In 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the most significant legislation for women’s voting rights in our nation’s history. The achievements of the women’s suffrage movement have set in motion a century of progress, but their victory was just the beginning of the ongoing fight for true gender parity and equality in our society—a vital right we must achieve in order for women to truly succeed.
In recent decades, advancements in economic independence and entrepreneurship have played a crucial role in increasing the levels of female participation in areas such as business and government, because achieving economic freedom often allows for women to have the financial ability to pursue new opportunities and, ultimately, leads to more gender parity across our communities.
With so many issues taking the national stage that directly affect women, such as health care, tax reform, and childcare, it is important now, more than ever, for women to speak out about the issues that matter to them.
2018’s record-breaking midterm elections brought the number of female representatives now serving in Congress to 127 women, including 24 percent of the House of Representatives. More than 45 percent of them are women of color. Women from across the country are continuing to build off of that momentum by running for political office in 2019—not to mention the record-breaking number of women running for president.
From Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who defeated long term-male incumbents, to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who made history this year when she was inaugurated as Chicago’s first black female mayor, women have the opportunity to help make long-lasting and positive differences in their community.
There are strong correlations (https://www.thenation.com/article/why-does-us-still-have-so-few-women-office/) between more women legislators and more progressive policy on issues such as comprehensive support for families and reproductive rights. Research indicates that women legislators introduce more legislation than men in the areas of civil rights, education, health and labor. Globally, research shows ethnically diverse and divided nations that elect women to key national leadership positions end up with better economic performance.
As women continue to seek more positions of influence, it is important to celebrate the progress we’ve made, so far, towards driving societal change, but that change can’t just come from women in political leadership—it must come from female business leaders.
When Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal founded the Women’s Business Development Center in 1986, they created it as an organization to help women establish their economic independence because they knew the positive difference that would make towards giving women equal opportunities.
Female business owners are uniquely positioned to advocate for themselves and others. While the business world used to be totally dominated by men, every year, women business owners are playing a larger role in the business community. The number of businesses owned by women in the United States continues to dramatically grow; 12.3 million businesses in the United States are owned by women today (https://about.americanexpress.com/files/doc_library/ file/2018-state-of-women-owned-businesses-report.pdf). From 2007 to 2018, the rate of women-owned business grew 58 percent. Minority-owned businesses are increasing at an even more significant rate, with businesses owned by women of color growing by 163 percent.
With women- and minority-owned businesses continuing to increase their participation in the economy, it only makes sense for us to become more involved in policy and to strongly advocate for issues that will not only impact us, but those whom we employ as well.
To drive needed change, business leaders must take an active role in our local communities to be a voice for our employees and people that may remain voiceless. While we’re all looking toward 2020’s presidential race—one that will undoubtedly dictate the future of business, health care, and our economy for years to come—it’s important to remember that many issues are decided at the state and local level, so we must give strong attention to those important “down ticket” races.
So, how do you get involved?
■ Join or support advocacy groups in your local community to strengthen your education and knowledge on topics that impact you, your business and your employees.
■ Get to know the local, state and federal representatives in your area and reach out to them to support key issues impacting women and business owners.
■ Identify candidates advancing issues that matter to you and your business and support them in primary and general elections. (Be sure to check your local races. You may have elections this fall!)
As business leaders, we have the ability to enact real, lasting change that aligns with our values and our business needs, but we need to raise our voices to make sure the decision-makers hear us. Together, we can use the power of women to empower other women, diverse business owners and communities.