Article From The Commercial Appeal
“Girl Scouts Heart of the South has declared this week “Stand Beside Her” Week to encourage everyone to support the girls and women in their lives, their homes, their offices and their community.
Women make up just over half the U.S. population, but men still hold a disproportionate number of leadership roles in business, nonprofits and government. Only 20 percent of U.S. senators and 19 percent of U.S. House members are female.
In Tennessee, the political landscape is even more dismal. Only 17 percent of Tennessee representatives and 15 percent of Tennessee’s 33 state senators are female.
Of the 13 members of the Memphis City Council, only two are women, and there is only one woman on the Shelby County Commission. Ironically, the Memphis metro area has a higher percentage of women to men than many other cities: 52.4 percent of our population is female.
Female registered voters also outnumber male registered voters in Shelby County, and women vote in greater numbers than men. So why are women not more equally represented? At the current rate of progress, women will not attain equal political representation until the year 2085.
Men also still outnumber women in business leadership. According to U.S. Census data, only about 30 percent of Shelby County businesses are owned by women. According to the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, 74 percent of women in Shelby County are employed or looking for work, but only 38.4 percent of Shelby County women hold managerial positions.
And female workers in Shelby County make only 77.49 percent of men’s earnings, adding up to an average shortfall of $9,866 in income each year.
Why do women still trail men in income, business ownership and leadership roles? Studies show that starting in childhood, girls are inundated with negative messages and behaviors that harm their self-image. The competition, negative comparisons and unhealthy self-esteem formed on the playground too often carry over to the workplace and the boardroom.
A Harvard study called “Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases” finds that both teenage boys and girls are biased against girls, and many teens and women believe their peers are biased against women leaders.
When asked who is more effective in specific professions, almost a quarter of teen girls — 23 percent — preferred male political leaders, while only 8 percent of girls preferred female leaders. It appears women themselves sabotage their own opportunities to thrive and assume leadership roles.
Women are also less likely than men to have valuable workplace mentoring relationships. For example, 63 percent of women have never had a formal work mentor. That contributes to the wage and earnings gap because employees who are mentored are promoted six times more often.
As the premier girls’ leadership organization in the Mid-South, Girl Scouts Heart of the South created National Stand Beside Her Week to combat these negative attitudes among women and girls.
Only by changing the attitudes absorbed by girls and teens will women feel free to develop to their full academic, career and leadership potential. Please visit our website, girlscoutshs.org/stand-beside-her to learn more about National Stand Beside Her week and join us for our Stand Beside Her forum Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hutchison School, 1740 Ridgeway Road. It is open to the public and will offer girls and women an opportunity to network with women business and community leaders.
At Girl Scouts, we believe girls and women can change the world for the better. It is up to us as female business owners, co-workers, mentors and most important, as mothers, to change the biases that continue to hold girls and women back from realizing their full potential.
Kathy Webb is a Memphis lawyer who serves as board chair of Girl Scouts Heart of the South.”