Maddy Dychtwald

The Pink Elephant in the Room

In Influence on April 2, 2010 at 5:10 am

It’s a curious thing, how a change so massive can still take us by surprise.

100 years ago, telephones were scarce, TVs not invented, and apples just a tasty fruit.  Women couldn’t vote, and in many countries, couldn’t even own property, especially if they were married.

But for all the technological and political change the world has seen in the past century, the single most powerful economic change has not been caused by technology or the rise of developing nations.  It’s been created by women.

Over the past two decades, “women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or…China or India,” wrote the Economist in 2006.   Today, the average American family has two cars, many TVs and countless technological toys.  We couldn’t afford half those luxuries without the power of the working women.

And yet, it still astonishes me how invisible this massive change seems.  In the U.S, we take for granted that women work—but we don’t consider child care a tax-deductible business expense.  We know that women work harder and longer than men, when you count  all that cooking, cleaning and laundry—but most poor people in the U.S. (and globally) are women.  We see a few women at the top of corporations and many in the middle, but most women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man does in a similar job, even when controlling for education and experience.

In short, although women’s economic power has grown enormously, we often don’t take notice. Why? Because, to date, little of that economic power has translated into social or political influence.  We’re earning money, but it still feels like a man’s world.  This is especially true in the United States, which lags far behind other nations on global indices of gender equality.  Women are 20% of elected officials, 11% of business leaders, just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and only minor figures in the media that covers them — “female bylines at major magazines are still outnumbered by seven to one”, write Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball.

But all that’s finally starting to change.  After decades of building up our earning power, hoarding our economic force, we’re about to spend our capital.  Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, women are unleashing their influence on the world.  Maybe it’s by having dad pick up the kids, maybe it’s by making a microloan to a woman half a world away, but gradually, small changes are accumulating, like a thousand water drops seeping, creeping, eroding a mighty mountain.  Together, we’re reshaping our world from a man’s world to, eventually, a partnership society that, one day, will work as well for women as men.

My co-author, Christine Larson, and I started following those changes in our book INFLUENCE: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better, which Hyperion publishes this May.  But things are changing far faster than any book can follow, especially given the long lead time of the publishing industry.

So, we’re going to track those changes here, minute by minute, showing how women are starting to use their influence to change the world.

Please help me.  I want to know how you’re using your economic influence—to educate your daughter, to reinvent the division of labor in your house or at your company, to help other people around the world.

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