As we recover from COVID-19, it’s time to re-examine the issue

As we move into this next phase of COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding our economy, we have a responsibility to ensure that we aren’t simply striving to “get back to normal.” Instead, we should seize this moment to abolish old systems designed to foster inequities and build new structures that center on equity.

As we shape the future of Columbus, what if we put our stake in the ground, not just as a retail capital or a startup hub, but rather, as the nation’s leader in gender equity? What might our city look like?

  • We’d acknowledge that women’s issues are actually economic issues. An economy thrives when everyone can contribute to it. According to research from The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, when we deny access to things like affordable child care, contraception and paid leave, we create barriers for women to acquire wealth, which stunts our economy and prevents the city from reaching its full potential.
  • We’d update systems to match the needs of our community. The systems (i.e. childcare, hiring practices, etc.) that govern how we’re working now were put in place decades ago, when the workplace and families looked different. To reinvent systems, we can start with gender and racial bias training throughout entire companies. If we’re leading the way, we’re acknowledging there are systemic barriers that people face on a daily basis and evolving our systems to match the broader community’s needs.
  • We’d create space for others at the table. If you want to update systems based on the needs of the community, you have to actually hear those needs. That means creating space for people who have historically been underrepresented in decision-making circles. With a focus on gender equity, we’d first add more chairs around the table so more voices can participate as programs and policies are designed. Then, those of us with power and privilege need to get comfortable with the fact that it’s OK to share that power and privilege — and even give some of it up in the spirit of the greater good.
  • We’d embrace new cultural norms. Sometimes legislation is necessary to ensure equal access to fair, just and smart policies (see paid family leave). However, legislation can be repealed and policies can be undone. That’s why it’s critical to change our cultural norms. If Columbus is leading the way in gender equity, it means we’re proactively updating systems without waiting for mandates. And when the policies are needed, there’s minimal backlash.

How do we measure if Columbus is leading the way on gender equity? This is a complex set of systems that we’re trying to evolve, and we have to be honest about the leading indicators and the long-term measurements we need to track.

The Women’s Fund’s recent wage gap research identified “accelerators,” such as home ownership and education, that help people accumulate wealth and economic security at a faster rate. Historically, women have lacked equal access to accelerators. The more we remove barriers to access, the closer we are to gender equity.

But gender equity doesn’t simply mean more childcare centers; it means better, more affordable access to childcare for all workers in all shifts. It’s not just equal pay, it’s increasing the ability for women to save money and build wealth.

If Columbus is truly driving gender equity, we’ll see shifts in women’s ability to save, an increase in wages, fewer evictions, a reduction in unplanned pregnancies and similar indicators.

Heather Whaling is Founder and President of Geben Communication