October 10, 2011
Last week we learned the heartbreaking news that the Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future, would be closing its doors at the end of October after 11 years as the first American museum dedicated solely to women and representative of one of 3 women’s museums worldwide. What does this mean for women’s history? Can we afford, as a society, to let it close its doors? And if we can, how will we keep the stories of women’s journeys alive?
The Women’s Museum made a herculean effort to capture and include the voices and stories of women to chronicle their contributions. Cathy Bonner, Founder and President, wrote, “The Women’s Museum believes in the power of stories…stories of courage…stories of accomplishment and contribution…stories of overcoming great odds because you believe in your dreams.”
So, who will keep the stories now? And, why is keeping them still so important? We must continue to value the rich heritage of women in every way that we can.
The Women’s Museum’s full title includes “Institute for the Future.” Paving the way for gender equality must continue to be a part of the conversation. While women may be participating in the workforce in equal numbers, they still rarely make it to the top. According to The White House Project, nearly 89% of Americans are comfortable with women as top leaders in all sectors; yet, women only account for 18% of top leadership positions – that’s less than 2 in 10 – and women make 78.7 cents to every dollar earned by a man – a wage gap that increases with age.
Marie Wilson, who founded The White House Project, writes, “Women and men alike bring value to the table, but it is their combined effort that creates the strongest foundation for innovation and prosperity.” We all benefit when men and women lead together. Critical mass matters and, for gender equality to be meaningful, 1 in 3 executives, board members, etc., must be female if we are to make any progress. Only nine women are Fortune 500 CEO’s. NINE. How can we live with that? How can I tell that to my nine-year old daughter? Is this the greatest country in the world where only nine women are qualified to lead the top 500 corporations in America?
This is about gender equality, AND, this is about creating a better economic future for everyone. Catalyst research has shown that when women are present as leadership in significant numbers, the bottom line improves dramatically. Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women officers experienced, on average, 35.1% higher return on equity and a 34% higher total return to shareholders than did those with low percentages of women corporate officers.
Cathy Bonner put it best: “When you change perspective, you understand that to miss one-half of our country’s history is to deny future generations their heritage.” As the CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, where I serve 35,000 girls grades K-12, I spend every day thinking about ways to help girls discover who they are, where they came from and where they are going, to help them connect with one another in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society, and to help them realize that they have both the power of one and the power of many to make a difference in this world.
For now, the Women’s Museum may no longer have a physical presence in our city, but the history of accomplishments and stories of courage that it held dear must continue to resonate…they must guide the girls of today as they grow into the female leaders of the 21st century.