There is progress to report for women in the workplace, but the gender gap still exists.
By Cherry Fisher May

There is predictably a lively discussion around the office each year as the Women Who Mean Business issue comes up on the editorial calendar. On cue my husband and Co-Publisher Steve May lobbies to change the name of this feature and its corresponding awards luncheon to something he deems more seemly. After all these years you might think he could accept that the women on our staff (and apparently the other men as well) really like it. Perhaps he’s coming around; this year’s debate was limited to a few passing suggestions, and we all just nodded and smiled.

Of the many events we produce each year, this is one of our favorites, and the acceptance speeches are truly the best part of it. We now have well over 100 on the roster of past recipients, including a dozen or so Trailblazers who are retired or semi-retired ladies who laid the foundation for the rest of us in business or our professions. As they’ve taken the microphone through the years (some reluctant to let it go, Mrs. Juanita Thibeaux!), these honorees have shared stories that made us laugh and cry, raise an eyebrow and a glass. Some are deeply personal and moving; all are inspirational. I hope you’ll join us on Thursday, Sept. 22, as we gather once again and celebrate the lives of the amazing women who are profiled in this issue. It will be memorable. (Details on our website: the ind.com.)

Some may question whether an event noting the accomplishments of women is still relevant in this day and age. After all, women have come a long way from the discrimination and struggles of previous decades, but the disparity in labor statistics between the sexes is still remarkable. Even now women earn about 20 percent less than men for every dollar, but the real surprise is that the gap is even wider in professional positions, where it’s closer to 25 percent. Minority women fare even worse when it comes to equal pay, and although the glass ceiling may be noticeably cracked here and there, four in 10 businesses worldwide still have no women in senior management. Among our own list of Acadiana’s Top 50 Privately Held Companies, which was published in ABiz last month, only five women appear in the CEO column.

And we don’t fare much better in elective politics. The U.S. Congress is comprised of about 17 percent women, but it’s a visible minority. Our family recently watched an old re-run of the Michael Douglas movie The American President, and during the State of the Union scene, the Senate chamber was a sea of black and blue suits, strikingly all male. The 90 women who now sit among their colleagues in the House and Senate bring with them a welcome splash of color here and there, enough to make at least a small difference, visually and legislatively. Women also comprise only about 17 percent of the Louisiana Legislature; locally, it doesn’t take long to count the number of women who serve on elected bodies in Lafayette and the surrounding parishes.

Yes, we’ve come a long way in my lifetime, and things will likely be much different for my daughter and granddaughters. But job equality is still a work in progress, and women’s achievements are milestones worth marking. Besides, these ladies have some great stories to tell.

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