Ladies Night’s New Decade – by Deborah Levine

DEBORAH LEVINEIt’s 2020 and there’s a lot of buzz about stand-out stories of the last decade. One of my favorites is the proposed replacement of the statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest with one of Country Music’s Dolly Parton. The suggestion is a piece of genius! Let’s go from the sombre debate over Forrest’s dark background as a KKK founding member to Dolly, Tennessee’s music icon who makes you want to break out into a chorus of “Rocky Top”.   Who better to represent our state capital than the creator of Dollywood, beloved by the entire country?

Despite her fame, I wonder if Dolly’s name would have come up if it weren’t for the #MeToo movement. Not everyone was charmed by the movement, but it was definitely a cultural shift that changed our culture as well quite a few prominent lives. As it ripped through the internet like wild fire, women came forward with “Enough is Enough” stories of sexual harassment, assault, and misbehavior. Yes, there’s been push back and countersuits, but there are also major strides in women’s roles that go far beyond removing powerful men like Harvey Weinstein from their positions.

Nondisclosure agreements covering sexual harassment are now banned in a number of states. Some states are expanding laws to cover independent contractors and businesses with fewer than 15 employees, groups that previously had little protection. Congress has begun to address its own harassment issues by getting rid of the three-month waiting period for filing a complaint during which the accuser has to undergo counseling and mediation. And the practice of using taxpayers’ money to settle harassment claims, once hidden from view, is no longer doable.

The #MeToo movement encouraged women to speak out against powerful men exploiting them, but it also motivated women to speak out in general. A recent CNN story spoke about the expected historic gender gap in the upcoming 2020 election. Women voters may be the deciding factor in the election with their determination to be seen, heard, and counted. Maybe those all-male photos from the White House and Wall Street have something to do with that.

Or maybe it’s the realization that so much more is possible. Forbes Magazine list of women billionaires in America shows that the richest woman is worth 7 billion dollars. That’s an amazing accomplishment given that no women were billionaires a few decades ago. But, the top 10 American male billionaires start at a worth of $53 billion and go up to $114 billion. Women do have a ways to go, but the aspirations are active and visible.

That’s why it was a pleasure to spend a December evening at a Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute meeting to hear from Samantha Saperstein, who leads the Women on the Move initiative at JPMorgan Chase. In the packed room, we heard about efforts to be inclusive and bring women into the financial industry that’s typically been male dominated. The initiative boosts the company’s environment for women employees in creative ways, and also assists women-run businesses and collaborates with organizations world-wide, including Girls Inc. 

Many in the CWLI audience were making headway in industries where women are increasing in entry level jobs, but less so in leadership.  As the discussion turned to how to give women a C-suite mentality and overcome the implicit bias about women CEOs, the room’s posture shifted to high alert. And I thought I heard Dolly singing, “Just because I’m blond, Don’t think I’m dumb’ Cause this dumb blond ain’t nobody’s fool”. Thanks, Dolly, and hope to see your statue soon.


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