How #MeToo failed us and how Gen Z will save us

Emily Ratajkowski was your usual swimsuit supermodel until she wasn't. On October 4, she posted a picture on her Instagram scoring almost two million likes. Nothing unusual for her profile, but this time she was fully dressed and protesting the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh with a “Respect female existence or expect our resistance” poster. Emily Ratajkowski was your usual swimsuit supermodel until she was arrested for speaking up.  

#MeToo began a year ago and has become a signifier for a movement that is changing the future. Being a woman has suddenly become an opinion. A way of life. A destination. Oprah, Lady Gaga or Michelle Obama and many more have given incredible speeches celebrating female empowerment. Lean in by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has become a bestseller and Feminist a proud label. And as fashion always follows zeitgeist, a pantsuit has become the go-to trend of the last season.

In the time when everything is measured in likes and views, female empowerment has become a recipe to attract a millennial audience all over the world. The French blogger Siham Jibril has created a podcast about female entrepreneurs GenerationXX which has scored two million downloads in less than two years. Media houses such as Forbes or Huffington Post have introduced female-oriented sites and many brands are following their lead. From Audi's Super Bowl “Daughter” ad to “Run like a girl” by Always, empowerment has suddenly become a powerful marketing tool.     

The Washington Post proclaimed 2017 as the Year of a Woman. An outspoken, fierce and digitally-savvy one.

Once you have a word for it, it exists

It would be easy to diminish celebrity speeches and Instagram posts, but they all add up. When learning a foreign language, it is said that you need to hear and say a word seven times to memorize it. Every time you hear someone saying he or she is a feminist, it is becoming part of your own vocabulary. Every time you see a female CEO, you start believing you can become one. The Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein explains that something exists once you have a word for it. So by describing the future, we are creating it. Turning what has one been a black swan into an everyday reality.

I started a female empowerment movement for women in business #HolkyzMarketingu after attending a tech conference, where I was taken for a waitress. I was a speaker, but at that time only 12 % of women chose a career in tech and only 3 % of creative directors in advertising agencies were female. I was a black swan, somebody considered not to exist, until she did. Five years later, we united over 13,000 women from the Czech Republic with a single mission: to change the status quo.

This is long suppressed anger that has been transformed into energy, that is changing the future. It turns swimsuit models into activists and causes a record number of women to seek office for the first time in the U.S. “My 16-year-old turned to me after the election and he said, “America doesn't want a smart qualified women in office.” By Friday I was running,” The January New York magazine cover sums it up:  it is the frustration that drives reaction.

Many movements have bloomed out of this frustration: from Time's up, girlboss to HER, women seem more united than ever. With new role models to follow not only on social media, but in their footsteps, the future looks equal.

Instagram's adoption vs Feminism

Millenials are used to change happening very quickly. Many of the jobs they hold, did not exist ten years ago. The same is true for the tools they work with. Technological adoption has accelerated and what once took years, now takes days. Gen Y are used to immediate feedback on social media. Since Google AdWords, they measure all campaigns in a precise return on investment.

Deloitte's study on Millennials in the workplace reveals their frustration that companies set their priorities differently from where they should be. On revenue, instead of a mission and true impact. Generation What, European research among young people between 18-34, states that 89 % (and 81 % in the Czech Republic) believe banks and money rule the world.

Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, has pointed out: “True change doesn’t happen in ads, it happens in boardrooms and paychecks.” And that is where the true issue lays. According to TechCrunch, the money invested into companies, with at least one female founder, represents just nine percent of the venture dollars invested in Q1 2018 and only three percent of the venture dollars were invested in solo female founders. Fortune 500 companies still only have 5 % of female CEOs and the ratio of female founded startups in Europe is still below 27%, and the female investor rate is under 7%.

It is therefore not surprising  that the anger that started empowerment accompanies it now. That the change is not as quick or visible as they hoped for. “Perhaps one of the most telling of the #MeToo lessons has been just how quickly many of the accused have been “cleared”. (...) Even those who have admitted wrongdoing have found the stigma of their actions quickly slip away. (...) Others who stood accused have emerged unscathed,” shares Jo Ellison in October's Financial Times.

When politicians, comedians or judges still hold their positions after being accused, a feeling of resignation begins to  kick in. When female CEOs still seem like black swans, the lack of hope that incubators, mentors or communities can really have an impact is apparent.

As Janan Ganesh states in October's Financial Times: “The anger of the day stems from a kind of innocence. It assumes progress to be the natural order of things - not just the way the world should be, but the way it has been most of the time.” But the financial crisis, among other things, has given us a lesson. That it is only technological adoption that accelerates without any comments below the line.

Y + Z = future

It should be no surprise that different empowerment movements are so visible now. Millennials have already been labeled purpose-driven, but for Generation Z, it is the key driver. Acceptance, social awareness and social activism have become their favourite hashtags.

The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, together with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. V-4 Gen Z was born not only into a connected world but into connected countries. The ability  to move and work wherever they want, has become a natural order, not a privilege.

The first generation that was born into a connected world has learned to share what they like or not. And act on it. Young British voters have become more active in politics, with an estimated 58% of 18- to 24-year-olds voting in the 2015 general election, according to the British Election Study; this represents a significant jump, from 38% turnout among the same age group in 2005. “What we’re seeing is a generation of children who are expressing much more clearly that they are just generally so unhappy with themselves and the situations around them,” says Emily Cherry, head of participation at the British National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  

And it is not the political ecosystem, that is changing. Only 63% of British teens define themselves as 100% straight and only 78% of young men and 80 % women identify as 100% male or female, according to the National Citizen Service. What has been a label to Millenials has become a choice for Generation Z.

What Gen Y has so painfully uncovered and defined, the following generation can take as a building ground for action. Movements like #MeToo might have been slow to cause real change, but they have started it. “Until quite recently, such criticism was written off, or dismissed, as liberal hand-wringing. Or a niche point of view. That’s not so easy any more. The hand-wringers have been activated and they are getting harder to ignore,” states Jo Ellison in the Financial Times.  

Organizations like the Czech IT initiative to empower women in tech Czechitas or the Armenian sports program for girls GOALS are changing the lives of girls, who are yet to enter the workforce. They have understood that impact is measured by scalability and sustainability and therefore it is the most logical to shape what is ahead of us. We already know all of this.

Last night, when I sat through pitches at Propeller, a social entrepreneurship incubator in New Orleans created to rebuild the city's success post-Katrina, I realized that change does not happen overnight, it needs a movement to sustain it. What we have started, needs the energy of future leaders, to fulfill its full potential. And the more we talk and act now, the more powerful it becomes tomorrow.


This article was published in 04/2018 edition of Aspen Review