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As we recognize and celebrate the countless contributions of women in our country, I’m excited to join women across the globe in celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. In reflection, I am reminded of just what this time in our history means for women in the workforce today and for the future. I also think about the working women who came before me, not just the newsmakers but those whose names some of us may never know. Many were leaders, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers.
One of those women was my maternal grandmother Anita Lawrence who was known as fiercely independent and hardworking in her hometown of Clarendon, Jamaica. Her diligence and ingenuity helped to sustain her family’s farming business and, in turn, her community. Another was my paternal grandmother Lizzie Mae Good, a domestic who supported other working moms in her close-knit neighborhood in South Carolina. She regularly opened her home to share hot meals, a nurturing hand, and a safe space for their children. Although I did not know these women personally, I feel deeply connected to them and the legacies they left behind. I honor these women and many others whose shoulders I stand on – women who were advocates of equality of opportunity through their words, deeds and actions. Their entrepreneurial spirits, passion for service, and drive for success led them to design innovative solutions to support their own communities when no roadmap existed.
Some might say that we’re much further along today than we were when my grandmothers were toiling, but the reality is that we still experience significant barriers to economic parity with our male counterparts. Data from 2020 shows that women earned $0.81 for every $1 earned by men. Furthermore, only 2% of CEOs are women. The complexity of the global COVID-19 pandemic has made the numbers even more grim, forcing women out of the workforce at disproportionately high rates. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, women are much less likely to have returned to work than men (54% for women compared to 73% for men).
And it’s no secret that COVID-19 has devastated small businesses across America. For Black business owners–many of which are Black women–the gaps have become even more pronounced. According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, COVID-19 shuttered 41% of Black-owned businesses, compared to just 17% of white-owned businesses.
Knowing that more must be done, I am honored to help lead the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative (EOI), which is advancing sound policies and business solutions to close opportunity gaps for all Americans, including Black women and women of color, who face unique barriers to success. Through the EOI agenda we are leveraging data and informed conversations to address critical issues such as improving workforce diversity, developing inclusive cultures, and improving access to capital for women entrepreneurs.
Later this month, we will host our next Equality of Opportunity in Action event, Bridging the Leadership Gap for Black Women in STEM Careers, to learn more about how the business community can work together to advance leadership opportunities for Black women, particularly those working in STEM careers.
Even with the decks stacked against them, my grandmothers found the strength to push forward and make strides. This Women’s History Month, we can all learn from the phenomenal women who went ahead of us, who surrounded us and who confronted challenges head-on – turning them into opportunities and creating pathways for others. It is through values such as these that we can, and we will, create equality of opportunity for all people.