by Wendy Doyle
Congress declared August 26th Women’s Equality Day 44 years ago in commemoration of the 19th amendment, which granted women’s suffrage. Gaining the right to vote was one giant leap for womankind, but only one small step towards equality. Instead of a day of commemoration, I say we approach Women’s Equality Day as a day of action to further our quest for true gender equality.
Many gender gaps still exist and many barriers hold women back. Ninety-five years after gaining the right to vote, women are still not paid equally for their work and the United States is one of only nine countries that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave for working mothers. Despite now earning a majority of college degrees, women only make up about 5% of CEOs.
There are many issues that need to be addressed, but here are three existing gaps that we all should be working to close:
1) Pay Gap – Earlier this year, the Women’s Foundation released with the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri a research study about the Status of Women in Missouri. Our study found that a woman who works full-time in Missouri earns 29% less than a man does for the same work. With few exceptions, this income gap persists across racial and ethnic groups, age, education levels and occupations. Nationally, the gender pay gap is generally reported to be 22%. It’s past time for equal pay for equal work!
2) Opportunity Gap – Our research also found (not surprisingly) that working women and families face challenges when it comes to securing safe healthy supervision for their children and care for aging parents. Supportive work policies are extremely valuable as they allow women and families to be prosperous and more productive, but many employers do not have policies such as offering flex-time for caring for family members, paid maternity and paternity leave, or childcare benefits. This holds women back from achieving their full career and economic potential.
3) Leadership Gap – Women are largely underrepresented in elected office, in the C-suite and on boards and commissions; all places where policy decisions are made. A research study commissioned by the Women’s Foundation with the University of Kansas in 2014 found barriers to women’s civic engagement. Women who have not served feel they don’t have the knowledge and expertise needed, and feel less confident in their leadership skills. It also showed that many women weren’t aware of the opportunities to serve in local government and that they’d be more likely to serve if asked.
How long will women have to wait before Women’s Equality Day will truly commemorate gender equality? At the Women’s Foundation, we’re working for change -- to close these gaps and remove barriers for women and their families. We’ve been advancing the cause of equal pay with elected officials and community leaders in Missouri, recruiting more women to local and state leadership positions, and working with researchers and policy makers to help further supportive policies in the workplace.
Someday soon, I hope that Women’s Equality Day can commemorate more than women’s suffrage. I hope that it can be used to commemorate true equality where women share the same chances and opportunities as men. Just like the struggle to gain women’s suffrage, full economic equality won’t come easily. We have to work for it. At the Women’s Foundation we will continue to work for change. Will you help us?