Georgina Emerson on Closing Gender Gaps by Changing How We Teach

Georgina Emerson, Founder & CEO of Teach About Women, was interviewed on the Mission Matters Business Podcast.

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In this interview with Adam Torres, Georgina Emerson talks about redefining the language of power, reframing history to focus more on women, and creating a more equitable world for future generations. Her organization, Teach About Women, and her book, Women, Gender and Power: A New Global History, both seek to transform the way we teach about the past so we can build a better future.

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How did the Teach About Women journey begin?

After completing her education, Emerson was working as a writer and high school teacher. When presented with an opportunity to teach a course on feminism, she started looking for resources on women in power throughout history to add to the curriculum. “One of my favorite writers published a new book called ‘Women and Power’ just in time,” she recalls, but she soon realized that, while feminism was openly discussed in academic circles, a wide gap remained between those circles and the general public.

“In the state guidelines for teaching, I found out that on average, kids graduate from high school having heard the names of 10 women in total in their history classrooms,” Emerson says. “There is no mention of gender, or race, or any of the  factors that work against women seeking equal pay in any of the finance and economics courses, or the courses on civic participation. The fact that we were sending inaccurate messages to young people about power and women’s roles didn’t sit right with me, and soon, the book started taking shape.”

The situation, she explains, is urgent. One indicator of gender disparity across the world: globally, 67 percent of girls self-select out of high-level math and science classes before the age of 15. 

To address the problem, Emerson stresses the importance of incorporating gender equity into every aspect of school life, from curriculum to hiring and sports policies, as well as giving students the skills and knowledge they need to close gender gaps in leadership. That’s the basis of Teach About Women, a nonprofit organization of educators working to put gender equality at the center of school life. “With our team of 20 teachers, Teach About Women seeks to change how and what we’re teaching young generations,” she says.

Advice for a more equitable world

Emerson urges everyone—women, men, gender minorities, folks of every political persuasion—to question our present, our history, and the actions of others as we strive to build an equitable future. “When you’re applying to companies, pay attention to the gender distribution. Ask questions about parental leave policies,” she advises as an example. “Consider your own unconscious biases, and think about what gender parity would look like.”

From the origins of agriculture to the modern-day workplace, Emerson’s book, Women, Gender and Power: A New Global History, sheds new light on stories ignored by most textbooks. 

For example: “In the 1300s, all the beer brewers in England were women,” she notes. “By the 1600s, beer became a more profitable commercial product, and men had replaced women by systematically removing them from the workforce. The same happened with the tech industry in the late ‘40s. I want people to explore these lesser-known trends from history and learn strategies to avoid repeating these mistakes.”

“Another piece of advice, especially for young people,” she says, is to build community. “If you have an idea that feeds off your strengths, build a community to support your cause and yourself in the journey. You need more good ideas to build something that will last.”

How does Teach About Women work?

Teach About Women launched in New York City, working with private, charter and public schools in the tri-state area. “Now we focus on K-12 schools nationwide,” Emerson says. “In addition to the curriculum we offer, we train and certify teachers as Educators for Gender Equity. That means they have concrete practices for diffusing unconscious bias, and other factors that, slowly but surely, solidify gender stereotypes in young people’s minds.”

The goal, she says, is to extend Teach About Women’s reach to public schools across the US. “In a month, we’ve been to 15 schools and impacted not just teachers but about 5,000 students too,” she says. “By 2026, we aim to reach one million students.”

How can people support the cause?

“We are at a gender reckoning moment now,” she says. “On the one hand, we are witnessing victories, such as a bi-racial woman of color being our Vice-President, and on another hand, the Covid-19 crisis pushed three million women out of the workforce. We need people to support and contribute to ensure that power is not used against women and instead creates a level field to let them access power and authority for themselves.”

“To contribute, you can join Teach About Women’s free programs for teachers, parents, and students,” she notes. “If you believe that gender equity should be a part of every aspect of school life, you can make a donation or connect us with the K-12 schools in your communities.”

Another way to get involved: The organization’s first-ever women’s history walkathon is being planned for May 2022 in Central Park. 

“We’ll visit the statues of notable men and talk about some notable women who could have also been represented in those statues,” she says. “The walk will end on the Central Park’s first-ever statue of three women. People of every age can join us.” 

What’s Next for You? 

“We’re coming up with pilot programs for US and global history to introduce into five schools by the end of the year,” Emerson explains. “Moreover, we aim to pilot our program to certify Educators for Gender Equity in 25 schools.”

To learn more about Teach About Women and support their work, visit teachaboutwomen.org.