Yesterday was Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s last day on the bench. For the past few decades, the Supreme Court with Justice Kennedy as the “swing vote (breaking 4–4 ties as the moderate 9th Justice) has largely protected the critical rights of women. As a woman, a mother of two girls, and a veteran business leader, I’m concerned about the future. The Court handles dozens of issues important to women, and soon we simply won’t know what to expect.
Of course, top on everyone’s minds are women’s reproductive rights. We’ve all had conversations over the past few weeks about what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Without the constitutional right to make our own healthcare decisions, some women might experience the 1960s all over again, when illegal abortions caused a sixth of all pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths.
There’s much else that could change, too. Take equal pay for women’s work. A U.S. circuit court took a major step forward in April, deciding that a woman’s prior salary can’t be used as a justification for paying her less than male peers. Seems obvious, right? But the case is being appealed and could be overturned.
And look at immigration, an issue dear to my and many Latinas’ hearts. The Court will have the power to block or permit immigration restrictions, like the border wall and ICE raids. It was so inspiring to see thousands of women stand up last month to protest children separated from their mothers at the border.
Moments like those are what push me to find my strength. The past year has left no doubt that women are a powerful force in our society who will not be silenced. The Women’s March began as the largest demonstration in American history and has become a lasting movement. #MeToo has sent shockwaves around the world as women have courageously spoken out against harassment and assault in the workplace.
We now realize it’s up to us to protect the rights and opportunities we deserve. We’ve started to recognize that our power is in us, not outside of us, and it’s time to take a strong stand for gender equality. Women leaders in the private sector — in every industry and every field, from every state and every background — need to embrace that power, roll up our sleeves, and step forward.
I’ve been CEO of multinational corporations, so I know it isn’t easy. But that makes it even more important that we don’t waste a minute. Companies need to go beyond the boardroom and the C-Suite to measure their role in gender equality. Thankfully, the right thing to do is also the smart thing to do for business leaders, because companies that do more for women do better overall.
Here are a few things women leaders can do right now that will help you do good while doing well. I’ve done them in the companies I’ve run, and it worked.
First, if you’re in a position to do so, give employees what they need to be great parents and great workers. Provide paid leave so parents, and especially women, aren’t forced to leave the workforce after having kids. Allow for remote work or flextime so parents can stay home with their children when they need to. Even better, provide on-site daycare.
Second, advocate for more women on your executive team and board, and prioritize working with companies and groups that do too. It will be good for rank-and-file women as well as your bottom line. According to a recent McKinsey study, companies in the top quartile for executive team gender diversity are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
Third, only invest in companies committed to equality. Make equal pay, fair labor practices, good health care, and paid parental leave policies a bare-minimum requirement for your investment dollars and advice. If only equality-focused companies receive capital, the businesses of tomorrow will look very different.
Even if you’re not the one deciding your organization’s policy priorities or budget allocations, there’s a lot you can do to make a difference.
Investigate if your company is a great place to be a woman. Are women paid equally compared to male peers? Are women hired at the same rate as men? Are they promoted as fast as men? If answers to any of these questions don’t sound right, start trying to fix it.
And volunteer to mentor younger women at the beginning of their careers. Show them how to succeed and give them the encouragement we all need. You can help them awaken the power hidden inside of them, so they can use it as a force for personal success and for the greater good.
It’s time to embrace the power inside all of us. I’m ready to step up. I hope you’ll join me.