As the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle definitely knows what it’s like to be a working mother. Now that she’s living in the United States, she’s using her platform to speak up about gender-based power imbalances at home, in the workplace, and more. Meghan Markle's quote about ambition in girls is everything, and it just goes to show how America still has a lot more work to do when it comes to uplifting women and femmes in the workplace.
“[Merrill Lynch] did a study that said 61% of women would rather talk about the details of their own death than talk about money,” Markle told Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 9. She was there to discuss how women can achieve both economic and professional equality in the workplace in a segment called “Minding the Gap.” At the event, Markle spoke about her advocacy and outreach for paid family leave in the United States — the only wealthy country in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave on a national scale. “You look at that and go, ‘how have we culturally allowed that to be the case?’ There’s nothing wrong with talking about a woman’s success, or her ambition, or her financial prowess. And we all know if you’re able to be financially independent, it changes how you move in the world.”
“You used the word ambition just now,” Sorkin said. Markle quickly responded by saying, “Oh — it’s a ‘trigger’ word,” referring to the fact that, historically, ambition in women has been seen as a negative trait in America. Sorkin seemed to agree: “It’s a word that a lot of people have used to demonize women.”
However, Markle pointed out that narrative needs to change. “Why is it, culturally, we are equipping girls and women to think that if you are ambitious, there’s something negative about that?” she asked. “If a man, certainly, is described as ambitious, that’s an incredibly positive thing, culturally.”
Markle’s voice is one of many in the struggle against gender-based power imbalances in the workplace. According to a survey released in May 2021 by Pew Research, around 20% of women said they’d “been passed over for an important assignment or a promotion at work,” and 27% said they were “treated as if they weren’t committed to their work.” This type of discrimination only contributes to the deeply-ingrained power imbalances women have faced in the workplace for decades: As of 2020, women still only earn roughly “84% of what men earned” at work, per Pew Research.
Mellody Hobson, the co-chief executive and president of Ariel Investments, also joined Markle at the summit, and pointed out that workplace efforts to achieve financial and professional equality for women have largely benefitted certain demographics: “I do believe the number-one beneficiary of diversity initiatives in this country has been white women,” Hobson stated, later noting how the issue should be approached with more nuance and intention. “I think the problem is that there is this scenario that is created, and it is a zero-sum game — and it is not.”
Markle agrees that those who hold privilege should take care to acknowledge it, and to move the conversation forward when it comes to taking concrete legislative action. “It takes strong men, modern men, to really understand they benefit from [these imbalances] as well,” Markle said. It’s not an issue that’s “red or blue,” Markle notes. “It sets us up for economic growth and success, but it also just allows people to have that very sacred time as a family.”