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The State of Women

The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good

This presentation on women’s rights and the women’s movement is a snapshot of a big and complex story. It doesn’t come close to capturing the full breadth of women’s experiences, challenges, or achievements this year—no summary could. But no matter how closely you follow the news or how much you already know about women’s progress, there’s research in here that will surprise you. We present it in three categories—the Bad, the Ugly, and the Good, in that order, because while we need to face harsh truths, we also want to end with hope. Together, we can build a more equal and resilient world. Join us.

Read the full presentation here

Here are a few key takeaways from each section:

The Bad

  • Just 1 in 5 C-suite executives is a woman—and fewer than 1 in 30 is a woman of color (U.S.)1
  • Sexual harassment is twice as common in male-dominated organizations (U.S.)2
  • 1 in 3 girls are afraid to lead (U.S.)3

The Ugly

  • 70% of people living in extreme poverty are women and girls4
  • 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence5
  • The United States is 1 of only 2 countries with no paid maternity leave6

The Good

  • Worldwide, contraceptive use is higher than it’s ever been7
  • For the first time, workers are as happy to have a female boss as a male boss (U.S.)8
  • 4+ million people marched for women’s rights across 60 countries and all 7 continents9

Watch LeanIn.Org president Rachel Thomas give an earlier version of this presentation at the 2018 MAKERS Conference. And visit MAKERS to explore even more inspiring videos, stories, and interviews.

Rachel Thomas: So my assignment today is cover the state of women in 10 minutes. That seems a little daunting, but I'm a fast talker. And we'll see how I do. So if you're gonna talk about the state of women, you need to look at the ugly and the bad head on, but you also need to realize there's a lot to celebrate. So with that in mind, I give you the state of women in 2017, the bad, the ugly, and the good.

It sounds weird to start with the bad rolling off the tongue, but let's start with the bad. As all of you know in this room, men still run the world. 11 of 195 countries are run by men, and the number's going down. Five years ago, it was 17.

The UN is supposed to represent all of the world's people. Not one woman has ever been Secretary General. Women hold just 23% of seats in parliaments around the world. There have been 113 Supreme Court justice of the United States. Only four have been women. Three sit on the bench today.

Women hold 20% of seats in the US Congress, and it's far worse for women of color. You are 19% of the population and hold only 17% of the seats. We have six states run by governors right now. Only one is a woman of color, Susana Martinez of New Mexico. And only one is an openly gay woman.

And it's not just who's running our countries. It's who's running our companies. Women hold 12% of board seats worldwide. In the C-suite in the US, only one in five women. One in 30 are women of color.

And get this. Adding insult to injury, 50% of men think women are well represented when one in 10 female-- one in 10 leaders is a woman. And sadly, 30% of women feel the same way. It is hard to imagine a groundswell of change when we're that satisfied with the status quo.

And this cuts across all industries, even industries that are dominated by women-- education, nonprofits. Women make up the majority of accountants and auditors in the United States, but very few are CFOs. In kitchens, more than half of food prep workers, only 19% of chefs.

Consider how this imbalance plays out in one industry that we're all close to, the media. One of the 10 largest movie studios is run by a woman. And largest here means largest market cap. Two out of 10 of the largest ad agencies and zero of the largest media companies. And the people in power shape our culture.

91% of women say advertising doesn't speak to them. Yet, we make 85% of consumer purchasing decisions. That is a really big gap.

Women's sports. More women are playing sports year over year, and men's sports still dominate on TV. Far more men report and therefore shape the news we watch. And all of this inequality is having an impact on our girls.

At 6, girls think they are less talented than boys. Almost 46, almost 50% of girls are afraid to speak up and to disagree with others for fear they'll be disliked. And one in three girls are afraid to lead.

And we know this. When women rise, our companies are stronger and safer. Sexual harassment is twice as prevalent in male-dominated organizations than in female ones. And when more women are in leadership, company profits are higher, and we have better policies for everyone.

As the great Shirley Chisholm said, and I've got to read this, “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost just because that talent wears a skirt.” Now more than ever we need to tap the full talents of our population.

And I wish that were the worst, but it's not. So here's the ugly. Too many women and girls are poor and marginalized around the world. 70% of people living in extreme poverty are women and girls. We are the majority of the hungry in the world today.

Fewer than 20% landowners. Women are concentrated in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. That means they have less security, and they are more likely to be victimized at work.

Nearly 2/3 of wage workers in the United States are minimum-wage workers. And I want to stop on this for a second. The average woman in the United States with two children, if she works full time at minimum wage, she is living at or below the poverty line. On average, women are paid 23% less than men worldwide. In the United States, we all know it's 20%.

It's worse for black women. It's worse for Latinas. We used to be 86 years away from closing the pay gap. We are now 100. 130 million girls are not in school. On average, there are 15 million child marriages a year, and these are all girls.

Women have far too little control over our reproductive health and choices. Almost half of all abortions conducted in the world today are unsafe. It leads to one in 10 maternal deaths. 87-- I want to go slow here. 87% of counties in the United States do not have an abortion clinic. 87%.

Maternal mature-- maternal mortality is the leading cause of death in women-- is a leading cause of death of women reproductive age. And over 200 million women who do not want to get pregnant do not have access to modern contraception. In the United States-- the United States is one of only two countries that do not offer maternal leave. The other is Papua New Guinea.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and violence against women are pervasive. 60% of women in the United States have been sexually assaulted, and far too few feel like they have a voice to speak up. One in three women worldwide has been a victim of sexual assault or physical violence. 120 million girls have experienced rape or forced sex acts. That's 10% of our girls worldwide.

And women still lack fundamental rights in many countries. 46% of countries do not provide legal protection against domestic violence. In 30 countries, spousal rape is legal. In 18 countries, a husband can tell his wife, force his wife not to work.

And when you slow down and think about it, these are all critically, critically important human rights. And it takes me back to Hillary Clinton over 20 years ago. “Women's rights are human's rights-- are human rights.”

So the good. A lot went wrong in 2017, but a lot went right. So let's look at it.

3 to 5 million people around the world marched for women's rights. It was the largest single day of protests in the United States history. And people took to Google, and searches for feminism and intersectional feminism were at an all-time high.

Kamala Harris passed multiple glass ceilings. Nevertheless, she persisted became a mantra for women everywhere. Crosswalks received a makeover in Australia. They turn heads, challenge gender bias.

For the first time ever, an all-female flight crew circled the globe thanks to Air India. And when I say all-female, I mean the pilots, the crew, people on the ground, and the people doing air control. The Fearless Girl stood on Wall Street and became an emblem for women's empowerment.

The US women's team earned a hard-earned and overdue pay bump. The UK became one of the first countries that requires companies to report compensation by gender, and we need more countries to do this. Larissa Waters breastfed in Australian Parliament, and mothers and women around the world cheered her on.

President Macron appointed women to half his cabinet posts. And in the US, 175 CEOs signed the largest ever commitment to diversity and inclusion. Serbia elected its first female and first openly gay prime minister. Kenya passed a law guaranteeing free sanitary pads for school girls. So now most girls can go to school most days, which has not always been the case.

Six teenage girls from Afghanistan, a country where it's been very hard for girls to get educated, they took the world stage at a robotics competition. And in the US, the Girl Scouts announced 20 new badges-- 23 new badges in STEM. Maxine Waters reclaimed her time.

Katie Sowers became the first openly gay LGBTQ NFL coach-- yes, I just said that-- and the second female coach in the NFL of all time. Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy award for comedy writing. And she's here, and she's a badass. Women for the first time ever were able to get behind the wheel and drive in Saudi Arabia. Jess Bennett became the first gender editor at the New York Times.

Starting with Harvey Weinstein, brave women started to speak out. And more women followed, and more women followed. And it became a movement. And millions of people around the world said #MeToo.

So the Miss Peru Contest usually starts with the women getting up, and they share their body measurements. So this year, they were having none of that. All 23 contestants instead cited stats about sexual-- sexual violence and other types of violence that women in Peru face.

It was a big night for women on election night. The first female Olympian wore a headdress, and she inspired the first hijab-wearing Barbie. 98% of black women voted in Alabama for Doug Jones and against Roy Moore.

This year, the top three grossing films featured all women in lead roles. This was the Getty Images' top-selling image for women in 2017. Here it is from 2007. So pictures do speak louder than words sometimes. But worth noting, word of the year, feminism.

So far this year, Iceland made it illegal to pay men more than women. 150 female athletes bravely shared their stories abuse. And Larry Nassar has been-- he'll spend his lifetime in jail. Time's Up became a rallying cry thanks to so many of the women in this room.

Incoming women at Oxford outnumbered men for the first time in the university's 1,000-year history. Oprah Winfrey, of course, won the Cecil B. DeMille Award and wowed us with her speech. For the second year in a row, women marched for women's rights. And a record number of women are running for office, 390 in the House, almost 50 in the Senate. And that gives me hope.

So 2007 was a year where we faced a lot. But we rose together. We rose to the occasion. We took to the streets. We stood shoulder to shoulder. We were louder than we've been in years, maybe decades.

So when we look to 2018, we just have to keep going. We just have to keep pushing harder. And that's why gathering here at MAKERS is so important, 'cause it reminds us what we're doing. It gives us energy, a sense of solidarity to keep moving forward, because there is so much history, or should I say herstory, still left to be made. Thank you.


  1. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2017,
  2. Marianne Cooper, “The 3 Things That Make Organizations More Prone to Sexual Harassment,” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, Nov. 27, 2017,
  3. ROX, “The Girls Index: New Insights Into the Complex World of Today's Girls,” 2017,
  4. Project Concern International, “Women's Empowerment & Poverty,” 2018,
  5. “World Health Organization, “Violence against Women,” 2017,
  6. Maternity and Paternity at Work,” International Labor Organization (2014),
  7. Bill and Melinda Gates, “Warren Buffett’s Best Investment,” Gates Notes, 2017,
  8. Megan Brenan, “Americans No Longer Prefer Male Boss to Female Boss,” Gallup, 2017,
  9. Sarah Frostenson, “The Women's Marches may have been the largest demonstration in US history,” Vox, Jan. 31, 2017, ; Kainaz Amaria and Tara Golshan, “Photos from Women’s Marches around the world,” Vox, Jan. 22, 2017,