The History of Women
Since 1987, the United States has used the month of March to celebrate women’s contribution to history, culture, and society. As I reflect on such contributions, I’m reminded of women like Sojourner Truth and Marie Curie. Both women did more than change our perception of the world. Their actions saved lives. Do you know a woman like that? Perhaps, she serves on the frontlines of a COVID-19 hospital unit. Or, she created innovative ways to navigate remote learning or challenged expectations for women in the workplace.
While not every woman has the fame of someone like Kamala Harris or Simone de Beauvoir, millions of women change someone’s life each day. These extraordinary women are leaders, pioneers, visionaries, mothers, and friends. They battle stereotypes, glass-ceilings, harassment, and yes, even in the 21st century, an element of society that still wonders why women haven’t gone back to the kitchen where they belong.
These women, heralded or nameless, deserve the respect that the implementation of Women’s History Month implies. In other words, we need to do more than briefly acknowledge the occasion and go back to our “originally scheduled programming.” Our goal should be to seek out the stories that haven’t been told and listen to the voices that need amplification. However, this celebration of women should go beyond academic exploration and self-gratification. We need to ensure that the injustices and inequality throughout history do not become part of our legacy.
One of the most important places that we can show support for women is in the workplace. According to a recent CNN report, women have been hit harder by job loss during the pandemic than their male counterparts. As of the December 2020 report, women held 5.3 million fewer jobs than they did in February 2020 when the pandemic began, compared with a 4.6 million job shortfall with men.
What has caused this disparity? First, women held more jobs in industries hard hit by the pandemic. Positions in tourism, restaurants, retail, and outpatient doctor’s offices essentially dried up in March of 2020. While some positions have returned, struggling businesses haven’t fully reopened or are operating at a third of their usual capacity. In short, there are not enough jobs to go around. Another issue facing women in the age of COVID-19 comes down to pay and childcare. When schools around the country went virtual, parents had to decide who would stay home and educate their children, while the other parent went back to work. For millions of households, the choice was clear, men make more money than women, so men returned to work, and women gave up careers and other pursuits to take care of their family.
How can we support women who wish to return to work?
1. Keep work schedules flexible and remote.
2. End pay disparity.
3. Advocate for women in predominantly male-run industries
4. Offer on-site childcare and tutoring for minor children of employees.
5. Provide on-the-job training for women who cannot afford college.
6. Stop feeding the cycle.
Depending on our current position at work, it may not be in our power to equalize pay or institute new workplace benefits. On the other hand, we can all practice number six.
What do I mean by “stop feeding the cycle?”
A few weeks ago, I attended a virtual training conference. One of the keynote speakers chose the topic of empowerment through change. I was excited to listen to her presentation. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the helpful tips I expected. The speaker started her keynote address by relating an experience she had at work. After developing an idea, and spending months preparing it, a male co-worker stole the idea and her work. When the speaker reported the theft to her boss, her boss said she “needed to get on board and get over it.” She was new on the job, so she let her co-worker keep the credit, pay-raise, and promotion that came from the work the speaker had done. Where do you think the story went from here? If you said something to the effect that she learned a valuable lesson or fought against dishonesty in the workplace…you would be wrong.
The speaker spent the next two hours outlining her vision of empowerment by enabling toxic work environments. My shock was echoed through the post-session questions and awkward clapping. How did an educated, talented, and passionate woman allow herself to feed a cycle of injustice and discrimination in the workplace? It is a question we should all ask ourselves. Whatever the unfortunate reason, she wanted those of us in the audience to sacrifice our voices and our rights. She said that we would find “true empowerment by just taking whatever happened to us.” “We needed to change our attitudes and be happy to be there.”
As destructive as these attitudes would be if a man said them, they are especially damaging when women reinforce the idea that it’s best to be silent and not rock the boat. It’s a form of victimization against every woman who is afraid to stand up against the toxic or sexually abusive situations they may find themselves in down the line.
We can show that we value the history of women and all that they have fought for and endured by not allowing injustice to go unchecked. We must speak up for ourselves and others. Our determination to support women, in big and small ways, may not come without a cost. Sometimes that cost is high, but hopefully, it means that future generations will pay far less than we did. We all have a part to play in our efforts to show appreciation for the contribution of women. We need to share their stories. Be willing to help other women achieve their goals. Stop the cycle of injustice that can happen through our words and our actions. We owe it to the women who came before us and to the women who will come after us.