I am an optimistic woman. But it was worse than we thought.
Just over a year ago, I published "A Letter to Young Women, in the Age of Trump." It came together in a rush the week before the election, fresh off of the Billy Bush tapes, and I figured I should memorialize the lessons from Trump's candidacy before he was defeated and would exit stage left. (Ha!) The net of it was: the work we women have to do to fight for real equality was more than we had thought; and I shared some hard-won lessons on how to move forward.
Fast forward a year.
The revelations of the past few months demonstrate that sexual harassment in the workplace has been way worse than we thought. And so it cascades from there, that there is likely more gender discrimination and gender bias than we thought. And so it has been harder than we thought, damn it, for us women to get ahead in business.
Yes, I experienced harassment when I was climbing the corporate ladder, and so did a number of my friends. But, you know, I worked on Wall Street, so I sort of figured it went along with the territory. And then as I moved away from Wall Street and into entrepreneurship — and heard and saw similar stories there — I figured it was Wall Street and Silicon Valley. So two industries, very male-dominated.
And then came Hollywood. And TV. And radio. And start-ups. And, of course, government.
But also Matt Lauer? Charlie Rose? Two men we invited into our homes in the morning. We thought we could trust them. Is there a greater trust than with the people you drink your morning coffee with?
Makes the Matt Lauer interviews of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem even more lopsided — dare I say misogynistic — than they did at the time ... and they seemed pretty lopsided — dare I say misogynistic — at the time.
Remember that time Charlie Rose interviewed Kevin Spacey on Bill Clinton's infidelities? Excuse me while I throw up.
As recently as last year (just last year!), the advice given to professional women (including some from yours truly) was: "You've got this!" "Go get that raise!" "Know your worth!" "You go girl!" We told ourselves we had control; we could all be girlbosses by following a set of guidelines passed down from those who have been there. ("Oh, did you not get the raise? It's on you. Get back in there and be more compelling next time.")
The doctrine was that each of us could control our destiny at work, individually.
At the same time, we were simultaneously receiving the implicit message that we women didn't need each other to get ahead. Not only was success framed for us an individual sport, but the research tells us that women who advocated for other women in business got dinged for it. White men who advocated for women, in contrast, had their reputations enhanced.
So if you wanted to get ahead, you played to the men, and we were in competition with the women for that one seat at the leadership table with the pink W on it. It pitted us against each other; it degraded our trust in each other; it kept us from working together, and so it kept us isolated and weak.
You know how they say there's strength in numbers? Yeah, not here.
The other message we got was that we could and should "have it all" — and that meant children, too. And once we had children, we needed to achieve "work-life balance." All while conforming to the 9-to-5 (or later) face-time work ethos of the 1960s. We had to somehow be the perfect company man from the 1960s – and his wife. F'ing impossible.
The result? The women who make it to the top in business continue to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Think Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Indra Nooyi: all exceptional, exceptional women. So even with girls getting better grades and more education, and with small encyclopedias worth of research showing that gender diverse teams drive better business results — the women who make it are nothing short of intergalactic aberrations.
There are so many great men out there who support us at home and at work. But there has been more sexism at work than any of us thought, and it can be hard to spot. (I mean, we live in a world in which the Obamas allowed their daughter to work for Harvey Weinstein for the summer...if they didn't know what he was, what were anyone else's chances?) It thus follows that there are more obstacles to us at work than we thought.
We've been under such a spell that we've actually been calling industries with 85-95 percent men "meritocracies" with straight faces. They would be more accurately labeled "man-tocracies."
I'm talking Wall Street and Silicon Valley here. We've been in a world in which these man-tocracies hurt our economy and our society, with multi-million dollar discrimination pay-outs and missed business opportunities. Oh, and financial crisis. The boards, the shareholders, and we as consumers, allowed it. (See my Sunday New York Times Opinion piece on this here.)
Let's be clear: this wasn't our fault, ladies. The deck was stacked against us, and it was never enough to just try harder.
The transgressions that have come to light over the past few months have shown there is no way to be in control. This is NOT yours to lose, no matter how forceful, compelling or take-your-seat at the table you've been.
So the way forward has to be different. As opposed to the "you can do this ... alone" view on how to succeed as a professional woman, it has to be us together. As opposed to waiting for our generation's "Gloria Steinem" to emerge to lead us, it's each of us taking actions — some big, some micro — to advance all of us. That means creating communities of trust, with each other, to replace the ones that have been torn away.
It's continuing to call out any sick harassers and supporting and amplifying the women who do so on social media.
It's talking to our younger sisters and daughters and nieces and friends and sharing our experiences so they know they're not alone. So they "have permission" to fight against and report any of these guys (as so many of my generation didn't).
It's buying from companies that treat us well, promote us, support our values ... and refusing to do business with man-tocracies until they become true meritocracies. That means putting aside the ingrained belief that the best people for the team always happen to be the same-looking people for the team.
For some of us, it's getting out of these unfair situations and starting our own businesses and trusting that, if our idea is good enough, other women, and the great guys out there, will support us.
It's fighting like hell for a public policy initiatives and legislation that will help women and fighting those that will hurt women. Just put your elected representative on speed-dial for the next few years.
For me, it's working to close the gender money gaps, because women are better able to stand up for themselves when they are financially strong. It's tough enough to advocate for yourself when you're in good financial shape, and it's quite another if you're awash in credit card debt or living paycheck to paycheck.
As the mother of a daughter looking for a summer job, I'm nervous for her, unless we seize on the lessons from the past year. It starts with letting go of our old beliefs about the path to success, and depending on each other more than we have in the past: believing each other, hiring each other, promoting each other, buying from each other, funding each other, mentoring each other, recommending each other, sending business to each other, voting for each other. Just like the guys always have.
We can do this. We just can't do it until we get rid of our disproven beliefs about the means to success and build new communities of trust with each other. And we move from each of us on our own to all of us together.
Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, an innovative investing and planning platform for women. She is Chair of Ellevate Network and the Pax Ellevate Global Women's Index Fund. She is author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work.
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