Editor’s Note: The following essay on this pivotal moment in the fight to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) is by Suzanne Lerner, co-founder and president of Michael Stars, and vice-chair of the Fund for Women’s Equality.
Something extraordinary happened involving the ERA at the end of last week—day two of the new administration.
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced that the first bipartisan legislation they will introduce for the 117th Congress is their joint resolution to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Congressman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) also announced their bipartisan measure for ratification of the ERA, co-sponsored by 195 members of Congress.
If those events just sent a jolt of hope through your veins, then please go visit the ERA Coalition website for more information on the proposed measures and how to get involved in supporting them.
If you believe the ERA is a cause that only liberals believe in, note that this is a bipartisan measure. It may be helpful for you to hear Congressman Reed’s perspective:
“We care about ensuring every individual in our great nation, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to enjoy the same basic rights before the law… This isn’t an issue of politics – it’s an issue of fairness for all Americans. Congress must press forward and end any unnecessary barriers to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.”
If you’re one of the 80 percent or more Americans who believe that women are already guaranteed equal rights, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Constitution does not guarantee those rights.
Business Calls For The ERA
I am passionate about two things: gender and racial equity, and business. I started and ran several companies to gain the freedom, as a woman, to forge my own path. No matter how much talent I displayed, or how hard I worked, the way forward was always blocked because of my gender.
I’ve been seeing change over the past 20 years. I’ve worked alongside many advocates and business leaders who have fought hard to help women gain equal pay, equal opportunity, and equal protections under the law. These gains, while modest, have been encouraging.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, every gain we’ve fought so hard for, is at risk of becoming a loss.
First, women are leaving the workforce in record numbers:
August to September 2020: 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force vs 216,000 men.
October 2020: There were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force in October 2020 than in October 2019
December 2020: Women accounted for 100% of the 140,000 jobs shed by the U.S. economy in December
January 2021: In total, there were 2.1 million fewer women working last month than there were in February, right before the pandemic had seriously hit small businesses.
The ERA Must Pass to Support Mothers
Then there’s the stark reality that mothers, who continue to shoulder the majority of childcare responsibilities, are essentially being forced to leave their jobs because of the lack of family-friendly workplace policies and child-care programs:
Mothers with young children have arranged reductions in their work hours that are four to five times greater than the reductions arranged by fathers.
Two of every five mothers say they must hide their caregiving struggles to keep their jobs.
26% of men with children at home say they’ve received a pay raise while working remotely, while only 13% of women with children at home say the same.
About one in five working mothers surveyed this summer say they are considering dropping out of the workforce, at least temporarily—compared with 11% of fathers.
Nearly a quarter of women with younger children say they may take a leave of absence or quit altogether.
As companies recover and rebuild from the ravages of the pandemic, the need for a gender equitable recovery is more urgent than ever.
93 Multinational Companies Declare Support of ERA
In June of 2020, 93 multinational companies declared — in an amicus brief for the Virginia v. Ferriero case—the ERA to be critical part of that recovery:
“[We] seek the full participation of women in the economy…The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed and exacerbated systemic gender inequities in our society, demonstrates now, more than ever, the need for the ERA in the U.S. Constitution. It is painfully evident…that the need for sex equality has never been greater.”
Companies such KIND Snacks and Diageo, through its Jane Walker for Johnnie Walker campaign, as well as my own company Michael Stars, have also expressed explicit support for passage of the ERA and are partnering with the ERA Coalition on public education and awareness initiatives.
What’s so remarkable about this wave of support is that is it represents one of the few times in history where corporations have explicitly called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Their drive to get gender equality “in writing” reflects a new level of recognition that the ERA is an urgent and necessary act to advance our economic security and prosperity.
Business is Good for Equality
The call to close the gender equity gap is louder than ever before. The pandemic exposed how big that gap is and how much worse it is getting. American companies are making multi-year and multi-billion dollar pledges to close it, through new and expanded gender equity diversity and inclusion programs. But, while pledges and programs are good, they aren’t enough.
As any good businessperson knows, if you want a partner to keep their word, you have to “get it in writing.”
It’s time to join forces to get equality finally written into our nation’s most important contract—the U.S. Constitution.
You can expect to see a significant next wave of support for ratification of the ERA from American business leaders over the next weeks and months. With growing bipartisan support in Congress and the business community, we’re closer than ever to getting equality in writing.
Be a leader in this next wave of support. Every time you showcase your commitment to gender equality, include support of the ERA as a critical part of the path to get there.