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A century after women's suffrage, there's still more work to do

A century after women's suffrage, there's still more work to do
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Guaranteeing women the right to vote a century ago was a step in the right direction in providing equal opportunities for all of our citizens, regardless of gender. 

Women’s participation in our democracy gives us a voice in priority setting and decision making by our elected officials. Yet it doesn’t guarantee better outcomes for women. 

Women have achieved notable successes as part of the electorate and through education. But they remain far from equal to men when it comes to the election to office, reaching the C-suite, and earning equal pay. Lawmakers and employers must help correct the imbalance. It’s also important that families reassess how they handle the wide array of responsibilities in the household.

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Some of the advances are heartening.

More women show up at the polls to vote than men. In every presidential election since 1980, the proportion of eligible female adults who voted has exceeded their male counterparts. Women also outnumber men in terms of registered voters.

Women and girls have also made great gains at school. Girls generally perform just as well as boys in math on the Nation’s Report Card, published by the National Assessment Governing Board, and they outperform boys in reading. In higher education, women now receive 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, compared with 34 percent in 1920. Today, they also earn more masters and doctoral degrees.  But women make up almost two-thirds of minimum-wage workers, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and only 7.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs

Only 24 percent of seats in Congress and 29 percent of statewide elected offices are held by women, data compiled by Rutgers show. And those female elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, as Republicans have even more dismal numbers. There are almost five times as many female Democrats in Congress as there are female Republicans, and we have yet to see any woman serve as president or vice president. The number of women in roles like mine — leading a right-of-center policy institute — are few and far between. 

And the gender pay gap persists, with women’s median earnings equaling just 80 percent of men’s, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

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These gaps in the workplace and in elected offices are attributable to a variety of factors, including the “choices” that women make to step out of the workforce to have children and raise a family or take a job with more flexible work hours to balance household responsibilities and dependent care. 

 

But those aren’t real “choices” when women are all too often put in the position of making tradeoffs between work, children, and home — and balancing them all. Men, on the other hand, are able to take on more work hours and promotions because their partners are handling more responsibilities outside of work.  

 

We have seen progress in men stepping up to take a bigger share in household responsibilities, but women still do most of the home-management work. Current estimates show that women around the world spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on dependent care and household chores, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s almost double the amount of time put in by men – who do put in more work hours outside the home. 

So, especially in the midst of a global pandemic and recession, how do we address this inequity? 

Individuals and workplaces around the world must support solutions like expanded childcare and workplace flexibility so that women AND men can better balance work and family responsibilities. Our country’s policies and supports are designed around a bygone era when men worked and women stayed home. Now, nearly 50 percent of the workforce is female, so it’s time our support for childcare and leave policies reflected that reality and Congress needs to take action on these issues. 

This is also a time for workplaces to become more creative and innovative with their policies. Rather than lose out on the skills and talents women bring to the workforce, it’s an opportunity to think outside the box for solutions that allow employers to meet their bottom line, but also consider the unprecedented needs of their employees. 

We are taking our role seriously as an employer at the Bush Center to offer flex time, remote working, and modified schedules so that we are providing as much support and flexibility to our employees as possible. I challenge other employers to do what they can to support their teams.

As we celebrate this 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we must not rest on our laurels but continue to work toward real opportunities and advancement for women. Hopefully, it won’t take another hundred years.

Holly Kuzmich serves as the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute.