Women’s Equality Day is observed in the United States on August 26 to commemorate American women securing the constitutional right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1920, prohibits state and federal governments from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States based on sex.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The Nineteenth Amendment – while an important milestone – didn’t end the fight for women’s rights to vote because it did not ensure the right to vote for women of color. These women faced significant barriers and obstacles to voting like poll taxes, literacy tests, voter ID requirements, intimidation tactics and other racist strategies designed to suppress their votes. The true right for women of color to vote came a full 45 years later with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which said state and local governments cannot pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. It also required translation of voter registration materials into Spanish and other languages, which was critical for Latinx voters. The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act that same year removed restrictions on Asian American citizenship that allowed many more Asian women to vote, as well.
We recognize the importance of the Nineteenth Amendment and honor the women, activists and allies who began the fight for equal voting rights, but we stand against whitewashing history when discussing the Nineteenth Amendment. We also stand against centering whiteness in recognizing Women’s Equality Day. The Nineteenth Amendment was anything but equal for women of color, and we must consciously of frame events such as this through an intersectional lens.
VOTING RIGHTS UNDER THREAT
Today, just over one hundred years later, voting rights remain unequal for American citizens, specifically Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) whose voices are being discriminated against through bold, systemic legislation intended to suppress their votes.
A 2013 Supreme Court decision removed a critical oversight provision of the Voting Rights Act designed to protect against racial discrimination. This change opened the door for states to implement new discriminatory practices, such as voter ID laws, that disproportionally impact voters of color. Over time, many other practices and tactics have been put in place that create significant obstacles for BIPOC individuals such as gerrymandering, lack of voting sites and restrictive voter registration rules.
This year a groundswell of state-level voting laws has been introduced and passed under the false claim of voter fraud and contributed to even more voter suppression and discrimination. According to the Brennan Center, at least 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the vote between Jan. 1 – July 14, 2021. These laws directly target ballot access for BIPOC women and voters of color by creating challenges to in-person voting, limiting access to voting by mail and inventing new reasons to invalidate ballots cast. Litigation is underway to combat many of these new laws, but the volume and frenetic pace at which they are being enacted is alarming. Voting is a fundamental right for Americans. Our democracy depends on free and fair elections in which everyone has an equal voice regardless of race or gender identity.
BUSINESSES MUST TAKE A STAND
American businesses play a critical role in supporting voting rights. Employees expect businesses to lead with clarity and ensure company values and cultures guide policies, behaviors and strategic business decisions. Voter suppression also directly affects a business’s ability to recruit and retain talent in key operating markets. Supporting and advocating for inclusive voting rights for all and fair, accessible and secure elections provides a critical opportunity for businesses to authentically live their values to drive positive change.
Here are non-partisan resources for businesses to learn more about the issue and explore ways to support fair elections and voter equity.
- Civic Alliance: A non-partisan group of businesses working together to build a future where everyone participates in shaping our country.
- Brennan Center for Justice: A non-partisan law and policy institute that stands for equal justice and strives to uphold the values of democracy.
- Voting Rights Alliance: A non-partisan network of organizations, activists and legislators working to restore and protect voting rights.
- Fair Elections Center: A national, non-partisan voting rights and election reform organization working to remove barriers to registration and voting, particularly for disenfranchised, underrepresented and marginalized communities.
WOMEN ARE STILL INEQUAL IN THE WORKPLACE
There is also work to be done for women’s equality beyond the ballot box. Crucial issues include equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement, transforming workplace culture and increasing BIPOC representation in the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally impacted women at work. Millions have been laid off or furloughed, left the workforce entirely or significantly reduced work schedules due to the pandemic, primarily for caretaking. This exodus set back momentum decades in the making. In 2019 women, for the first time in history, had eclipsed men in the workforce.
“Just before the pandemic hit, for the first time ever … we had more women employed than men,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress, in this New York Times article. “And now we are back to late 1980s levels of women in the labor force.”
This article by McKinsey summarizing its Women in the Workplace 2020 study offers an excellent dive into the many challenges women are facing in the workplace that could stall their careers and negatively impact their long-term financial security. It also provides specific actions companies can take to support women. McKinsey cautions that, “The choices companies make [today] could shape the workplace for women for decades to come — for better or for worse.”
Some of these actions include making work more sustainable, resetting flexibility norms, updating performance review criteria and – for Black women – addressing the distinct challenges of Black women head-on. Beehive’s March blog post on International Women’s Day provides more ideas for how companies can support and empower people who identify as women, advocate for gender equity and fund non-profit organizations that support women. In addition to the ideas presented in this blog, salary transparency and pay equity are critical strategies organizations can implement immediately to bring salary parity to all employees.
Learn More about Women’s Rights and Intersectionality
There is a lot to learn and unlearn about the history of women’s rights to vote. Here are a few resources our team and clients have found helpful:
- Gender Equality Law Center
Women’s Equality Day: Celebrate and Remember the Need for Intersectional Feminist Movements
- Gender Equality Law Center
Women’s Equality Day: Celebrating While Remembering the Need for Intersectional Feminist Movements
How Early Suffragists Left Black Women Out of Their Fight
- PBS Voices in Education
Unlearning History: The Women’s Suffrage Movement
- The Hill
What’s unequal about Women’s Equality Day
The 19th Amendment didn’t give women the right to vote