By Mary Jacobs, Assistant City Manager – Sierra Vista, AZ
Several weeks ago, I invited my daughter Rachel to attend the Women’s Equality Day event at the Fort Huachuca Army installation. The Commanding General invited me to be the keynote speaker and I wanted Rachel to hear me speak about something I’m incredibly passionate about. She was honored with the same VIP treatment I regularly receive by our esteemed soldiers – meeting the installation leaders and being seated in the front row complete with her own reserved seat. I spent hours on my speech, refining the words until they matched the power of my emotions.
I admire the military for annually setting aside time to celebrate and recognize a significant milestone in our country’s history, passage of the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women the right to vote. It happened nearly 100 years ago, so it’s easy, this political season, to take our right to vote for granted. After all, most of us have been voting regularly since we were 18. I know I have. But it’s been awhile since I’ve been in high school history, so admittedly some of the details of the final passage of the constitutional amendment had gotten a little fuzzy. My speech preparation took me down that path where I was reminded that final passage took 70 years of consistent, hard fought campaigning. And even then, the goal of the Suffragists was not victory OVER men, but equality WITH them.
This granting of full political citizenship was important in helping our country understand that women, too, are endowed with reason, judgment, social responsibility and action. No question significant progress has been made since 1919. And yet, I would venture to guess that many of my female friends and colleagues can join me in saying they have experienced situations or bumped up against ingrained cultures that continue to discount the contributions women have, and continue to make, in the workplace and beyond.
The suffrage movement included many Americans whose talents and abilities would have made them prime candidates for national office had the political system, and their opportunities, been equal. There have been many women since who have excelled as leaders, in the business world, in politics, and on the world stage. But there are probably a hundred times, maybe a lot more, who SHOULD have achieved the same success, and who did not.
Women under 25 may not have the same perspective on the challenges women face in the workplace and at other leadership positions. They haven’t bumped up against the glass ceiling yet, and that is wonderful. I’m thrilled that my daughter feels empowered that she can do or be anything that she sets her mind to. She, and many other girls and young women, have a mother or other strong women in their lives who model the potential. Who speak words of encouragement and support. Who never suggest that being a woman is a detriment or puts you at a disadvantage. Because it doesn’t.
More and more women are entering professions, and more women are graduating with college degrees than men. In fact, over 10 million more degrees have been earned by women since 1982. Women make up almost 60 percent of U.S. college students and earn the majority of doctorates and master’s degrees. Yet our achievements have not yet been fully recognized or integrated, and that is a disservice to businesses and organizations at every level and every field. Fewer than 5 percent of S&P 500 CEO’s are women, and less than 20 percent of those elite organization’s board members are women. The 20 percent+ pay gap has barely budged over the past decade. At this rate, the experts say that the pay gap will be eliminated in about 100 years. Sorry Rachel.
I doubt most people who have young daughters want theirs to grow up, finally find the job she wants and loves, and be paid 20 percent+ less than the man in the cubicle right next to her with the same skills and position. Or have her miss out on an opportunity she would excel in simply because she chose a field that is dominated by men. I know I certainly don’t.
Make no mistake, gender equality/balance is about equal opportunities and choices. That includes a woman’s choice to put her family first. My responsibility is to support that woman as much as I support the woman who chooses to practice medicine, be a police officer, or sell cars. They key is the equal opportunity and no one can say we are there yet.
While I believe Women’s Equality Day still does not mean women are equal, it is a reminder to us both that progress has been made, and that more is needed. We all have a role in achieving that equity. Women and men, and can take steps every day to move forward.
- Model the behavior.
- Be the change maker.
- Encourage your daughters and the daughters of others.
- Be someone who believes in Women’s Equality Day and shows it.
In the meantime, don’t take for granted the rights women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and others fought so tenaciously to earn, the right to an equal voice in our country’s political system. Exercise this precious right on November 8th, regardless of your choice.
Mary Jacobs is the Assistant City Manager for the City of Sierra Vista, Arizona. She is an effective manager with more than 20 years experience in municipal management. Mary’s expertise includes addressing development and growth issues; developing organization-wide programs; public affairs and communications; economic development; and strategic planning. She is an ICMA Crecentialed Manager. Photo at beginning of article includes Mary and her daughter Rachel.