How ERA is good for the economy
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has said that a strong, equitable recovery depends on getting women back into the workforce. More than 4.6 million women dropped out of the labor force during the coronavirus pandemic, with Black and Latinx women disproportionately hurt by this devastating job loss. Women’s jobs are almost twice as vulnerable to being lost during what’s been called a “she-cession.”
Women have been playing catch-up in the economy from the start. We were intentionally left out of the Constitution. The blueprint for “equal justice under law” was written by the Founding Fathers (there were no mothers) for white men with financial means. History records the only thought given to women, albeit white women, was by Abigail Adams, who wrote to her husband, “Please remember the ladies.”
As Congress and the White House navigate the economic path back from the pandemic, it’s time to correct the Constitution’s fundamental flaw that left women in all our diversity out of the nation’s foundational document.
No matter how we may disagree over politics, we are truly lost if we can no longer depend on the human drive towards decency, fairness and justice. Business leaders understand this, and that’s why they are increasingly vocal in defense of these values — not because they want to score political points, but because their customers demand it. Corporate America also understands that gender equality isn’t just good for business; it’s vital. In June 2020, 93 companies from across the economic spectrum signed an amicus brief in Virginia, voicing their support for the ERA. Brands like Apple, Google, the NFL, Salesforce, and Pfizer signed the brief because “diversity in the workplace drives business performance.”
Nasdaq is seeking regulatory permission to require diverse boards and related disclosures on companies listed on its exchange. Bloomberg created the Gender-Equality Index (GEI) to track the “performance of public companies committed to disclosing their efforts to support gender equality through policy development, representation and transparency.” Unilever set a goal in 2010 for 50 percent of managerial roles to be represented by women.
Women are the backbone of our economy, and their contributions cannot be understated; women drive 70-80 percent of consumer behavior and contribute trillions of dollars to the economy. Women start businesses at higher rates than men and are often the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in their households. In 2019, women held 51.8 percent of all management and related occupations. But despite the enormous role women play in American society, family life, and economics, women still aren’t recognized as fully equal in the eyes of the U.S. Constitution.
The ERA will create a permanent, uniform, and national standard for preventing the government from discriminating based on sex and would empower Congress to enforce gender equity through legislation. Without this guarantee, laws furthering women’s economic participation, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, can be repealed by a simple majority vote in Congress.
As Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) reminds us, “A constitutional amendment is forever. It cannot be repealed, rolled back, or expire. It is not subject to the whims of who controls Congress, a statehouse, or the White House.”
We have made progress in rejecting some of the paternalistic, discriminatory foundations of our society and our economy, but not enough. The U.S. doesn’t even rank in the top 60 world economies (out of 131 total) on the World Bank’s index of economic inclusion via gender legal protection, behind nations such as Ecuador, Albania, Colombia, Togo and Hong Kong. And we are among the 24 percent of countries that lack constitutional protection for gender equity.
Aren’t we better than this? We have to be. We can’t build an equitable, productive economy when 51 percent of the workforce is left behind.
We want and need to live in a society that respects all its citizens, not just a privileged few. There can be no expiration date on equality. Pass S.J. Res 1.
Carol Jenkins is President and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, and Christian F. Nunes is the President of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
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