August 25, 2021

VOTES FOR WOMEN! (and more…)

Somehow, this turned into a piece about my grandmother. I started to write in celebration of Women’s Equality Day, August 26, the date chosen to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, but my thoughts soon took a sharp turn toward my grandmother. Yes, my grandmother.  

As a child, I remember her telling me about women’s struggles to get the right to vote and about her excitement as a young woman in her 20’s when, after decades of peaceful demonstrations, women were finally granted that right. While she wasn’t technically a suffragette, she fiercely believed that women should be given a voice and a voice that mattered. At the time it didn’t mean much to me; after all, I wasn’t old enough to vote, and anyway, couldn’t everybody vote? [1]

Just voting wasn’t enough for her; “Grandmother” (as she demanded I call her) was active in politics and served as a local committee chair for her party, unusual in her day when women “belonged in the home.” She also had a job as a dental assistant—in the 1930s, with a young child at home and a husband who commuted by train to his job in the city. When I started my first job, she told me about her work and showed me photos of her, garbed in a long white gown and holding scary-looking implements.

What she didn’t tell me was that at the time of her employment, she was most likely paid just a bit more than half of what men were earning—a figure that didn’t hit 60% until 1960, and in the U.S. has crept up ever so slowly, to just 82% of men’s earnings today. Gender and pay equity is a complicated issue made even more so when race and ethnicity are considered. But one thing is certain: awareness of the gender pay gap dates back more than a century and a half—to the 1860’s when activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sounded a rallying call “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Sadly, it wasn’t until 100 years later that Congress took action, passing the Equal Pay Act in 1963—a great start, but still flawed legislation. It took nearly two generations until additional legislation was enacted that made it easier for women to obtain justice. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 narrowed the gap to 77%, a change of just about 50 points in 150 years from the time those first bold women spoke out for “Equal Pay.”

So, let’s take a moment to raise a toast to those who have gone before us in this adventure:

  • to suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton,

  • President John F. Kennedy who signed 1963’s Equal Pay Act,

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose actions on the Supreme Court facilitated the Lily Ledbetter Act and to President Barack Obama for signing that legislation into law,

  • to all of you who work every day to support women’s progress and social justice,

  • and, of course, to my grandmother, Katherine.

She would be so proud of all of you.

[1] How wrong and naïve I was…it wasn’t until 1965’s Voting Rights Act that all Black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote, free from local mores and bureaucratic obstacles that prevented them from voting.

References (click on each title to view the article):

Additional Resources (click on each topic to view the article):

  • Podcast/transcript: A look at the future of work, the role of women, and gender equality (McKinsey Global Institute)

  • Action tips: Suggestions for celebrating and advancing women in the workplace (Vantage Circle blog)

  • An organizational/systemic perspective: Ideas to foster gender equity in the workplace, with a section on men’s role (Center for Creative Leadership)

  • Broad perspective: Including women’s leadership internationally in science, sports, business, and more (Un-Women)

  • Historical perspective: A short piece with just the facts (Hindustand Times)

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