically, my sponsor. Looking back, I wonder: did he champion other women? At work? In business dealings? Did he lunch every day with the same group of guys chatting about the stock market and building the relationships that furthered the business back at the office? I have no idea. We never discussed it. I assumed that, as a dad with daughters, he wanted to further women’s success globally.

Even the best intentioned dads/men are sometimes oblivious to the echo chambers built around them. Many executives, for example, equate parental leave policies (some of which are very generous and do address a real problem women and parents face in the workplace) as evidence that their organizations are, “female friendly startup environments.” What they often fail to understand, however, is that gender discrimination happens in lots of different, often subtle and unintentional ways: women being left out out of lunches, afterwork cocktail hour, or business pitches. Men don’t ostracize women on purpose. Often times, they don’t think to invite them in the first place.

Those moments of being disregarded or excluded are meaningful, sometimes hurtful and they also contribute to a male-dominated corporate culture in an industry in which women hold a mere 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley. As a corollary, the dearth of women in leadership positions means there are even fewer able to take advantage of large option/stock packages…that lead to the liquidity events….that yield future investors. So how do we change this? The reality is that the issue is complex, touchy, difficult, and starts with admitting that women can’t solve the problem alone. Men cannot be ostracized from the conversation or bashed for being insensitive. Both genders deserve more education on how to reach out, across, up, and down to support one another.

When my dad took me to open that bank account in 1988, women had only had equal access to consumer credit for a little over a decade (Equal Credit & Opportunity Act). Before 1975, women could be denied a credit card just for being female. That bank account was a fundamental and important step not only into adulthood, but also toward the economic independence so crucial to women’s rights. On the other hand, a bank account was merely a tiny step toward economic equality across genders. Parental leave is also an important step, but still only marginally disrupts the concentration of men in the seats of power at technology companies. In other words, maternity leave is necessary but not sufficient.

As a part of the ITA’s Women Influence Chicago Initiative, I want to help educate men AND women so that we can start to remove the echo chambers that too often leave women out of important events and conversations. I want Chicago companies to be known as ones that build more inclusive environments at the entry, middle and most senior levels of the organization. As a community, I want us to stop ‘checking boxes’ and accepting that one policy or one initiative is the answer to gender equity. The solution lies in opening dialogue and having the conversations that my dad and I didn’t: about why historically things have been unfair and it is time to start making changes.

Aimee Schuster is Principal of AHS Consulting and Co-Chair of the Women Influence Chicago Initiative, powered by the Illinois Technology Center.