June 18, 2024
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Opinion: It’s Women’s Equality Day for some of us


By Lois Phillips

On Women’s Equality Day, it would behoove women and men to understand and fully appreciate how long it took for women to advance into leadership roles across sectors. Even now, however, there remains work to be done. For a quick reminder, in 1848 the Women’s Rights Convention occurred in Seneca Falls to publicly discuss the rights of women. In 1920, with the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, after years of agitation, women finally achieved the right to vote. By 1973, the late New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced a bill to establish August 26th as Women’s Equality Day, hoping the day would be celebrated in all workplaces and organizations.


Unfortunately, women still have a long way to go to achieve full equality with men. Women are 51 % of the population but there are only 28.7% or 125 women in the U.S. House of Representatives of the total 435 members. As such, 218 more women are needed to achieve 51%. There are 25 women in the Senate or 25% of the total, so 26 more women are needed to make it 51%. The number of women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies increased to its highest-ever percentage, 44.7% — up from 38% in 2020 — but minority women still only hold 7.8% of seats.

Women are exceeding locally

At the local level, Santa Barbara has been extremely successful in advancing women into politics. Alejandra Gutierrez, Megan Harmon, and Kristin Sneddon are Santa Barbara City Council members while Paula Perotte serves as the Mayor of Goleta with Luz-Reyes Martin as Councilmember. Supervisors Laura Capps and Joan Hartmann are members of the SB County Board of Supervisors, and Monique Limon represents Santa Barbara in the California Senate.

In addition to these women as role models, NAWBO, the Association of Women in Communication, Women’s Economic Ventures, and Women in STEM seek to provide the networks, professional development, and mentoring that will help business and professional women achieve success.

Three issues that can undermine women’s equality

The first issue to notice is the impact of school boards on women’s equality. Major news outlets have reported on how School Board officials in other areas have restricted how race and gender identity are discussed, banned certain books, overturned sex education courses, and challenged the need for diversity initiatives. Public schools, which foster critical thinking as well as the three R’s, must be places of equality and equity in which both girls and boys are taught by professionals whose curriculum is based on facts.  

Second, the housing crisis must be addressed for women to succeed on par with men. Santa Barbara isn’t alone in suffering from a housing crisis but is unique in its geography and tough planning codes. Research confirms that long-distance commuters presently work in hospitality and service industries, public education, and government, sectors in which women are a majority of the workforce. Also, Santa Barbara County research reveals that 37% (or 699 women) of 1,887 individuals experiencing homelessness identify as female. The number of senior homeless women are increasing because an illness can exhaust assets and some women are left penniless when widowed.

Third, access to affordable childcare is a deterrent to women’s economic advancement. Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co’s latest American Opportunity Survey has identified lack of access to childcare as a major barrier to mental and economic well-being for American families but it affects women’s working lives most if they are the primary care-giving parent. After rent or mortgage, childcare is often the second largest household expense after rent or mortgage. It’s common for women who can’t find childcare to drop out of the workforce, and then find it difficult to drop back in, much less to advance.

Four paths forward

Corporate Boards need to actively recruit more women who are known to bring different life experiences and value to board discussions, i.e., they are known to raise multiple stakeholder concerns, shape the policies that affect consumers, and avoid risky mergers and acquisitions. Women need to track the issues being debated at Board meetings, and then advocate for the policy changes that will improve their status and remove obstacles to advancement.

More and more diverse women need to run for political offices to achieve a 50/50 equation. To address inequalities, political, governmental, and business leaders need to collaborate to address the pressing issues of housing, childcare, and the disruptions to public education.

Everyone benefits

Three out of 10 men say that women’s advancement has come at their expense, but men clearly benefit from such advances as the two-paycheck family and paternity leave. When policies and procedures allow access to affordable childcare and housing as well as public educational opportunities, everyone benefits. That’s when we can all celebrate Women’s Equality Day.

Lois Phillips has a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara and wrote “9 Fast and Flawless Presentations for Women Speakers” with Dr. Anita Perez Ferguson and coaches executives and leaders in public speaking and media skills.