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Year of the woman? Reflecting on 2018's progress and the challenges ahead

From a historic number of women running for office, to the gender wage gap and #MeToo, here are some of the issues that dominated the past year.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.Anthony Scutro/Miller Hawkins

What a year it has been. To review all of the strides women have made throughout 2018, I recently sat down with BBC News’ Katty Kay, humanitarian Zainab Salbi and MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt.

We all agreed: Women have made great progress, though serious challenges still lie ahead.

Katty discussed why she believes we saw record numbers of women running for – and winning – political offices this year. “Donald Trump was a big driver here in the United States,” she said, referencing women’s marches and other demonstrations.

And although we now have more than 100 women in Congress, “it’s not enough,” Katty said. “We still have work to do. We’re nowhere near parity. We’re still at only about 20 percent in the Senate.” The key, she said, is for more women to run for office – because we know that when women run, they win at rates as high as men.

And the way women campaign is changing for the better, Kasie added.

This year “women were running as themselves,” she explained. “Historically the model for a woman running was to try to be like the guys. Act like them, and that will help you get elected.”

But the women campaigning in 2018 “threw that playbook out the window,” Kasie said. Mothers brought their kids to campaign stops and suddenly there are more breastfeeding women in Congress, she noted. So conversations are finally being had about facilities in the Capitol — something that was never much of a consideration before.

“I think that’s a huge step forward,” Kasie said. “And I was happy to see that women were able to win in that mold, because perhaps it will help us all break through that idea that if you want to succeed, you have to act like a dude.”

Attitudes are changing in workplaces beyond Capitol Hill, too, particularly in terms of sexual harassment, said Zainab.

“What has changed is women started breaking their silence,” she said. “Sexual harassment is an old issue … we all coexisted with it. But women said, 'we’re not going to tolerate such behavior.' It’s an excellent moment in American women’s history, and the world in general.”

Still, as Zainab noted, the movement has largely been “individual women speaking out about individual men.” That’s a great start. But to stop harassment — so no woman ever has to be in the position of speaking out — we “need to change the work space and work infrastructure,” she said. “It’s about the behavior and how we change that.”

In other workplace concerns, Katty pointed out that the persistent and widespread nature of the wage gap “makes me think we need more on the policy front … I’m hopeful we can start to change the gap with more women involved who have their voices heard up on Capitol Hill.”

The gender wage gap and sexual harassment in the workplace were two issues we also discussed at our Know Your Value conference in San Francisco earlier this month. I was thrilled to see nearly 600 women connect with our speakers and each other.

I couldn’t imagine a better way to close out the year. Here’s to even more progress in 2019.