Google ‘segregates’ women into lower-paying jobs, stifling careers, lawsuit says

Exclusive: Women say Google denied them promotions, telling the Guardian they were forced into less prestigious jobs despite qualifications

Google systematically pays women less than men doing similar work, according to a class action-lawsuit accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are segregated into lower-paying jobs.

The complaint, filed Thursday on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the last four years, provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination and pay disparities at the company after months of criticisms and a growing chorus of women publicly speaking out.

Weve been talking about these issues for a long time, and it hasnt really changed, Kelly Ellis, a former Google employee and a lead plaintiff on the case, told the Guardian in her first interview about the suit. Theres been a lot of PR and lip service, but … this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women.

The claim that Google is violating labor laws by paying women less than men for substantially similar work comes at a time when the male-dominated tech sector is reeling from complaints about sexual harassment, discrimination and a glaring lack of diversity. The US Department of Labor (DoL) first accused the corporation of extreme pay discrimination in April as part of a lawsuit seeking to force Google to hand over salary records for a government audit.

The new lawsuit could have widespread ramifications, especially considering that Google has publicly insisted it has eliminated its gender pay gap and is a leader in the industry. Google also became ground zero for an international debate about diversity last month after it fired a male engineer who wrote a memo criticizing affirmative action and suggesting that white men have become victims of discrimination in tech.

Plaintiffs allege sexist culture at Google

The class-action complaint, filed in San Francisco, included three named plaintiffs who offered specific stories of Google assigning and keeping female employees in lower compensation levels than male employees with similar skills, experience, and duties.

Google disputed the central claims of lawsuit on Thursday, saying it had extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.

When Ellis was hired in 2010 as a software engineer for Google Photos, the company placed her into a Level 3 position typically assigned to new college graduates, according to the suit.

Several weeks later, Google hired a male software engineer, who graduated the same year as Ellis, into a Level 4 position on her team, the complaint said. Level 4 engineers receive substantially higher salary and opportunities for bonuses, raises, and equity, her lawyers wrote.

I was so excited just to be there. I really wanted to give Google the benefit of the doubt, Ellis said in an interview.

But other male software engineers who were less qualified than Ellis or at the same level were promoted into Level 4 and higher positions, according to the suit. Google initially denied Ellis a promotion, despite excellent performance reviews, claiming she hadnt been at the company long enough, the suit said. By the time she advanced, she said, she was far behind her male counterparts who had better opportunities from the start.

Echoing a broader complaint in the tech sector, Ellis said she also observed that male software engineers occupied most of the higher-paying back-end roles while female software engineers were assigned to front-end positions, which design what users see and are considered less prestigious.

Ellis, who has a degree in applied mathematics and a minor in computer science, had experience in back-end development. But Google assigned her to an occupationally-segregated frontend engineering role, the suit said. She quit in July 2014 due to the sexist culture at Google, according to the complaint. Ellis previously made headlines in 2015 when she tweeted about harassment at Google.

Another plaintiff, Holly Pease, was hired in 2005 and advanced to a senior manager role overseeing about 50 software engineers and product managers across multiple teams. Although she had more than 10 years of experience as a network engineer before Google, she was placed into a non-technical career track while the engineers she managed and the other senior manager in her group, a man, were all in technical roles, which come with higher compensation rates, the complaint said.

Pease later coached non-technical employees on how to pass interviews to transition to technical jobs, helping many get promotions, including a male manager a level below her who had performed poorly, according to the suit.

But Pease herself was denied a promotion to a technical position, the complaint said: Ms Peases two interviewers, both men, did not ask her any technical questions, and one interviewer did not even bother to take notes of the meeting with her.

Google claimed she lacked technical ability despite her technical background, according to the suit. She resigned in 2016 due to the lack of technical and engineering opportunities available to her and other women.

James Finberg, one of the civil rights attorneys who filed the suit, told the Guardian that more than 90 women who previously worked or currently work at Google have contacted him about the class action.

Weve heard from a lot of women about stereotypes and perceptions that women cant do coding, he said. Its frustrating and demoralizing.

Google
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The new lawsuit claims Google is violating labor laws by paying women less than men for substantially similar work. Photograph: JasonDoiy/Getty Images

The third plaintiff, Kelli Wisuri, joined in 2012 when Google acquired her company. Despite three years of sales experience, she was placed into a Level 2 role, considered the lowest level available to permanent, full-time employees, the suit said. Men with comparable qualifications started at Level 3 or higher, according to the complaint.

Wisuri was also placed on a lower-paying career track, in which about 50% of employees were women, according to the suit. She said nearly all the sales employees she encountered in a higher sales track were men.

Despite doing very similar work to men in the higher tier, she was not promoted and resigned in 2015 due to lack of opportunities for advancement for women, the suit said.

Fears of retribution

Google did not respond to detailed inquiries about the plaintiffs, but a spokeswoman, Gina Scigliano, contested the allegations.

Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions, she said in a statement to the Guardian. But on all these topics, if we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them, because Google has always sought to be a great employer, for every one of our employees.

Finberg said that several current Google employees considered being named plaintiffs, but backed out due to concerns that they could face retribution from the company, which has repeatedly been accused of silencing critics and whistleblowers with strict confidentiality policies.

A US labor department official involved in the audit told the Guardian in April that the governments analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry. Currently, men occupy 80% of tech jobs at the company.

This month, the New York Times obtained an internal Google spreadsheetthat showed that women on average were paid less than men within the same job levels and tended to receive lower bonuses.

Google, which faced similar allegations in 2015,claimed to the Times that the spreadsheet was not representative and did not take into account factors like job performance and whether employees were in higher-paying technical roles.

Ellis recalled how disappointing it was to see no women making presentations at the first all-hands engineering meeting she attended at Google.

There definitely was a lack of role models, she said. It made me feel like I could never get to the level where these guys are.

Ellis added that she hoped the suit would put other tech firms on notice: They have to treat everyone fairly. Otherwise, we are going to take action.

Contact the author: sam.levin@theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/14/google-women-promotions-lower-paying-jobs-lawsuit

Why are there so few women in tech? The truth behind the Google memo

An engineer at the company has suggested male domination of Silicon Valley is down to biological differences between the sexes. But the root causes are much more complicated

It is time to be open about the science of human nature. This was the assertion of software engineer James Damore to his colleagues at Google, in an internal memo that has since led to his sacking. Im simply stating, Damore wrote, that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. He went on to imply that womens stronger interest in people and neuroticism might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google.

The companys leadership viewed the matter differently, firing Damore and sparing his female colleagues the need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers.

Sacking one errant employee doesnt alter an awkward fact, though. Only 20% of Google engineers are women a statistic that is matched roughly across big tech companies. So, does Damore have a point? Is there an underlying biological explanation for why so few women work at a company that prides itself on its progressive ideals and family-friendly ethos?

There are countless scientific studies that claim to identify differences between male and female cognitive aptitudes and, in the UK, far fewer girls choose to study computer science at GCSE level (20% of the total number of students), at degree level (16%) and beyond. There is something seductive about the idea that professional success springs from our innate abilities, rather than the degree to which society tips the odds in our favour.

After the contents of the memo became public, through a leak to tech site Gizmodo, the scientific argument for innate biological differences quickly found favour with some tech insiders, albeit those writing anonymously on sites such as Hacker News and the gossip app Blind.

Students
Students at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. Far more women study computing in India than in the UK. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

On Blind which requires users to prove who they work for before posting one Google employee wrote: Can we go back to the time when Silicon Valley were [sic] about nerds and geeks, thats why I applied [to] Google and came to the US. I mean this industry used to be a safe place for people like us, why so fking complicated now. I used to dislike conservatives until I started working in tech, wrote another. Now I sympathise with them due to the hostility and groupthink, as well as the fact that they are the only ones standing up for classical liberal values.

While the biological hypothesis seems to appeal to some tech workers, the notion that Silicon Valleys gender gap can be explained away by such factors is questionable. Prof Dame Wendy Hall, a director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, points to the wide variation in gender ratios in computing internationally, which she argues would not be seen if there were a universal biological difference in ability between the sexes. While only 16% of computer science undergraduates in the UK and a similar proportion in the US are female, the balance is different in India, Malaysia and Nigeria.

I walk into a classroom in India and its more than 50% girls, the same in Malaysia, says Hall. They are so passionate about coding, Lots of women love coding. There just arent these gender differences there.

In fact, in the west, female participation in computer science has plunged since the mid-80s, while female participation in medicine and other scientific fields has increased steadily.

Over the past decade, even with a number of initiatives being set up to boost girls participation in coding and computer science, the proportion of female computer science undergraduates has continued to fall 10 years ago, the proportion was 19% of the UK total.

Hall believes that the gender gap and the male computer geek stereotype can be dated back to the advent of the home computer in the early 80s, when the machines were marketed heavily as gaming systems for men. She suspects this might be more culpable for womens low participation than men having evolved a mindset better suited to writing lines of code.

Women were turned off computing in the 80s, she says. Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the west in a way that we cant get rid of and its just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.

Jane Margolis, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees. Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students in the 90s at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programmes in the country at the time.

Many of the women at Carnegie Mellon talked about computers being in [their brothers] bedroom and there were a lot of father-son internships around the computer that werent happening with the girls, she says. There was a cultural assumption that the norms of being in computer science were that you would do it 24/7, were obsessed with it, wanted nothing in your life but computers and that was very much associated with male adolescents, she added. It was very much based around a male norm. Females were made to think that, if they didnt dream in code and if it wasnt their full obsession, they didnt belong or were not capable of being in the field.

Former
Former Tinder vice-president Whitney Wolfe, who sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014. Photograph: Jeff Wilson for the Observer

Prof Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University in Birmingham, has studied extensively cognitive differences between men and women. She says that, while Damore pointed to scientific evidence for men and women having different aptitudes and personality traits, he seemed to miss the point that, even if there were well-established sex differences at any level, theyre always very tiny. Certainly not enough to explain the gender ratios of Google programmers even if you didnt want to get into the nitty-gritty of arguing about the science.

Rippons work suggests that, in many cases, the differences between male and female performance, if present, are very small, can disappear with training and are not consistent across cultures.

In one study, Rippon found that British men performed significantly better on a spatial rotation task than women. However, when the experiment was repeated with Chinese participants, there was no difference between the male and female participants. Other similar studies have found that gender differences in spatial rotation tasks disappeared when the researchers controlled for video game experience. Rippon points to another study, which showed that differences in personality traits between men and women varied wildly across countries, depending on the status of women in that society.

So, Damores suggestion that women are more prone to anxiety does not imply that this difference is a function of hormones or hardwiring of the brain. Plus, there is compelling evidence that unconscious biases have a powerful effect on what people expect themselves to be good at and how they perform. For instance, girls tend to score worse on a test if they are told their maths skills are being assessed than when they are told they are taking part in a study investigating how people solve problems.

Even assuming that there are fundamental differences between male and female cognition and personality, there is no clear, logical line between such findings in a laboratory setting and performance in the workplace.

Priya Guha, the UK lead of tech incubator RocketSpace and a former UK consul general in San Francisco, argues that, even by its own arguments, Damores memo missed the point. The description of an engineer as somebody who has their head down, focused on developing the next line of code, is the sort of engineer that wont be adding value, she says. We need engineers out there who are both very strong developers, but also people who understand the world around them and are comfortable interacting with society. So, by that description, women would be better engineers even by the stereotypes he proposes.

Unfortunately, many such multiskilled people are likely to be deterred by the perception of hostility engendered by claims like Damores. We have a historical challenge to encourage girls, let alone women, into careers such as engineering, which then creates an imbalance in the people who enter tech industries overall, says Guha. Tech has a particular problem in this area. Wherever there are instances of people creating a hostile environment, companies need to stamp that out quickly. His dismissal sends a really powerful message: the environment in these companies needs to be thought about to ensure that it improves day by day.

But Eileen Burbidge, a partner at venture capital firm Passion Capital, argues that tech does not have a significantly worse gender gap than other high-pressure industries such as finance or the media. I think it comes down to cultural norms and female representation in general, Burbidge says. It is what affects the rest of the business world: its around the same time that women start thinking about having families that they think about the opportunity cost of staying in a work environment, and if its not positive or they get negative influences its going to affect their decisions.

She argues that, in many ways, tech is better placed than most large industries to tackle its gender gaps. I dont think theres anything specific that needs to be done for technology: I think the tech sector is more introspective and likes to think of itself as more progressive, so remedies that work for other sectors will help here, too, she says.

In Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in particular, were seeing the tech industry trying to be more proactive about outreach. The industry is trying to have this discussion a lot companies dont always follow what they say, but they say it, at least.

Computer
Computing is too important to be left to men … the late computer scientist Karen Sprck Jones. Photograph: Cambridge University

Peter Daly, an associate in the employment team at the law firm Bindmans, agrees with Burbidge. The clients Ive had from the tech world are pretty evenly split by gender, he says. But, because it encourages risk-taking, tech doesnt fit well with maternity and pregnancy, so that can be a source of a lot of friction. You see people in the industry who see pregnancy as a genuine problem. That, he says, is the main cause of gender-specific issues in technology at least, those that reach the stage of requiring a legal recourse.

Internal documents such as Damores are the soft end of the sort of hostile working environment female employees can face at overwhelmingly male tech firms. At the extreme end, as companies such as Uber and Tinder have learned, this environment can result in claims of sexual harassment and illegal discrimination.

At Uber, where 85% of technical employees are male, one engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a tell-all blogpost that revealed a workplace where managers proposition female employees for sex and human resources does little to stop the issue. Tinder faced a similar scandal when former VP Whitney Wolfe sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014, entering into evidence abusive texts allegedly sent by Tinders chairman, Sean Rad.

Beyond the egregious cases, the wider culture of even the most diverse Silicon Valley firms can still end up being offputting to would-be employees: the campus-style culture, which encourages workers to be on site from dawn till dusk, renders it hard for any primary caregiver to be part of the team, while in some companies an antipathy for part-time work or on-site creches can also limit flexibility.

Addressing the gender gap isnt only an issue of perception. Companies with homogenous workforces make worse products and earn less money, argues Guha. We know large numbers of women are struggling to get funding. A female founder is 86% less likely to be funded than a man, she says. Thats crazy when we know the return on investment is higher; it is about 34% higher for companies with a gender diverse leadership. Its not about corporate social responsibility: a diverse range of thinking will bring better value for the company.

As we move into a future in which algorithms have greater influence on our lives from communication to healthcare, transport to the law the gender balance in tech companies goes beyond what is fair for their employees. The result of male domination of tech has led to the development of, for example, voice recognition technologies that, trained and tested solely by men, struggle to understand female voices. It has resulted in virtual reality technologies that disproportionally impose motion sickness on women. At this early moment in its history, the tech industry is already littered with products that have gender bias effectively programmed into them.

The most objectionable point about that memo was the notion that there are biological differences that make women less capable, said Burbidge. Obviously, I have an issue with that and I think its fundamentally incorrect. The thing I cant answer is how, in 2017, do you stop people thinking that? I dont know how you change peoples minds.

As we go into the world of AI, when people are designing algorithms that help us live our lives, it will be very bad if thats all done by men, says Hall. Social care, looking after kids, so many aspects of our lives. We really need as many people as possible doing this. Its really important and its going to get more important.

Hall invokes her late mentor Karen Sprck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist who campaigned hard to encourage more women into the field. As she used to say: Computing is too important to be left to men.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/08/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-tech-the-truth-behind-the-google-memo

New science and technology program wants to engage more women in STEM

Superstar in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith at the Australian Astronomical Observatorys 3.9m Anglo-Australia Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.
Image: Lisa Harvey-Smith/supplied

Superstars of STEM is a new program by Science and Technology Australia that aims to smash the stereotypical portrait of people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).The plan is to identify 30 superstar women currently in STEM, and work with them to create role models for young women and girls, and thus move towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM.

As the new ambassador and a mentor for Superstars of STEM, my role is to encourage broad participation, which we hope will elevate the visibility of women STEM professionals in public life.

Encouraging more women in STEM

There are already some programs that support female scientists and technologists in a bid to break down systemic obstacles. These include the Science in Australia Gender Equity program. Others aim to inspire women to study STEM subjects, such as Code like a Girl or to help young women build their techno-confidence, such as SheFlies and Robogals.

Adding to this picture, Superstars of STEM aims to address public perception and is founded on the principle that visibility matters in achieving equality.

Rather than simply attempting to shoehorn women into the public eye, this new program will work with 30 women in STEM to equip them with the skills, confidence and opportunities to become role models. This approach will build on the work being done to address systemic issues facing female scientists and technologists.

Have our young, modern-day

Marie Curies

,

Ruby Payne-Scotts

,

Ada Lovelaces

and

Isobel Bennetts

passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

A recent European study by Microsoft found that most girls became interested in STEM at around the age of 11, but their interest began to wane at 15. This is an important age, as girls are starting to make decisions that will set the trajectory of their academic life.

The lack of role models in STEM was identified as the key factor that influenced the girls in the study, as well as a lack of practical experience with STEM subjects at school. On Twitter, 92% of the most followed scientists are male. When women scientists are mentioned in the media, they often tend to be described by their appearance rather than their achievements.

The need for more female STEM role models has also been echoed in similar reports and programs in Asia, the UK, Africa and the United States.

In Australia, more than half of all undergraduates and half of PhD students are female. Almost 60% of junior science lecturers are women. But women comprise just 16% of top-level science and technology researchers, professors and professionals.

Role models

As a young kid gazing at the stars, my role models were pioneering astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and eccentric types such as the late, great astronomy broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore.

I thought that was enough for me, until as a 16-year-old I met Britains first astronaut, Helen Sharman, at Space School UK. At that moment I suddenly realised that every one of my role models in the fields of astronomy and space science had been male.

Meeting this real-life STEM superstar had a transformational influence on me. It even spurred me on to apply for the European Astronaut Program in 2009.

As someone who is passionate about astrophysics and science education I have inadvertently become a role model myself. But the continued lack of diverse role models in STEM makes me wonder how many missed opportunities and how much unrealised potential continues to be lost. Have our young, modern-day Marie Curies, Ruby Payne-Scotts, Ada Lovelaces and Isobel Bennetts passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

The new superstars

In its first year, Superstars of STEM is placing 30 women in the public eye, by equipping them with advanced communication skills. This will include media training, meetings with decision-makers, and opportunities to showcase their work.

Participants will also be supported to speak with girls directly at local high schools and public events, along with establishing a public profile online.

There are too few transformational and brilliant women in the public eye. Every success in science and technology in Australia is built on the work and contributions of people across the genders. For the sake of our girls, we need to celebrate these outstanding scientists and their work.

I imagine a time when we ask children to draw a scientist and they draw somebody who looks like mathematician Nalini Joshi, molecular biologist Suzanne Cory, or astronomer Karlie Noon.

The measure of the success of Superstars of STEM will be whether young Australian women can turn on the television, read a newspaper or engage with social media and see women experts presenting STEM as an exciting and viable career. I cant wait to witness the opportunities this change will bring.

This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia.

This article originally published at The Conversation here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/02/superstars-in-stem-women-australia/

Watch what your machine says: AI replicates gender and racial biases

Image: Shutterstock / Jirsak

When humans teach computers how to behave, the machines have no choice but to learn from us.

That much is clear in a newstudy published Thursday in the journal Science that found artificial intelligence replicates the same gender and racial stereotypes we already struggle to control.

That finding, while not entirely surprising, suggests that AI might accidentally perpetuate bias instead of simply streamlining data analysis and work tasks.

To reveal this troubling dynamic, the researchers used off-the-shelf AI and developed an algorithm to determine how it associated pairs of words. The AI generated by machine learning was based on a recent large-scale crawl of the web that captured the complexity of the English language.

Then the researchers turned to what’s known as an Implicit Association Test, a scientific measure of the unconscious connections people rapidly make between, say, a person’s gender and their career, or a person’s name, race, and likability. No matter how much we insist we’re not racist, sexist or homophobic, years of research using the IAT show that we hold biases, often without realizing it.

In order to see whether the AI associated neutral words with biases, the researchers first used an IAT about whether flowers and insects were pleasant or unpleasant. The AI responded how most people would: flowers were likable, insects not so much.

Then they moved on to IATs related to stereotypes we have of certain groups of people. A previous experiment using resumes of the same quality but featuring either European-American names and African-American names found that people in the former group were twice as likely to get called for an interview. When the researchers conducting this study tried to replicate those results with the same database of names and tested for an association with pleasantness or unpleasantness, the European-American names were viewed more favorably by the AI.

“It was a disturbing finding to see just by names we are able to replicate the stereotypes.”

“It was a disturbing finding to see just by names we are able to replicate the stereotypes,” says Aylin Caliskan, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

A different study from 2002 found that female names were more associated with family than career words, but that wasn’t the case for male names.

You can probably see where this is going.

The AI once again replicated those results, among others, showing that female words like “woman” and “girl” are more associated than male words with the arts versus mathematics or the sciences.

The findings shed light on a maddening chicken or egg problem: Do humans put their biases into language or do we learn them through language? Caliskan can’t conclusively answer this question yet.

“We are suggesting that instead of trying to remove bias from the machine, [we should] put a human in the loop to help the machine make the right decision,” she says.

That, of course, requires a human who is aware of his or her own tendency to stereotype.

Kate Ratliff, executive director of Project Implicit and an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Florida, says it’s currently unrealistic to try to eradicate biases because there’s no empirical evidence that it’s possible. After all, our language, culture, entertainment, and politics are rife with stereotypes that keep reinforcing the associations we’re trying to reject.

“Maybe you could train people to spot these biases and override them,” says Ratliff, who was not involved in the Science study.

Indeed, that’s what many companies, including Facebook, are attempting to do through employee trainings. And that’s exactly the kind of skill and self-awareness you’d need in a human charged with preventing a computer from stereotyping a stranger.

Those human-machine matches will no doubt make quite the pair.

WATCH: John Oliver is buying ads on Fox News again, this time to teach Trump about sexual harassment

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/04/13/artificial-intelligence-racial-gender-biases/

Whats next for the womens movement?

After the success of the Womens March, its International Womens Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality

Lena Dunham: keep on protesting

I think the activism and organisation thats happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Womens March, but it was the largest global protest weve seen and thats because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now were not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms.
Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director

Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts

Its a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.

However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.

It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.

Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland

Signs
Signs of the times: protesters on the Womens March in London take a breather. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Naheed Farid: introduce bottom to top economic development

I represent women in the Afghanistan parliament, in a country that is one of the worst places to live as a woman. We suffer from violence, insecurity and lack of access to basic rights, such as education and health. We tried many things, such as investing in civil society organisations, education and democratic processes, but still Afghanistan stays the same. My analysis is that in order to ensure womens rights and equality in Afghanistan, and generally all around the world, we need to involve women in the production process, empowering women economically. We also need policies to make sure that the process of development is bottom to top, completely the opposite of what is practised right now. Womens inclusion in political, economic and social aspects of development can stabilise society by consistently empowering women and involving them in high-level decision-making processes.
Naheed Farid was elected MP in 2010 at the age of 27

Nomboniso Gasa: civil action to defend our freedom from misogynistic world leaders

As I watched Donald Trumps inauguration, I noticed something familiar in the body language between him and Melania. My mind flipped back to President Jacob Zumas inauguration in 2009. He didnt even look back to see whether his wife was comfortable. She trotted behind, with shoes that were too big for her. She could have tripped and he would not have noticed.

People have written about Trump and Zumas disdain for the judiciary, the constitution, media and civil liberties. But they are similar in other ways, including their public devaluing of women. Trumps tape about women throwing themselves at you, if you are famous, reminded me of Zumas statement when accused of rape. I am not afraid of women. They are attracted to me. Why would I rape? Zuma must be envying Trump, though. He is unable to reverse the Constitutional Court decision enabling women to make choices about reproductive rights, bodily integrity and freedom of choice. His ANC is unlikely to garner enough votes to change the Bill of Rights.

Contesting these men requires a careful unmasking of their devious narratives, combined with civic action in defence of our freedoms. This must be a well-planned and sustained struggle against misogynistic bullies.
Nomboniso Gasa is a South African researcher, writer and analyst on land, politics, gender and cultural issues

Laura Bates: sex and relationships education for all schoolchildren

There is a single, clear action that experts agree could make a substantial difference. For the past decade, campaigners, teachers, parents and pupils alike have urged successive governments to implement compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE) for all young people, including topics such as consent, healthy relationships, pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. Schools are currently only obliged to teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, with no compulsory coverage of issues, such as consent.

This would help protect vulnerable children who may already be experiencing sexual abuse. It would create change for the many girls who report unwanted sexual touching a form of sexual assault. And, by educating young people about their rights and responsibilities, it could have an impact on the broader problem of sexual violence. With 85,000 women raped annually and two women per week killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, this is an urgent priority.

We know that young people today face a bombardment of influences, from sexting to pornography. If we teach children how to read maps so they can find their way, and how to do maths so they can work out their change in a shop, why do we leave them shockingly ill-equipped to navigate sexual relationships, a similarly universal life experience? With 43% of young people reporting they dont receive any SRE at all, we are failing them and letting wider society down as well.
Laura Bates is founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Join
Join the gang: women hold hands and share personal stories during the Dress Like A Woman rally and march, held to support womens rights and to protest against Donald Trump, in Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Reuters

Anne-Marie Imafidon: more women in science and tech jobs reflected in TV soaps

Ive always watched a lot of TV and when I was younger watched EastEnders. As an east Londoner it felt close enough to reality that I would get excited when they filmed on location trying to point out landmarks and guess the road. Soaps dont fully reflect reality, but they do try to stay current. These days most characters have a mobile phone and technology sometimes features in storylines.

In the battle for gender equality Id like to see the soaps embrace some new careers for their characters particularly the female ones.

Wheres Dot?

Oh, shes just taking air quality measurements in the square for her PhD thesis, shell meet us at the Queen Vic.

Normalising science and tech-related careers can start with a female character or two deciding to leave work at the chippy for a job at a digital start-up. Someone in Hollyoaks might strike up an affair with someone theyve met on an evening coding course (affairs happen all the time on soaps). Seeing these characters have breakfast, and fight with family while enjoying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers will work against the one-sided portrayals of Stem characters that we see in films and on TV. The small screen can do what Hollywood is beginning to do with films, like Hidden Figures the story of African-American women who helped Nasa.
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE campaigns to get women into science, technology, engineering and maths

Li Maizi: create an international force against the censoring of womens voices

The answer for me is chasing gender equality in China. It has become my daily life, making noises against all the discrimination. And when we meet the backlash, we have to stand together and fight back. As a woman, I have no country: my country is the whole world. So I will also criticise Donald Trump, who is a straight man cancer.

In China, the space for civil movement is becoming more narrow. One of the most powerful Weibo [Chinas Twitter] accounts, Feminism Voice, has been blocked for publishing an article about the planned womens strike against Trump in the US. Thus, no single issue belongs to one country, we must fight together against the censoring of womens voices.
Li Maizi is one of Chinas feminist five, detained for more than a month in 2015 for organising a protest against sexual harassment on buses and subways

Catherine Mayer: champion more shared parenting

Theres no single fix because the mechanisms keeping women down are intertwined. However, one of the seven core objectives of the Womens Equality Party equal parenting and caregiving is capable on its own of creating huge change. If we can shake the idea that childcare is primarily a mothers responsibility, if we learn to value the unpaid labour now primarily undertaken by women, then we also unpick some of the causes of the gender pay gap. There are also ways to speed the process. In 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women left jobs and homes for the day, their male compatriots learned just how much women do. Iceland now ranks as the worlds most gender-equal country. Im helping to organise a Womens Day Off in the UK next year.
Catherine Mayer is the co-founder of the Womens Equality Party and author of Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World!

Magic
Magic circle: protesters chant against gender-based violence at their camp on La Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain. Photograph: EPA

Stella Creasy: dont be a click-avist, get stuck in

The change we need to make is mobilisation. We have to sound the alarm. The worst thing we can do is despair. My message is, dont stand aside, get stuck in. Dont be a click-avist. Keep asking: What next? If you go on a march and think: Thats the job done, they win. A backlash is a reaction, so we have to keep taking action. I keep saying to people, I adore Martin Luther King, but he was wrong when he said: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards progress. It doesnt, unless you fight for it.
Stella Creasy is MP for Walthamstow. Join her Feminist Action Network (
stella@workingforwalthamstow.org.uk)

Liv Little: economic autonomy for women of colour

The face of feminism Im surrounded by is young and fresh. Feminism has the potential to be a bright, vibrant movement. But its difficult. There are so many pressing issues for women. Whats really important is economic empowerment. I think as a woman of colour its important that we are running our own businesses, able to support each other and generating our own income to support other young women of colour who are coming up in the world. As a black female graduate youre likely to earn a lot less than your white male counterparts. Youre increasingly seeing women of colour in positions of power, but there are still not enough of us in prominent positions.
Liv Little is editor-in-chief at gal-dem

Caitlin Moran: embrace our weakness and silliness

You know what make us strong? All the things you think are a hindrance. Our strength is our weakness. Our love of silly things to wear. Our love of jokes. On the Womens March, there were millions of weak women with buggies, with elderly relatives women who are disabled, or from minority groups wearing pink hats and holding placards. And our strength is, you cant send armed police into a crowd like that. Theres no way to spin that footage. You cant pretend its violent, radical extremists. Theres no excuse to break it up. The weaker, sillier and funnier we are, the more impossible it is to demonise us, or stop us, as so many protests have been stopped and demonised before. As things go backwards, we think: We cant fight this, and the answer is we mustnt fight it.

Fighting is how its always been done before. They know how to stop fighters. But these old, white, straight, angry men? They dont know how to stop joy, humour, knitted pink hats and buggies. We are the force theyve never seen before. They have nothing in their box to counter this. This is our strength. And we have it in endless amounts. We are the 52%. And we can knit and joke the fuck out of the revolution.
Caitlin Moran is an author and columnist

Stepping
Stepping up: women on the march in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photograph: Raul Martinez/EPA

Susie Orbach: defeat the merchants of body hatred

In a time of threat, the places we might be able to call home, our bodies, are being ripped apart by commercial pressures. They bear down on labias (too messy), faces (too tired), lips (too small), eyes (too hooded), breasts (too small, droopy or large) For each of these crazy designations, there are surgeries sold as empowering, sold as safe, sold as solutions. But whats the problem and who is generating it? Control girls and womens bodies whether by the purveyors of beauty, the cultural enforcers of female genital cutting, the anti-choice gang in the White House and insecurity is induced. Give girls as young as three cosmetic surgery games that divert their dreaming and imaginative energy into pursuits that hurt what it means to be a girl, and you ensure big profits and big body preoccupations for a lifetime. Its time to dare to feel OK in our bodies as they age and change.
Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, analyst and writer

Paris Lees: real feminism excludes nobody

If your push for social justice excludes women of colour or disabled women, trans women, sex workers, Muslims, Jews, poor people you dont want equality, you want privilege. Promoting women of the same class and colour while ignoring and speaking over women less privileged than yourself isnt feminism. Its supremacism. I come from a mixed-race family. I like to think I know a little bit about racism. But Im not black. So I listen. I follow feminists from minority backgrounds on social media: Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nesrine Malik, Janet Mock, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Fatima Manji, Roxane Gay. Most women voted for Hillary in the US election, but a significant proportion white women without a college degree voted for Trump. In the end, their votes swung it. This is what can happen when women dont pull together. So lets pull together. Fascism is back. Women are leading the resistance, but if we really want decency to prevail, its time to revive another idea from the mists of time: solidarity.
Paris Lees is a journalist and transgender rights activist

Getting
Getting the message: a wall of signs outside the White House in Washington. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Mariella Frostrup: include boys in the conversation

Ive been a feminist since my lungs first filled with air, but Im weary of war and eager for a coalition. In my small corner of the western world its hard to find a man who doesnt believe his daughter, his wife, his sister, his mother or his colleagues to be his equal, yet we continue to mark out our battle lines on a gendered basis. No social revolution in the history of mankind has succeeded without the participation of both sexes so its time to invite the guys aboard. Instead of car ads that accept a woman can control a vehicle (doh!) Im more hopeful for one that entices a man to try a vacuum cleaner. Our ability to participate in a mans world is beyond dispute, but the jurys still out on our success in enticing men into what was once our domain. The proportion of women doing the worlds unpaid work has barely changed. The only difference is that most women today are holding down two jobs. It is stress levels, not our incomes, that are rising. Expectations of both sexes have changed beyond measure and the conversation needs to stop being so one-sided, which is why weve set up Great Men, opening conversations with boys in secondary schools exploring masculinity and gender issues. If we want to eradicate misogyny, we need to make sure boys are given the support and emotional investment they need.
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster, columnist and co-founder of the Great Initiative

Lisa Randall: end the fear women feel

An issue for women throughout the world that is implicitly played down by lack of adequate attention is fear. The topic is broad and the specifics are difficult to address through existing systems, but whether it is physical violence, online stalking, harassment, or unwanted encounters at work or in schools, women are prevented from living their best possible lives and from contributing in the most significant ways. Current systems address only very explicit danger. Even when the attacks are merely upsetting, the resultant loss of diverse voices online and elsewhere because of womens reluctance to be subject to insults or insinuations, is a loss to us all.
Lisa Randall is professor of science at Harvard University

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/05/whats-next-for-the-womens-movement-march-equality