Jean Freeman on Intersections: Identity, Access & Equity

Jean Freeman

Principal + CEO

I was honored to attend the release of the Mount Saint Mary’s second annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California. It was an inspiring event; I was surrounded by smart, young women who have their whole futures ahead of them and seem poised to be whatever they want to be. At first glance, the data that was being shared was also motivating. When compared to men, women in our state are doing reasonably well—they hold almost half of the college degrees, half of the graduate degrees, half of all judgeships, and make up close to half of the state’s lawyers, physicians, and surgeons. But comparing women to men only shows us half the picture (and it’s still a picture in which women make $0.89 per every dollar made by men).

The real truth comes out when you compare women to each other. When you look at the fact that of those 50% of graduate/professional degrees earned by women, the majority (57%) are held by White women, 23% by Asian American women, 11% by Latinas, 5% by African American women, and 4% by women of all other races. Another truth is evident when you learn that while women in California hold 49% of the jobs in the life, physical, and social sciences, 52% of these women are White, 27% are Asian American, 16% are Latina, just 2% are African American, and an additional 2% are other races. And it comes out when you look at computer and math professions, though women as a whole only have 24% of these jobs in California. When that figure is broken down, 38% of jobs are held by White women, 44% by Asian American women, 11% by Latinas, 3% by African Americans, and 4% by women of all other races.

Perhaps the starkest reminder that not all women have equal opportunities, however, lies in the wage gap. Overall, women in California make $0.89 per dollar when compared to men—but it’s not that simple. White women make $0.80 per dollar, Asian American women make $0.75 per dollar, African American women make $0.60 per dollar, and Latina women make $0.43 per male dollar. This is not equality.

I’m really proud of this year’s report because it focuses on intersectionality and recognizes that the experiences of all women are not the same. Women in this country are having an important moment—with the attention being paid to the #MeToo movement, the backlash against the current administration, and an unprecedented number of women running for (and winning) elections. The idea that we’d have six female candidates vying to be their party’s presidential candidate would have been the stuff of fiction until this year.

But while we celebrate the victories, both individually and as a society, we have to remember that each woman lives at the intersection of different identities—be it her racial or ethnic identity, her sexual orientation or gender identity, her immigration status, or her socioeconomic status. Each of these identities impacts a woman’s access to educational opportunities, career opportunities, and advancement. As business leaders, we need to acknowledge this and work with women’s multiple identities to increase access across the board. We need to be constantly moving the needle forward on factors of race, gender, education, and pay equity. And we need data like this to evaluate our efforts and shift focus when needed.

I have always had a personal commitment to advancing women in the industry—especially women business owners. As a serial entrepreneur, I know what it takes to start a business and grow it into a sustainable company. And I’m excited that women-owned businesses in California are actually on the rise, and that women of color are making more progress here than elsewhere in our workplaces. The report found that between 2007 and 2018, there has been a 75% increase in the number of businesses owned by Asian American women in California, a 91% increase in the number of businesses owned by African American women, and a 120% increase in the number of businesses owned by Latina women.

This is fantastic, and we all want to see these businesses succeed and grow. I believe that we, as industry leaders, have a vital role to play in passing on the lessons we’ve learned to new generations of women from all backgrounds. I am the daughter of entrepreneurs. I grew up reading the Wall Street Journal at the breakfast table. I had opportunities to learn both first-hand through my family and through my education, opportunities that I realize are a unique privilege. And I am committed to teaching other women what I have learned about starting and running a business.

At Zambezi, I designed a workshop for our employees that were fabulous at art, design, copy and more, but didn’t necessarily understand the model by which we make money, or how we sustain and grow our business. This fall, I will partner with Mount Saint Mary’s to launch a similar course for women through the college. My Business Smarts course will cover a range of issues and initiatives that will truly empower women—from finances and profitability, to developing a corporate culture that brings out the best in their employees, to finding ways to bring your company to equal representation of women and men, to understanding intersectionality and incorporating ever-evolving diversity initiatives into your organization.

It is not enough for us to say we want women to fill 50% of the executive positions in our field, or any other field for that matter. Audacious goals can be motivators, but they might not move us in the right direction. Quotas are meaningless if all of those roles end up going to White women or women who grew up with economic privilege. We have to look deeper and make sure that we are making these opportunities available to all women. And, we have to start early in young women’s lives and careers so that they have the foundation needed to reach these leadership positions and thrive in them.

Jean Freeman

Principal + CEO