"Today, everyone's eyes are on us as we rise," Amanda Gorman, the US' first national youth poet laureate, began her poem at a Tuesday morning keynote presentation for the IgniteCHANGE conference. "Today is the day women are paving the way, speaking out truth to power."
Gorman, 23, caught the nation's attention after reading her poem The Hill We Climb at President Joe Biden's inauguration in January. On Tuesday, she opened a day of speeches and conversations with women across industries with her poem about the power all women possess.
"We are not victims, we are victors," Gorman continued, "the greatest predictors of progress."
The PBWC keynote presentation, hosted by the Professional BusinessWomen of California, went on to address the inequities women face in the workforce, which have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1.1 million workers age 20 and over left the labor force in September, 80% of whom were women, according to the National Women's Law Center. A February study by McKinsey found that employment levels for vulnerable Americans, particularly women, won't return to pre-pandemic levels until after 2024. Another McKinsey study, from March, found that "one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers," citing mounting pressure at work and at home as they spend more time on household responsibilities.
Melinda Gates, a longtime gender equality advocate, has also warned about the toll the pandemic is taking on women around the world, from interfering with access to pre- and post-natal care to increasing the weight of family care-related unpaid labor. At this year's South by Southwest conference, Gates advocated a paid family medical leave policy in the US, which she said is even more critical during the pandemic.
Gorman's poem Tuesday emphasized womens' strength and how critical it is for their voices to be heard.
"Our world made all the stronger, the longer women are able to sit at the table," she continued. "It is her strength, her story and her spirit which inspires other vital voices to speak up when they hear it.
"So let it be said that light will be shed when our world is led by leaders ahead of the headlines. These voices who are first on the front line, these women who stand up knowing the wind not by where it is, but by where it is blowing, leading worlds not by how society is, but by where change is going."
Gorman ends: "It's how we empower others that makes women's voices so vital."