Established in 1973, Women’s Equality Day commemorates the certification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Each year the President of the United States makes a statement on August 26th about the ways women contribute to the economy both in and out of the workforce. These speeches usually highlight the gains women have made in the past century while pointing out how far we still have to go.
In 1920, when the 19th Amendment was originally ratified, less than 20% of women were in the paid workforce, and less than 5% of those were married women. While the women’s movement of the 1970s brought a flood of new women workers into paid employment, their presence didn’t end the need for greater strides to be taken towards equality.
In the past five decades, women have won legal protection from sexual harassment by employers and co-workers as well as protection against being fired for becoming pregnant. However, the much publicized gender pay gap still remains with women earning just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. For working mothers this gap is even wider with them earning a mere 70 cents compared to every dollar earned by fathers.
When the global pandemic struck in 2020, women were the greatest casualties of the workforce. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, women make up 39% of workers worldwide but disproportionately lost employment during the Covid-19 crisis with 54% of women workers either losing their jobs or having to exit their positions to be caregivers and teachers to their young children. This loss reduced the number of working women to numbers not seen since 1988, essentially erasing decades of hard won gains.
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women are not able to re-establish themselves in the workforce in the next few years, the global economy will lose more than $1 trillion by 2030. Conversely, if women are able to regain their employment, the global economy could gain more than $5 trillion in the same time frame.
So, what exactly should we do to help women step back into the workforce? First, we have to acknowledge the reasons why so many have had to leave it. As childcare centers closed down and school became virtual, traditional gender roles reared their heads making mothers the primary caregiver. With no one to watch or educate their children, women were forced to leave jobs which normally contribute to the family’s financial health.
Secondly, women are often clustered in employment areas like hospitality or food work. These sectors were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic, making women without children just as vulnerable to unemployment as those with them. While there are a myriad of other factors contributing to women’s overall disproportionate exodus from the workforce, these are two of the most often cited reasons.
For Women’s Equality Day this year, simple lip service to the gains women have made in the past century are not enough. As the pandemic has proven, gender equality is still a far way off both in society and in employment. To gain true gender equality for women, we have to find a way to help them back into the workforce, secure their position with paid days off and childcare, and finally end the pay gap once and for all.
Katherine Taylor’s grandmother prophesied her becoming a writer. Kate’s work has appeared in Bright Wall Dark Room, Very Local Nola, and StarTrek.com among others. You can read more of Kate’s work at Medium.com.