As I was reflecting on the upcoming observance day for women’s equality, a podcast I listened to on the U.S. Constitution, and specifically, the episode on the fight for women’s rights, came to mind. That episode covered both the wins, most notably the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, and the ongoing struggles, capped by the current failure to enact an Equal Rights Amendment which would guarantee equal rights for women.
Victories in Women’s Rights
Considering women lack this decisive constitutional protection, it is remarkable to note the progress that has been made in realizing equality for women. While there are still many countries where women are treated as second-class or non-citizens, in the U.S., women have gained significant legal, political, social and cultural ground over the course of the last several decades – catapulted by the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. Women occupy high-ranking positions in business, politics and other sectors of society, and it is not uncommon for women to be the primary earners in their households. We have passed substantial legislation advancing the rights of and protecting women, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title IX. Culture is shifting away from unreasonable expectations for how a woman should look and behave, and sexual harassment is getting long overdue exposure and redress.
I feel privileged to see the evidence of this progress in our organization. The talents and contributions of women are rewarded, and programs like Women in Leadership and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are championed by our leaders and culture.
Recognizing Needed Progress
However, while significant strides have been made, we still have work to do. So, what should that continuing work to achieve equality for women look like and how do we measure our progress? We must be careful to not focus only on outcomes that meet a specific set of criteria. If we do, we will overlook and undervalue many legitimate decisions that women are making for how they want to lead their lives.
We also cannot ignore the differences between men and women. In fact, equality for women must be grounded in respect for and protection of those differences. Those differences shape values, determine priorities and define success for women. For example, due to natural strengths and choice, primary caregiver roles in society are typically fulfilled by women. As I know from my personal experience as a working mother, these roles are critically important to women, and balancing the demands of these roles with a career can be challenging. Some women will temporarily or permanently leave the workforce or take a lesser position to focus on their family commitments. Conversely, women may choose to forgo or postpone marriage or having children to devote themselves to their careers. These are all valid choices.
A society that affords equal protection for women must provide the space for women to flourish in all arenas. We must shape laws and policies to give women the opportunity to pursue success on their own terms and foster a society where that pursuit is protected and valued.
Women’s Equality Day 2022
As we commemorate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, we celebrate the accomplishments but also rededicate ourselves to the work that is still needed to realize equality for women. Learn more about DEI at TeamHealth.