A hundred years ago today the United States adopted the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote. That sounds like a long time, but think about it: American women were able to drive cars and fly in airplanes before they could vote. Worse, here we are a century later, after a couple decades where women have actually made up a majority of voters, and women are still vastly underrepresented in Congress and other legislative bodies. We might see the first female Vice President sworn in next January. We might not. But we’ll have to wait at least another four years before the first woman is elected President.
That’s not to say that women have completely lacked political representation despite being able to vote. Even before the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted they were leaders in political activism, on issues ranging from abolition to temperance to (of course) suffrage. Many political debates over the past century, particularly but definitely not solely those that principally affect women, have featured female protagonists. Perhaps the most noteworthy (or notorious) example of recent decades is Phyllis Schlafly, who led the ultimately successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment.
Still, representation matters. Without it, voices go unheard and problems never even reach the attention of the folks who make policy. Would the pay gap between women and men still exist if women made up 51% of our elected leaders? Possibly – but it would certainly have become a matter for legislative attention much sooner had more women been elected sooner.
Representation doesn’t just matter in politics; as the advertising industry continues to struggle with representation in general it’s vital that agencies continue to not only recruit more women, but elevate them to positions of leadership. After all, hearing new perspectives is only the first step – people must be in place to act on them. Mad Men brilliantly portrayed the reality of agency life in an era when women’s voices had begun to be heard, but what they said was still largely dismissed as trifling or irrelevant.
The good news is we’re seeing real progress, with more and more women holding titles that start with the letter “C”. Organizations like the 3% Movement continue to push for greater equality and equity. Here at PACO we’re proud that both our leadership team and office as a whole are majority-female. But there is still so much work to be done.
Progress happens gradually, then suddenly. Have we reached a tipping point? It’s tough to say. But with increasing representation and leadership in government, advertising, and society in general, it looks like we’re moving in the right direction. The good news for marketers – and society as a whole – is that representation isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the profitable thing to do.