“A woman who is financially independent is independent, full stop,” Nanette Braun, Director, United Nations Department of Public Information, said at a panel discussion held this week about economic empowerment for women. In support of International Women’s Day, I had the privilege of serving on this panel with Nanette along with moderator Claire Baumann, the United Nations Foundation’s Senior Editor, Policy and Social Impact and Christina Wegs, CARE Global Advocacy Lead for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.


It May Take 217 Years Before We Close the Gender Pay Gap

We discussed some sobering statistics, such as it will take 217 years for the gender pay gap to close, according to new research reported by the World Economic Forum. Thankfully I work for a company, Porter Novelli, that has achieved gender pay parity, and we reassess this twice a year to ensure it is maintained. In addition, women make up more than 50 percent of our executive committee and more than half of our senior ranks. Many agencies and companies can’t make these same claims, and we need to press for more progress by continuing to voice our concerns and insist on positive change.


Working Mothers Need Flexibility to Balance Family and Demanding Careers

We also discussed challenges related to the fact that many working women also take on primary responsibility for household and family care, and there’s a significant need for companies to provide more flexibility for women and mothers who are truly doing it all. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see fewer women at higher levels within companies because they feel as though they’re unable to take on additional responsibility. At Porter Novelli, we have many working mothers, including myself, who are able to have flexibility, such as work-from-home options, hard stops to get to childcare pick-up and five dependent care days on top of vacation days to give added time to care for sick children and other family members or to use the days for other family needs.


Women Can’t Shy Away from Uncomfortable Conversations about Fair Pay

The panelists from CARE and the United Nations noted the many struggles women in developing countries face to prevent economic empowerment. For example, in some countries, women aren’t allowed to own land, have credit or generate income on their own. In the United States, we don’t have these same hardships, yet many women are still paid less than men for the same jobs. Related to this, I noted that we, as women, need to accept some of the responsibility for this. We need to be more assertive when it comes to negotiating salary for a new job or participating in a salary review discussion. We need to ask for the salary we want, give facts around why we deserve it and not feel apologetic for making the request. I have two teenage daughters, and I try to encourage them to do the same at school. If their tests were marked incorrectly or unfairly, I encourage them not to be afraid to confront the issue head-on, even if it makes them feel uneasy. For women to truly achieve pay parity and economic empowerment, we need to be ready to have the uncomfortable conversations and mentor young women starting out in their careers to do the same.


While we still have a long way to go before we achieve gender equality, I’m encouraged by the progress and inspired to mentor more women so they’ll stand up for themselves and ask for the pay they deserve. Together we’ll make significant progress, and my hope is that when my daughters are ready for the workforce, they will pursue careers where they are automatically compensated fairly, regardless of their gender. #PressforProgress