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Linda Tarr-Whelan's picture

The climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark is over.  What happens, of course, will affect all of our families.  But it will have profound effects for the poorest people around the globe, two-thirds of them are women and children. There is a world of difference in how environmental damage affects these women and their families, from breast cancer to turning women who rely on the land into environmental refugees.

Once the pundits unpack, it will be time to make our New Year’s Resolutions.  Climate change discussions will likely fade away as the trendy media turns to stories on losing the holiday weight gain. Climate change isn’t the only area where the impact on women is profound yet largely glossed over or quickly forgotten.  How about  flexible work?  Or paid sick leave and family leave?  Or high quality early care, education or good after-school programs?  What about finally closing the gender wage gap, which stands at 22%?  Isn’t it time to end the heavy discount on women’s work compared to men’s?

None of this dismal list is new.  These problems have been on the table for a very long time.  Yet solutions are still in short supply.  The wage gap is only closing at about ½ cent per year.  Flexible work is available for just 20% of our nation’s employees.  And no one has to tell us again how scarce and unaffordable good child care is. In fact, our children, now in their 40’s with small children of their own, are facing the same problems balancing work and family that  my husband and I faced when they were small.

Let’s be clear. It’s not for lack of trying that these problems remain unresolved.  All over the country, women have advocated for change, but always from outside the seats of power.  We’ve been pushing and pushing against a virtually immoveable wall of inertia.  Progress is at a snail’s pace. On an issue-by-issue basis, it’s been too easy for those in power (guess who?) to marginalize what doesn’t seem important to them as “just a women’s issue” and hardly worth priority attention.

After a lot of thought and research, I believe we can finally make a difference with an Inside-Outside strategy.  Here’s the secret I talk about in my new book, Women Lead the Way. Change happens with the 30% Solution – a critical mass of women at every power table in business, the community or government.  That’s when women’s ideas, voices and experience actually change the results

Right now we’re a long way from the 30% solution virtually everywhere.  Instead, we find one woman at-a-time or, at best, a few women gathered at the table.  To reset the game so that real change happens, we need a critical mass of 30% women making policy.

Unsure what you can do about any of this?  Start by taking this quiz from my book and see how up-to-date you are on America’s progress compared to the rest of the world.


Your score should show this: it’s clear what we need.  The 30% Solution in government will bring attention, a gender-lens for analysis and better ways to solve long-standing family problems like poverty and climate change.  Long-neglected issues for women and our families will finally get top billing. Business will have a healthier bottom-line with 21st century management focused on partnerships and collaboration.  Each of us have a manageable role to play in wedging the door open and bringing others in with us.  We can shift the conversation from problems to solutions by tapping all of our talent.   At last.  In future posts, I’ll talk about some key next steps.

Linda Tarr-Whelan is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World (Berrett-Koehler, 2009).  She is a Distinguished Senior Fellow with Demos.

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