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Quick: The only woman in the room

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Quick, Alee
Publication Date: 
26 Oct 2015



It's an isolating feeling when you look around yourself and realize you're the only member of your particular demographic in a room.

As I've moved along through my career, I've often found myself to be the youngest person in the board room, pretending to understand cultural references to things I simply could never remember. And sometimes still, I find myself in professional situations in which I'm the only woman in the room.

Earlier this month, Elle UK Magazine released a short video, which they called "More Women," which features famous photos of world leaders and entertainers, with the men in the photos edited out. We see Emma Watson, a British actress and women’s rights activist, seated at the United Nations, completely alone after the men sitting around her are removed. We see German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an empty room after President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other male colleagues are Photoshopped out. Hillary Clinton sits alone at a table in the White House situation room as the other security advisors in the photo — all men — are removed from one of the iconic behind-the-scenes images that made the rounds in the days after Osama bin Laden was killed.

As the 45-second video, which has been viewed nearly 900,000 times since it was posted on YouTube, flips forward, more news photos and familiar faces flash across the screen. Men disappear, leaving behind lonesome women in powerful positions.

An NBC Nightly News segment used the concept to show the freshman class of the 114th Congress, with about a dozen women left standing on the steps of the Capitol after the men are removed from the photo. The same exercise could be done with the U.S. Supreme Court — if you remove the men from the group portrait of the justices, you’re left with a third of them.

It’s hard for me to imagine that I'll ever look at a photo of world leaders or C-level corporate staff, and see a truly equal representation of gender staring back. Things are getting better for women, especially in richer countries, but the deck is stacked against gender equality — and it’s not just because of the long history of outright discrimination. Some of it’s just biology — we won't see true gender equality until men start getting pregnant.

Women are still more likely to stay home and care for children — by the latest Department of Labor estimates, some 70 percent of mothers with children younger than 18 participate in the workforce, while nearly 93 percent of those fathers do. While gender participation rates in academia are near equal, women are not climbing as quickly through the levels of upper management. Women are more likely to be employed part-time. Women earn less on average than men because of a combination of these factors and more.

There are programs that would help women beat some of those odds stacked against them thanks to simple anatomy, like Illinois’s Childcare Assistance Program. Gov. Bruce Rauner, in response to the budget impasse in Springfield, made an emergency rule that limits access to the program — representatives from Service Employees International Union Illinois say the new rules prevent 90 percent of working parents who previously would have qualified from being eligible for the program.

We can’t look at gender participation in the workforce without thinking about class. Women who are likely to climb the career ladder can do so because they have access to childcare. If we want to see more women in upper management and in politics, we need to support women at every step of their careers.

Cuts to programs like CCAP make the photos in Elle UK’s “More Women” video seem even more like the status quo we can expect to live with for years to come.

-reprinted from The Southern Illinoisan