I felt empowered when I first saw the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women at the beginning of December. After a year of chaos that, at times, felt apocalyptic, it was comforting to read about female leaders who have helped the world through the many unique challenges of 2020 and to at least think that progress was being made in regard to women’s equality. 

On a global scale, female leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, both of whom appeared on the Forbes list, proved their value and capability as they received plaudits for their leadership in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite its many challenges, 2020 has proven that a lack of power, position and even pay discrepancies has not prevented women from having more influence than ever before.

But when the 2020 Forbes list of women is compared to the last Forbes list featuring the most powerful people in the world (i.e. men and women) from 2018, it feels much less significant.

The 2018 Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people featured 75 powerful people who are considered leaders in their respective fields. Of those 75, only five are women.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. And the knowledge that there are 95 women who are considered powerful on a scale of women only, but are simply left out when compared to men, makes it even more disappointing. 

I’ve added it to my list of reasons why 2020 won’t be a contender for my favorite year in history.

According to Pew Research Center, a growing number of Americans in the past four years said they think not enough has been done to give women equal rights with men. In 2017, some 50% of Americans said the U.S. has not gone far enough for women’s rights. This year, that number rose to 57%. 

With the majority of U.S. citizens claiming to support equal rights for women, or at least admitting that more needs to be done to reach a point of equal rights, I have to wonder: Why aren’t we closer to reaching that goal?

It’s true the U.S. is ahead of many other nations when it comes to women’s rights — this year marked the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the U.S. — and some great strides were made in 2020 regarding women’s equality. But it is disheartening to think of the long way still to go for women to experience equal rights and opportunities to men. 

The Brookings Institution predicted early on in 2020 that a massive movement of women voters would influence the future of politics in America, and if the outcomes of the November election are any reflection, they were right. Deseret News columnist Brian Ericson noted in November that Republican women and minorities came out as the real winners in this past year’s election. 

This election’s real winners? Republican women and minorities

History was also made in 2020 with the election of the first female vice president, Kamala Harris, who debuted on the Forbes list of powerful women at No. 3. 

Furthermore, President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks, including the appointment of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, 74-year-old Janet Yellin for treasury secretary, as well as 68-year-old Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Ambassador to the United Nations, indicate the future president values women in leadership, no matter their age, a fact that will hopefully set a better precedent for similar balances in government moving forward, and maybe even business as well.

At the same time, a recent Deseret News article pointed to the startling lack of women represented among the top ranks of Utah law firms and calls attention to the disparities they face, including harassment and prejudice in their work environment.

This year has also highlighted the failings of many of the institutions and systems that support women, who are often treated as the default care-takers of children in our society. As was noted in a recent piece by The New York Times, when child care systems became unavailable this year and no backup system was in place, mothers, often working mothers, became the backup system.

Clearly, even in 2020, we have not yet ‘arrived’ because neither women’s rights nor human rights have reached the universally accepted and practiced status they deserve.

But even in non-pandemic circumstances, studies have shown that when women leave the workforce temporarily — whether by choice to prioritize childbearing and caretaking responsibilities or by force of circumstances — such interruptions further undermine their place in the workforce and reinforce the idea that family priorities are not as valued as work priorities.

Clearly, even in 2020, we have not yet “arrived” because neither women’s rights nor human rights have reached the universally accepted and practiced status they deserve. 

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Achieving true equal rights and opportunities for women will require commitment and efforts from organizations and institutions, as well as individuals, being willing to change.

The Pew Research Center study on women’s rights in the U.S. at the 100 year mark indicates that although most people agree there is work to be done for women’s equality, people differ about what more they think needs to be done. One point of majority agreement, however, focuses on pay. 

Women are increasingly leading in high-skills jobs; so why isn’t the wage gap closing?

Of the study’s respondents, 45% said they believe equal pay is a marker of a society in which men and women are considered equal. With a gender pay gap that waivers generally between 6 to 20 cents on the dollar (depending on various factors), the U.S. is still markedly behind attaining the status of an equal society in its citizen’s eyes. So, why not start there?

2020 taught us some important lessons — not the least of which is perseverance. The way I figure it, if we were able to create and distribute a vaccine in a fraction of the amount of time it normally takes by working together toward a common goal, maybe we can do the same for women’s rights. 

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