International Women's Day
In the United States, Women’s Day has been observed for over a century. The suffragettes of 1908 marched in New York City for the right to vote, shorter work hours, and better pay. The first United Nations International Women’s Day was held in 1975. This year, it’s on March 8th. It is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s a call to accelerate women’s rights and equality. The theme for 2022 is #breakthebias.
Gender bias continues to be very real in the United States. The book Just a Girl by Lucinda Jackson details her life as a female scientist from the 1970s and over the course of her career. Sadly, her struggle to gain acceptance is not unique or in the distant past. Although there are more women in all branches of science today, those I know say the bias continues to linger in hiring and promotional decisions—particularly for top leadership positions.
Jackson’s story isn’t pretty. She doesn’t soften the descriptions of physical intimidation, unwelcome sexual taunts, and the situations in which she was terrified for her safety. I was taken back to the bad old days when harassment was just part of being a woman at work. I remember being twenty years old, trapped in a tiny office with an amorous male manager who insisted he had an “open marriage.” Of course, it was taken for granted that I’d be interested. Employers of the day turned a blind eye to unwanted advances by men in power. These were the days when law enforcement and the legal system presumed women were the cause of assault and rape by being “provocative.” There were few places to go with a complaint—I know because I was the co-director of a rape crisis center at the time.
The most obviously egregious behavior may not be as prevalent today, but it hasn’t disappeared. As the #MeToo movement attested, workplace sexual harassment continues. And it’s not just harassment that persists. We still don’t make the same money men do even with equivalent education and experience. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, yet almost sixty years later, women make eighty-two cents to every dollar a man makes for the same (or equal) work. So, if a male worker makes $20,000/yr., a female worker makes $16,400. Consider the number of single mothers who receive little to no spousal support. Is it any wonder a woeful number of women and children live in poverty?
“Pink collar” (traditionally, but not exclusively, female) jobs are currently begging for workers. Nursing has been in crisis for some years. An inadequate number of students are enrolling in nursing school to meet the demands of a growing and aging population. As a result of the pandemic, many medical workers are turning in their scrubs to find less stressful and less risky job opportunities.
Additionally, we have too few who willing to care for children and the elderly—jobs that are typically termed “women’s work.” Especially during COVID-19, why risk your health and your family’s to labor in (frequently) poor working conditions for cruddy pay?
The “Great Resignation” is the term currently used for the flight of both female and male professionals from their jobs. The reasons are myriad but burn out and lack of childcare have been cited as two significant issues. It appears we’re in a new era of “Take This Job and Shove It.” It’s time to acknowledge that we won’t be returning to a previously defined “business as usual.” Employers have a lot to navigate in 2022 but change is clearly needed. A living wage (as determined by your community’s cost of living) and safe working conditions are basic. Because we haven’t made much progress nationally on accessible, high quality, and affordable childcare, the burden will fall to employers. Those who fail to step up may find they can’t attract or retain the employees they seek. It’s a workers’, not employers’, market—and workers have demands.
Dismissing wage discrepancy and childcare as “women’s issues” has diminished their importance for far too long and stashed them behind a pink curtain. These are economic and workforce hurdles that must be addressed if we want a robust economy going forward. Yet, as bad as the current state is, I have hope. After years of fighting for equal pay, the USWNT (women’s soccer) recently received a ruling in their favor. However, until such time as women receive their due, we’ll need International Women’s Day and other news-worthy events to spotlight inequities.
Change is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and costs money. We claim to be a prosperous society but it’s one that has rested on the backs of the poorly paid. For those who are suffering, social change happens at a snail’s pace. But I believe we’re on the cusp of renewed and constructive momentum, even if fails to deliver everything we desire or deserve. Any progress will be good for everyone. Happy International Women’s Day!