In September 1966, I started college at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, only learning there was a quota in place (8 males/1 female) when I got there. Four years later there were still quotas at law schools. I did get in (in a class of 200 men and 25 women), faced discrimination when job-hunting and found the time-honored solution of work in the federal government. Living in New York City, Bella Abzug was my Congresswoman and the second wave of the feminist movement was in full swing. Naively I believed the tide was turning and, in fact, I benefitted from other women’s battles: Chase Manhattan Bank had been sued for sex discrimination in the early ‘70’s and reached a settlement, so I was welcomed with open arms when I applied in London in 1977.
Good assignments and promotions came in line with my male colleagues until I returned to work after my first child and a three-month maternity leave. My boss called me into his office, said he was glad to have me back, but I was not going to get a pay review due in the next month. He wanted to see at least six months’ performance as confirmation that I was still “committed” to my job. I loved the job, was fortunate to have a healthy baby, a supportive husband and an excellent nanny, so I “put up and shut up.”
Later in my financial career there were more instances of discrimination in both pay and promotion, but the work was engaging and I conveniently bought into the story that women were moving towards pay equality and into leadership positions. Fast forward to 2021 and the global gender data shows equality has not happened anywhere in the world.
Even worse, the Covid pandemic has brought into sharp relief the expectation that women will sacrifice their work and careers to pick up the unpaid burden of caring for children and older relations. In the United States this is aggravated by the failure to provide adequate child and elder care. Many women are paying the well-documented “motherhood penalty”, where employers tend to deny women pay increases, promotions, and important assignments, and single them out for cutbacks and layoffs.
The ERA is critical as the legal basis to continue the fight for gender equality. Moving toward parity in leadership will also help end a culture of systemic misogyny, where some men (too many of those in power) continue to belittle women’s contribution to economic prosperity and well-being. Data now shows that, as richer countries improve women’s status on the scale towards economic equality, their increased contribution significantly improves the countries’ economic growth and well-being. I will reiterate: there is no country yet where women have gender pay parity. This is strong evidence that this inequality is systemic. For American women the barriers are formidable, and the timing is critical as the pandemic ends: the ERA will give substantial legal support to the case for parity as women return to the American workforce in the next 12 – 18 months. WE NEED THE ERA NOW!!!
Carol Moore, live in London, vote in Florida.