By Lisa Courtney, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Vice President, Human Resources
Women’s Equality Day commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granting the right to vote to women. The amendment, first introduced in 1878, was ratified on August 26, 1920. In 1971, the U.S. Congress commemorated this date by designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. Last year, the United States celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The Right to Vote
There was a time when the very notion of women voting was radical. It was a topic that divided families, politicians and businesses. There were, however, strong women who had a vision for equality. Paving the way for the passing of the 19th Amendment were the suffragettes, women who fought for voting rights equality. These women made their voices heard by organizing and participating in protests, holding meetings and distributing educational materials.
While this activism ultimately resulted in expanded voting rights for women, it is equally important to acknowledge that some women, particularly women of color, still faced barriers to voting. It was not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent amendments that many of these barriers, including poll taxes and literacy tests, were prohibited. Even with these strides, work to secure broader voting rights and create a more equitable society continues.
Victories for Women
Women have seen many victories in the last century and getting the right to vote was just one of many difficult battles won to ensure equal rights for women. The minimum wage laws changed to ensure the same minimum wage regardless of gender. It became illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex. Housing and credit discrimination against women were outlawed. Maternity and family leave laws made it possible for women (and men) to have job-protected leave for the birth or adoption of their baby. Employers are now required to pay everyone similarly for similar work, and this applies to employees of another sex, race or ethnicity. These are just a few of the major strides women have achieved in the journey for equality!
In my family, I was the oldest of four children and have always been very close to my mom. She wanted to work and have a career, so she completed secretarial training and later became a certified medical assistant. In her career journey, she faced challenges that would be unheard of today. For example, protected leave was not an option, so she delayed telling her employer she was pregnant out of fear of losing her job.
These challenges caused my mom to raise her girls with drive and determination. She told us that as women, we would have to be smart and work hard (if not harder than men). Her definition of success for us was to not be dependent on a man. Her support enabled me to be the first college graduate in my family. My mom’s values resonated with me and guided many of the decisions I have made in life and throughout my career.
I came to TeamHealth in 1989 in the role of Administrative Assistant working for Dr. Lynn Massingale, Co-Founder and Chairman. When I interviewed with Dr. Massingale, I told him I would likely be here two years because my goal was to go to graduate school and be a college professor.
I did graduate with a master’s degree and intended to leave the company. However, I transitioned into Human Resources while in graduate school and agreed to stay one year post-graduation. That one year has turned into more than 30 years. I have had the opportunity of a lifetime to work for a group of professionals and leaders who value knowledge, talent and results regardless of gender or any other identifier. My career has exceeded all of the goals I originally had for myself.
On a personal note, my husband and I tried to have children and when that blessing finally occurred in 2006, I was the Vice President for Human Resources. The CEO at that time told me that I would never have to choose between being an executive or a mother. I am thankful that I have continued to be both! I strive to be the role model to my daughter that my mom was to me.
We Have Come a Long Way
It’s exciting to Celebrate National Women’s Equality Day and enjoy the rights and privileges that were bought by the hard work of those outstanding women who have gone before us (i.e. Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Ida B. Wells, Frances E.W. Harper, and Mary Church Terrell). As women, we have come a long way in our journey from just securing the right to vote. On this special day we celebrate the accomplishments of all women in all of life’s roles!