Back in 1998, three protofeminist powerhouses of rhythm and blues collaborated on a take-no-prisoners album called “Sing It!”.
The three included swamp-rocker Marcia Ball, famous for her saucy singing and possibly the best roadhouse piano since Professor Longhair; the revered Irma Thomas, the Grammy-award winning “Soul Queen of New Orleans”, long an idol of the other two; and Tracy Nelson, former front-woman for Mother Earth, who can mix country, roots, R and B and Gospel with a voice that cuts clean to your soul. Incredibly strong role models for women everywhere , these three are loud, proud and if you’ve never heard of them, it’s only because you didn’t grow up in our house — or you’ve been forgetting to go to JazzFest.
As incredibly talented as each of these women are on their own, their Grammy-nominated collaboration cranked it all up in an explosive and high-spirited celebration of what strong women can do when they come together to claim their voice. Too often we forget that.
I flashed on “Sing It!” today when I came across a reference to San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women in a letter to the editor in the SF Chronicle. The writers of the letter, like most of us, were quick to point out the inequity in what the numbers tell us look like workplace equality. But they upped the ante considerably by not just complaining, but by issuing a compelling call to join them in concrete action:
Businesses need to recognize that in 2009, women became 50 percent of the workforce and made 85 percent of the consumer spending decisions.
To ignore these facts is just bad business. Studies indicate that embracing gender and racial diversity helps the bottom line.
Working with Calvert Group, LTD, a socially responsible mutual fund, and Verité, an international human rights organization, this crew has been working to develop a set of gender equity prinicples backed by a corresponding set of metrics by which a company can gauge its progress when it comes to the advancement of women in the workplace:
Together, we are producing tools and resources that will help businesses stop bemoaning the fact that there are too few women at the top and do something about it.
To embrace women from the factory floor to the boardroom, the principles are creating indicators and resources in seven categories to help build gender-equitable workplaces. One of those categories is the lack of women in management and on boards of directors.
You have to love the principles, which address everything from compensation and benefits to worklife balance and career development. And the tools, too. Whether or not they will go viral, who knows? What I like most is that the plan goes beyond bemoaning and involves collective action for making change on the systemic, or institutional, level. Maybe this is all about enlightened self-interest for the folks up there in the boardroom. But it reminds those of us on the middle floors that we have a voice — and the power that comes with it.
It’s all too easy to look at inequities and bad numbers and see ourselves as victims of a patriarchal society, as voiceless and powerless. Some of us do get riled up — nothing like anger for a wake-up call — but unless that anger translates into constructive action, who cares? We’re back in our seats. And for some of us, if we are told too often that we have no voice, well, does that become self-fulfilling prophecy? Do we silence ourselves?
And is that when, especially when it comes to the culture of the workplace, we see choices as burden rather than opportunity?
Writing on Women on business, blogger Jane Stimmler suggests it doesn’t have to be that way. Her take on the problem is that as we’ve assumed new roles, and grasped new opportunities, we’ve taken on the “new” without realizing we have to shed some of the “old.”:
As long as women’s choices involve tacking on new duties to an already demanding and hectic lifestyle, there cannot be the fundamental shift to equality. I am reminded of the many stories I have heard about women in the workplace who are given added job responsibilities – but they don’t receive the title or the raise. For women to be happier with their lives, we don’t need fewer choices – we need more support and encouragement.
In other words, we need to reclaim our voice. Which brings me back to Marcia, Irma and Tracy. Next time you’re feeling overworked and underpaid — or too damn tired for the secnd shift — go in there, sister, and sing it! And remember when you do that fifty percent of the workforce is right there with ya, doing some killer back-up.