Dancer and choreographer Camille Brown on our stage in March 2016

Jump The Gap: Celebrating Women at TEDxBeaconStreet

Seventy-eight cents.

Five percent.

Nineteen percent.

Five thousand.

What are these numbers?

They represent statistics that have become familiar, almost exhaustively so. These statistics are so commonplace that they’re sometimes portrayed as issues themselves instead of symptoms of a larger problem.

But what do they say, really?

A woman makes, on average, seventy-eight cents for every dollar a man makes in the same job in the U.S.

Five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

Nineteen percent of U.S. Congressional representatives are women.

Five thousand women die each year in so-called “honor killings”.

Courtesy of the National Women’s History Project

March is Women’s History Month; March 8th, 2016 was International Women’s Day. As it frequently does on holidays, Google released an uplifting video, this one about young women and their dreams for the future. The girls in the video want to do things like play major league sports, travel to space, and work on global challenges like climate change and equal education.

But all the uplifting videos in the world won’t change the fact that we deliberately celebrate women’s history month because during the other eleven months of the year, women and their contributions to history are often dismissed. Five percent isn’t just the current proportion of female Fortune 500 CEOs, it’s the the highest proportion ever. Women’s History Month has been celebrated since 1981, and after 35 years, the admirable aspirations of the girls in the video still sound like a long shot. So what’s the problem?

Courtesy of the Silicon Valley Business Journal

The problem is that the good intentions of a few aren’t enough to change a cultural habit; everyone has to be in on the campaign. Google itself, despite evident good intentions, hasn’t been able to create an equitable workforce. Like at most Silicon Valley giants, its C-suite offices are filled almost entirely with men. This isn’t an indictment of Google, but rather an indication of a culture in the tech world that makes it harder for women to advance.

In fact, on a 2014 diversity scorecard for large tech companies, only two of the nine companies measured had overall workforces comprised of at least 40% women.

Only one of the eight companies on the list had more than 30% women tech employees.

You may say, “But this isn’t what Women’s History Month is about! It’s about celebrating the women in history and their achievements.”

I would argue that, in fact, these statistics should give us more cause to celebrate the month we have to recognize the extraordinary women who’ve contributed to our history.

The women of the 21st century face significant barriers to career advancement and equality, but women in prior centuries faced even steeper ones, and we have their courage to thank for the progress so far achieved.
Dr. Connie Trimble

At TEDxBeaconStreet, we are fortunate to have women leaders in our community who will surely join the ranks of those we celebrate each year in March. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on innovation and leadership. Connie Trimble is working on a cure for HPV, the virus that causes a large majority of cervical cancers. Lisa Nip is researching the genomics to support human habitation on other planets. Rachel Pritzker is advocating for nuclear energy as a cleaner, safer, more ecologically responsible fuel source.

We are immensely proud of these women, as we are of all the others who’ve stood on our stage. We hope that their fearlessness and their brilliance inspire others to reach similar heights, and to tackle some of the “big picture” problems we face.

But while you’re searching for your “big problem” to tackle, think about the gaps: the twenty-two cents women lose per dollar in salary; the 162 women who would need to be elected to achieve gender parity in Congress; the 230 women who would need to be promoted to achieve gender parity among Fortune 500 CEOs; and the 5,000 women whose potential we’ll never know.

TEDxBeaconStreet is committed to putting ideas into action, tackling the world’s big problems with ingenuity and passion. We’re committed to the ideas of our speakers and the excellence they bring to their work. We’re proud to support these extraordinary women, and we can’t wait to see who’s up on our stage in the future.