It’s now been decades since a significant number of women trailblazed their way into organisations, industries and leadership positions that had previously been the domain of men only.
It was a series of firsts, it was believed, which would spark a major revolution and see women achieve high-level careers in equal numbers to men.
With these pioneers paving the way, and the increasing number of women graduating from universities, time alone would shift the gender imbalance.
And yet as we well know looking at the still dismal number of women on boards and in key leadership positions, time has not solved the problem. While the corporate world may have come to appreciate the necessity of female talent, and the need to ensure such talent is treated fairly through the provision of incentives and programs, the revolution has done little to improve the wellbeing of women. For many, it’s seen their wellbeing adversely affected.
The revolution did not sweep through the home, where women today still do the lion’s share of the domestic work. It did not pass through the workplace, where significant structural changes are still required (despite certain additions like parental leave and flexible work) to reflect a workforce in which both genders participate. The revolution did not adjust how we perceive “ambition”, nor how we measure productivity and output, which is still too often judged according to the hours we spend within the confines of four walls in a CBD-location.
So are we now on the cusp of a second wave of this revolution? One that doesn’t require women to necessarily “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg would argue, but rather for both genders to demand the cultural and structural changes required of their workplaces to better reflect the modern lifestyle, and create working environments that actually address that (still bizarrely forgotten about) major demographic shift that saw women enter the workforce?
In a recent interview with Forbes, Arianna Huffington said women are fighting this second wave revolution right now. We’re no longer on a mission to seek a space in the world, but rather to change it. She believes this revolution is about reshaping the workplace to better allow work life balance. It will change the definition of success to being one that’s measured by “wellbeing”.
So what could that mean?
This second revolution could benefit both genders. By fundamentally adjusting the way we work and defining success according to “wellbeing”, we’ll chase something more significant than a career measured by long hours and the projects we complete for an employer.
It could reinvent careers so that they can provide time and energy for women and men to pursue their passions and interests outside of work, or ensure such passions align with their work. That may be as close and direct as spending more time with their immediate families, or it could involve more community-based work, education or volunteering. It’s a second wave that could see men and women better equipped to achieve personal satisfaction that goes beyond monetary gain.
This second wave could also have us considering issues bigger than ourselves and those we know. Already, we’re seeing the benefits of collective wisdom and power, how through social media we can learn and react to the plight of women everywhere. The women who’ve pioneered and captured the key leadership positions of the past are fast becoming spokespeople for a future that better considers the economic benefits of a worldwide shift to ending discrimination and inequality, and eliminating violence against girls and women everywhere.
Hillary Clinton’s address at the Women in the World Summit last week provided a classic example. She’s attempting something bigger than a potential 2016 election run, she’s uniting the world to take action against the worst corners of oppression against women in the world, urging us to fight “to give women and girls a fighting chance”.
Playing a part in this fight should contribute to how we measure our personal wellbeing. Helping women achieve, domestically and internationally, brings about a level of personal satisfaction not always achieved through the paid work we do alone. It could be mentoring a colleague, encouraging school students, volunteering to assist women locally trapped by domestic violence, or seeking to raise awareness of the plight of women internationally, such as those still oppressed by the Taliban.
This second wave revolution has so much potential, but there’s much hard work ahead. It’ll be a collective effort, one requiring persistence, continued pressure on those with power, and a level of tenacity akin to what those pioneering women did for us previously.
Do you feel part of this second wave? Do you believe it will create change?