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The problem with progress is that it makes you believe the problem is solved if you stop paying attention.

I’m a big Mad Men fan and it was played out just last week, in the bubble that was their small, independent ad firm in 1970, women held positions: head copywriter, partner and account executive. In the big corporate ad firm they were swallowed into after a merger, those women were secretaries or trouble.

There are some things we take for granted. While we may be welcome, we will likely be one of the only woman in most C-suites, board rooms, back rooms or meetings. We keep plugging away because the more we add, the larger our voice becomes. But it’s jarring when someone actually articulates the sentiment that as a woman our value is less, whether it’s subtle, “She should wait until her children are grown and then she can focus on the job,” or blatant, “I don’t have to listen to you, girl.” (By the way, those are paraphrased incidents people have relayed to me in just the last few months.)

When reality sets in, it can be jarring.

And, as educated women in the workplace and in the community, we should prepare to be jarred because we are on the precipice of progress: the first female Presidential nominee of a major party and (if it were up to me) our first female President. 

That great achievement will move us from underdog minority to leader. I hear the muttering now, “What’s wrong with that?” and “This is what we worked towards.” It is what we worked towards but it’s not the end. We still have representation issues at all levels of government and, in fact, the issue is bigger the further down you go. We have wage gaps and representation problems on boards and c-suites. These stem from the same issues: women are baby tracked or lean-back because, while technology allows for flexibility, many of those in power don’t think it works despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Those of us that lean-in are still the minority and still face hurdles — just look at the comments I received above. These are all issues we can tackle when we hold the White House, right?

Here’s where I say, “Prepare to be jarred.”

Having the pulpit may make this harder. Remember President Obama’s “I know what it feels like” comment when Professor Gates was arrested by the Cambridge police? I’m sure they hoped it would be a good conversation starter. But the backlash was swift. He’s the President. How can he cry  oppression or minority status? Instead of a dialogue, we had race baiting. We need to prepare ourselves and draw lessons from the Obama administration. We have a laundry list of issues that directly impact the equality gap: access to health care, pay equity, family leave, paid sick time, maternity policies. One person can not be the face of all of these. And the leader of our country can’t be seen as the women’s-issue president, especially not when she’s a women.

I’d suggest that the first two years will be about proving she’s not just “some woman,” because sadly that’s the first half of any woman’s first few years. In those two years, we need to work harder than ever to show that all those issues I just listed aren’t “women’s issues.” They are economic issues. They are American issues. They are human issues. For the rest of us, I guarantee you will hear this at least once: “You’ve got the presidency, what more do you want?”

So here’s the answer: I want what you have — the ability to believe that all options are on the table, to no longer have women “firsts.” I want Congresswoman, Assemblywoman, Senators, freeholders, mayors and councilwoman to be 50 percent of the equation (at least).

I do not want this not to be a conversation but it will be, for at least another generation. I want everyone to understand that equality is an intrinsic right. And I want my daughters to expect more than tacit acceptance, I want them to be comfortable in any room and reflected in all levels of government and business.

I’m not suggesting we should wait for the first female president — I’m ready. What I am suggesting is we should all take a gut check right now and understand that the fight’s not over, we’re just entering a new battle.

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Cathleen Lewis
Cathleen, the Mayor of Lawrence Township & a full-time Public Affairs professional, counts her best job as being Mommy to Abigail (3 years) and Bridget (6 months ). A New Yorker originally, but Boston raised, Cathleen enjoys the challenge of raising the girls in a mixed household with her Yankee-fan husband Paul. She hopes to make up for the confusion by encouraging the family’s love of Rutgers football. She dreams of sharing her love of beaches, margaritas, music and adventure but is happy to squeeze in a family walk with the dog and a back yard BBQ these days. Formerly an avid reader and writer before work, life and children; Cathleen hopes she hasn’t lost her ability to capture thoughts through the written word but often can’t remember where the grocery list is.

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