International Women's Day Rings the Bell at the NY Stock Exchange

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse—an invitation from the nonprofit organization 2020 Women on Boards to a reception at the New York Stock Exchange on the eve of International Women’s Day (IWD).I couldn’t resist the juicy historic juxtaposition: a 2014 IWD event  in the financial power center of the world bookending the day’s feisty Socialist beginnings in 1911, including women’s protest marches not far from the Wall Street bull.IWD NYSE ringing the bell 2IMG_0629Extreme economic turbulence and disparity at the turn of the 20th century had fomented an activist movement with a progressive agenda led by women demanding shorter hours and better pay for workers, women’s right to vote, and general resistance to oppression of the working classes and women. And yes, even then they were talking about the need for quality childcare and universal healthcare.And here I was a century later, sipping wine and nibbling crudites with female corporate board members who had just rung the bell marking the daily NYSE closing, the International Women’s Day logo glowing on a screen behind them.Ambassador Melanne Verveer, longtime Hillary Clinton chief of staff with impeccable feminist credentials, first US ambassador for global women’s issues and currently executive director of the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, wielded the closing gavel.The outsiders had become the consummate insiders. So were they in danger of becoming the she-wolves of Wall Street?As a student of social movements and the women’s movement in particular, I wanted to know what had we learned, what had we gained in the last century of astounding progress for women, what had been co-opted in the process, and what unfinished business remains?This webcast on the economic and leadership challenges facing women of color, delineates some of the work remaining.And while many decry the corporatization of IWD—its official website is run by Accenture and funded by several global corporate giants—and others point to the trivialization of the day such as Google’s “doodles” graphic and gifts of flowers to women customary in some countries, the women who spoke at the 2020 Women on Boards/NYSE cocktail reception expressed serious, and sisterly, womanpower intent.Each of the the bell ringers was asked to give a word of advice to the rest of the attendees. Here’s a composite:—Think about getting into the leverage position and use it. “I was the only woman on the board when I joined. I put myself in position to chair the nominating committee. Now we are 50% women.”—Be very proactive. And passionate and stubborn.—Express your intentions to anyone and everyone who can get you on boards.—Boards with more women function differently, better. But in order to get two or more women on board, you have to start with one one. It’s a lonely job but necessary for someone to take and bring others along.—It’s all about the CEO. Find a sponsor and follow him everywhere.Verveer summed up the opportunity by saying that we must make the case for more women on boards with the data about performance. She noted that countries with more women’s political and economic participation are doing better economically, and that there is a double economic dividend because women plough their money back into purchases for family.“Make the smart and strategic argument,” she said, but also urged, “Be there for each other.”2020 Women on Boards has the goal of 20% women by 2020.  That’s not nearly ambitious enough.As we celebrate the substantial, and some would say stunning, progress women have made in the last century, let us press smartly and strategically to attain full leadership parity by 2025. That will be a reason for some major bell ringing.Happy International Women’s Day.