Gender diversity in the workforce has been a longstanding issue that has consistently crippled women's ability to climb the corporate ladder. In effort to finally place women in the seats their resumes prove they deserve, a recent California law approved by the senate state in 2018 required all public companies headquartered or incorporated in the state to have at least one female board member by yearend 2019. By 2021, boards will be required to give 40% of their seats to women. The penalty for failing to comply with the quota is set at a hefty $100K in fines and 300K for subsequent offenses. While the new bill may be welcomed by men and women who seek to bring gender equality and diversity to corporate boardrooms, it has been met with widespread backlash— and rightfully so.
According to California's Democratic state Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson, women's insight is critical towards the growth and profitability of any business. In sponsoring the legislation, Jackson believed this decision to be a progressive and fair attempt at leveling the playing field for women.
"One-fourth of California's publicly traded companies still do not have a single woman on their board, despite numerous independent studies that show companies with women on their board are more profitable and productive," stated Jackson. "With women comprising over half the population and making over 70% of purchasing decisions, their insight is critical to discussions and decisions that affect corporate culture, actions and profitability."
What this bill does particularly well is opening doors for women who have the credentials and experience needed to successfully serve on a board and contribute to the company's overall development. However, that may very well be where its achievements end. The first lawsuit issued against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, was filed by Washington-based conservative activist group, Judicial Watch. Tom Fitton, president of the group, said in a statement that "California's gender quota is brazenly unconstitutional." His argument is far from an over exaggeration as then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed off on the bill, made a statement regarding the questionable legality of the women's quota.
"There have been numerous objections to this bill, and serious legal concerns have been raised," stated Brown. "I don't minimize the potential flaws that indeed may prove fatal to its ultimate implementation."
The second lawsuit against Padilla was filed earlier this month by Creighton Meland Jr., shareholder of OSI Systems, Inc. Like Fitton, Meland argued against California's Women Quota claiming it to be a "sex-based classification that violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." For Meland, sitting on an all-male board, the new law forces him and other shareholders alike to perpetuate sex-based discrimination when voting in board elections. Rather than voting for a woman solely on her credentials and potential to make effective decisions about the growth and future of the company, shareholders are left choose a token woman that will fulfill the criteria of the bill and ultimately protect the business from paying a fine.
While the legal concerns surrounding the Women Quota affect shareholders more than the women being placed on company boards, the ramifications of this bill are serving to hinder women in their fight for gender equality and diversity in the corporate workforce. Companies being forced to have women sit on their board will not only fail to see them as valuable assets towards the growth of the company, but it perpetuates the stereotype that women are incapable of attaining top level positions on their own without any outside help or handouts.
On Pacific Legal Foundation's website, the foundation filing Meland case, attorney Anastasia Boden wrote a response to an article written on Vox that accused PLF's lawsuit of "allegedly discriminating against men." According to Boden, the sex-based classifications needed to fulfill the criteria of the quota are far more damaging to women than they are helpful. They undermine any achievements these women will make in the future therefore reinforcing antiquated stereotypes while inadvertently opening the doors to further sexism in the workplace. Rather than recognizing women for the work they do and the success of their contributions, the stigma associated of being a "quota hire" will prevent women from receiving proper recognition.
While Boden argues that there is no evidence of discrimination in every boardroom, the women's quota does not offer a remedy for it either. When, in a board meeting, all members are aware of the fact that some members hold positions not through merit alone, but because the government has had the upper hand in that decision, women run the risk of being excluded from important decisions.
Not only does California's new law undermine women and their capabilities, but it may be misguided in perpetuating the idea that there are so few companies willing to put women on their board or that women are struggling to get those positions themselves. Boded cited the Equilar Gender Diversity Index which shows that women are already near parity even though women admittedly have a long way to go to in order to reach full gender parity.
"In Q2 2019, 42% of new board members across the top 3,000 were women. Over 20% of board members for those companies are women; 90% of boards have at least one woman," stated Boden.
Diminishing the progress that has already been made towards achieving gender equality and diversity does not provide a remedy for the lack thereof, but makes victims out of women while discouraging shareholders and investors from hiring women simply because they believe it is the fair and reasonable thing to do. Despite the well-intentioned effort to give women opportunities to hold positions they deserve; California's "Women Quota" seems to miss the mark when it comes to uplifting female leaders while breaking away from stereotypes that have oppressed women long enough.
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With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."