Despite comprising half of the population in the United States, women at the most comprise 20 percent of elected officials, media figures, and private sector leadership roles across the country. Women make up 20 percent of the Senate and 19 percent of the House. Women only make up 20 percent of the technology industry executive teams and 4 percent of Fortune 500 company executive roles.
Representation matters. There’s a saying: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” — especially if young women don’t see women represented broadly across different leadership roles, it becomes more difficult to fully realize they can be anything they want to be.
Earlier in the year, two of my legislative aides, Margaux Kelly and Kanishka Karunaratne, attended a women’s empowerment conference here in San Francisco, where they were inspired by a speech given by the first female treasurer of the United States, Rosie Rios.
Rios was discussing the importance of female representation in the public realm and an international movement to increase female representation to 30 percent by the year 2020 — the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which finally gave women the right to vote. At 30 percent representation we start to see a shift. Research shows that when 30 percent representation is reached, the minority voice starts to be heard as equal, rather than simply representing the minority. When women make up 30 percent of the senior leadership team or board, organizations start to experience a positive shift in performance, market share, and overall competitive advantage.
Rios also led the charge to have women represented on our currency by the year 2020. When Rios was looking through archives of how women are represented in our nation’s treasury products, she only saw women who were allegorical — not real people. They were depictions of Lady Liberty and Justice, just to name a few. Harriet Tubman will be represented on a new $20 dollar bill, and five other female leaders of the women’s suffrage movement will be featured on a new $10 dollar bill.
In San Francisco, we have the same issues. In Golden Gate Park, there are 26 statues — one is of a woman. It depicts an allegorical woman: The Pioneer Mother. Out of our city’s 100 public art installations and statues, we have two statues depicting actual women.
Margaux and Kanishka wanted to do something to increase female representation in San Francisco, and they approached me with a couple of ideas. Those ideas then manifested into concrete policy that is now working its way through the Board of Supervisors.
To improve upon these embarrassing figures of female representation, I introduced an ordinance that does three things to increase representation for women.
First, the policy will make San Francisco the first city in the nation to establish a goal of 30 percent representation in the public realm. — in public art, street names, or names of city-owned buildings and designated rooms, to name a few examples.
Second, the policy will require our Department on the Status of Women to report annually to the Board of Supervisors and the mayor regarding the proportion of women represented in the public realm in San Francisco – including city boards and commissions.
Third, and as the first catalyst for the 30 percent by 2020 goal, the policy creates a fund to accept public and private resources for the creation and installation of a full-size statue of Dr. Maya Angelou in front of San Francisco’s Main Library. Angelou is an international and San Francisco icon who has made important contributions in advancing San Francisco values on the world stage. The Main Library is a fitting place to honor Angelou’s contributions. After experiencing sexual abuse as a child, she did not speak for six years. The library and its books helped her find her voice, and gave her the courage to speak out. Angelou went on to become a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient as well as an acclaimed poet, author, and civil rights activist. Her poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” continue to inspire generations of female activists, making her the ideal first step in San Francisco achieving its representation goal by 2020.
Thankfully, we just secured funding through our city’s approved budget that will provide the seed funding necessary to start the design and outreach process to complete the statue. We’re also privately raising funds to help make the project a reality. If you want to donate, you can do so here: rally.org/f/3vtugz3ANWc.
Just the announcement of this policy and the call for the statue is already inspiring women and young girls from across San Francisco. For example, when Shannon O’Neil, a mother of two young children, heard about the proposal, she knew she wanted to help raise funds to make the statue a reality. She initially thought about organizing a bake sale or walk to help raise funding for the statue. But she wanted the effort to be more closely tied to the literary theme and include more youth involvement, so that’s how Reading for Representation was born.
Reading for Representation is a summer reading program that some children throughout San Francisco are participating in. For every page read during the summer, they seek to raise $1 for the statue. Shannon’s 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, has already committed to raising $750 by reading 750 pages this summer. My daughter, Madison, is doing the same.
These examples and more show perfectly why representation matters. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. I am proud to help lead the effort to increase female representation in the public realm, so that we visually show that everyone is created equal and can be whomever they want to be.