Women are speaking up

Are you listening?


In recent months, there has been a resounding cry from women (and girls) across the world demanding that there be an end to gender inequality.

2017 ushered the call to action with the Women’s March. Thousands of women (and many brave men) joined the chorus to advance the message.

In 2017, the voices of sexual harassment victims were finally heard, breaking open the conversation about what it means to treat women as equal partners, respected colleagues and leadership candidates in every aspect of business and community.

We are learning from young women and girls that they expect to be fully in the game!

Kate Parker authored a book titled, “Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves.” Kate is a photographer and a mother of two daughters. In her work, she photographed hundreds of girls who, in her words, “were being 100 percent themselves.” 

Here are a few of their voices: a new message for a new day!

“For me, being a girl means being part of a group of smart, excellent people. When people think of girls, they generally think of makeup, heels and perfume…but girls aren’t all of that. Girls are intelligent, ambitious, strong people and I am proud to be one.”  – Zohe, age 10.

“I am fearless.”  – Maggie, age 9.

“In wrestling, girls have an advantage. The guys think less of you until you are face-to-face with them!” – Rachel, age 11.

January 20, 2018. It was the anniversary of the Women’s March. In Milwaukee, women rallied. We heard the voices of women and girls of color, offering a deeper understanding of the levels of discrimination they face every day.

Fourteen-year-old Zion Rogers, founder of NorthStar Action and Culture Committee, spoke with passion and a level of wisdom beyond her years. She said:

“As a teenager, member of generation Z and African, I am a firsthand witness to the abundant struggles encountered by female youth of color. Poverty, racially-charged micro-aggression, homelessness and trafficking are a few of the challenges we face on a daily basis.”

Echoing the words of Angela Davis, Zion said: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Women leaders who have lived Angela Davis’ words were celebrated in February and March in Milwaukee by two of Milwaukee’s leading professional women’s organizations: TEMPO Milwaukee and Professional Dimensions.

TEMPO recognized Jayne Hladio (U.S. Bank) and Phyllis King (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) at its annual Mentor Awards Luncheon. Jayne reflected in her remarks lessons that she has learned that connect legacy, leadership and mentoring. One of the lessons learned is the importance of “inclusion mentoring.” Hladio coined the term and it means being willing to mentor those who are not a mirror image of yourself. 

King, also recognized for her commitment to mentoring, is dedicated to creating equity for women on public company boards. Reflecting the data of five years of research, she said, “gender diversity positively impacts a board’s performance and, likewise, its financial performance.”

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Professional Dimensions celebrated the accomplishments of two inspiring women, Eve Hall (Milwaukee Urban League) and Paula Penebaker (YWCA Southeast Wisconsin) at its annual Sacagawea Awards Dinner. As a member of Professional Dimensions, “an organization of inclusive women leaders using our power to help each other and to advance the community,” I could not have been more proud!

In her remarks, Hall quoted James Kwegyir-Aggrey, educator and scholar (1875-1927): “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a family….a nation.”

And Penebaker, a leader dedicated to the service of women who are marginalized in our society, said to the Milwaukee community: “We can do better….We can do better.”

From the Women’s March in January 2017 until this day, the call to action from women and girls has gotten louder and stronger. We cannot and we will not wait. There is too much at risk for ourselves, our children, our businesses and our communities.

The time has come for every leader, manager and employee in business, community service, government and the nonprofit sector to be asking these questions:

Are women given equal opportunity within our organization? How do we know? (and be sure to ask the women!)

What will it take to advance women into leadership roles within our organization?

What is the makeup of our board? Do we have women’s voices at the table?

What is the makeup of our executive team? Does it mirror the face of the organization?

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Karen Vernal is executive vice president and chief dreamer for Vernal, LLC (www.ccvernal.com), a Milwaukee based leadership and human resource firm, dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” As an executive coach/consultant, she was recognized by the Green Bay Packers for her guidance in their organizational planning process. She was also the recipient of the 2011 Marquette University Leadership Excellence Award.

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