It’s pretty easy to be discouraged about the prospects for progress on gender issues in the workplace these days. Example 1: Donald Trump and Billy Bush. Example 2: the recent New York Times OpEd on “bro talk” on Wall Street. Example 3: the continued gender pay gap. I could go on…and on.
But there is real reason for optimism. I believe that we will achieve real progress sooner than many think, for four key reasons:
1. The Business Case Is Harder Than Ever To Ignore
The numbers don’t lie, and they’re piling up. In one McKinsey study, gender-diverse companies were found to be 15% more likely to perform better than their competitors. In a joint Intel and Dalberg report, tech companies with only one female leader had a 13–16% higher enterprise value (once you control for age, size, profitability, and revenue) than firms with all-male leadership. Or take this one from First Round Capital,which notes that their investments in companies with female founders performed 63% better than companies with all-male founding teams.
And that’s not to mention research on gender diversity from Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Catalyst, and the World Economic Forum all showing similarly positive findings. As the evidence mounts, we’re heading closer to a tipping point.
Business leaders who still believe (unconsciously or not) that having women in leadership positions doesn’t add anything to the bottom line are going to have a harder time getting their boards, investors, shareholders, and even their employees to believe that they aren’t leaving performance gains on the table. Those recalcitrant execs may begin to even sound–dare I say it–emotional about their insistence to the contrary? Even irrational?
2. Women Are Building Their Own Tables, Not Just Asking For Seats
Technology is bringing down the cost of starting businesses so much that more of us are finding entrepreneurialism within reach. It’s not just the declining cost of technology, either–it’s the declining costs of so many things, from short-term office leases and video conferencing that cuts down on business travel to the plethora of administrative functions you can now outsource cheaply.
According to a recent American Express report, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has grown five-times faster than the national average since 2007. Also awesome? Of the 3.5 million women-owned companies launched between 2007 and 2016, 78% are owned by women of color. And on balance, a BNP Paribas report finds, women’s businesses are outperforming those run by men.
Freelancing is also becoming a more viable career option for many of us. Women are more likely than men to freelance for extra income, schedule flexibility, and to escape office dynamics. So rather than trying to adapt to make an often unaccommodating structure work for us, we’re going solo and working on our terms–successfully.
3. One Woman’s Success Clears The Way For Others’
Today, women are close to four times more likely than men to believe we won’t advance in our careers because of our gender. Yikes. It’s the old “you can’t be what you can’t see” phenomenon.
Looking at this in reverse, though, you can be what you can see. So expect that statistic to go down. When I see someone like me who’s successful it offers me a roadmap. Visible, successful female entrepreneurs encourage other women to become entrepreneurs: Go Jessica Herrin; go Alli Webb; go Julie Wainwright! Visible, successful senior managers encourage other women to become senior managers: Go Indra Nooyi; go Ginni Rometty; go Meg Whitman!
This is also important because so many people who hold the purse strings out there—venture capitalists and other funders–fall prey to “pattern recognition.” It’s just a fact of human psychology, but it causes them to back businesses that look sort of like the lastbusiness they funded, and to fund entrepreneurs who look sort of like the lastentrepreneur they funded. Corporate executives do it too; again and again, I’ve seen them promote people similar to them. But as more successful women become ever more visible in the business world, it chips away at this self-reinforcing bias. Fortunately, that’s already well underway.
4. More Women Are Recognizing Their Power To Change Things
Gloria Steinem has argued that women are the only demographic group that grows more politically and socially radical with age. I can’t tell you how often I’m with senior women who express disbelief that we haven’t made more progress so far. A handful of factors are finally turning that frustration into real leverage. Women in the U.S. control $5 trillion in investable assets, direct over 80% of consumer spending, and make up just more than half the U.S. workforce.
At the same time, and perhaps because of this, the old economic systems that wrapped up our worth in a ring and husband are starting to crumble, as the journalist Rebecca Traister points out; at an unprecedented level, single women are now steering the conversation on issues like the minimum wage, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and college that doesn’t bury students in debt.
Combine this with the increased transparency that technology brings, and now we can also choose to direct our substantial resources to work for companies that treat us well (for instance, by using FairyGodBoss to compare companies’ employee policies), buy from companies whose values align with ours (BuyUp Index), and/or invest in companies with more women in senior leadership (my own Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund).
This may be just the beginning. More and more, women are putting serious money behind other women’s initiatives. This summer, a group of Wall Street women funded the movie Equity (about women on Wall Street); and I’ve recently announced a new round of financing for my company, Ellevest (a digital investment platform for women), that includes both traditional institutional providers, as well as successful women like Venus Williams; Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments; and women investors at Broadway Angels and Astia Angels.
Women are beginning to invest in one another’s success at a level unprecedented in human history. It’s shaping up to be one of the most powerful and disruptive forces in business and society today. The dividends are adding up faster than you might think.
The tectonic plates are shifting.
An edited version of this article originally ran on FastCompany.com.
Sallie Krawcheck is Chief Executive Officer of Ellevest, an upcoming digital investment platform for women, and she is Chair of Ellevate Network, the global professional women’s network. Ms. Krawcheck was the Chief Executive Officer at Citi Wealth Management, Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. She has her MBA from Columbia Business School. Follow her on Twitter.