By Judy Loy,
Registered Investment Advisor, ChFC® and CEO of Nestlerode & Loy, Inc.
With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I was reminded how far women have come with rights and finances. It seemed like a good time to review and refresh how far we have come and what still needs to be done.
Let us start with the impetus for this article. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a feminist icon in the first place as only the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in June 1993. To put this in perspective for me, I started at Nestlerode in 1992. Her main goal at that time was to extend the 14th Amendment, the guarantee of equal protection, to apply to gender discrimination as well as racial discrimination.
Her statement when the Supreme Court took action to support women’s rights to equality was telling: “Inherent differences between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain a cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual’s opportunity.” Any different treatment, she emphasized, must not “create or perpetuate the legal, social and economic inferiority of women.”
She had a framed copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on her wall and she counted it as a great achievement. She did not get it through a majority vote but from dissenting and calling on Congress to change the law. That is why we see so many memes, etc. with “I dissent” as her battle cry.
Since Friday, Ginsburg has lain in state in the U.S. Capitol, the first woman and the first Jewish person to be given the honor. She is still setting precedents.
The first form of higher education for women came in the 1830s when teacher training was introduced. The first woman with a bachelor’s degree was Catherine Brewer in 1840. Women in 2019 account for more than half of the college-educated workforce and 1981-82 was the first-time women received more bachelor’s degrees than men. However, a man with a bachelor’s degree out-earns an equally credentialed woman by approximately $26,000 a year.
Typically, employment losses in recessions were employment losses for men. That changed with the current COVID-19 recession, which led to a sharp decline in women’s employment (12.8% increase in unemployment compared to a 9.9% increase for men). Hours worked also were affected. Women are 74% of employees in high-contact occupations, which are those most affected during the pandemic. Hours worked fell by 19% for women versus a drop of 12% for men. This is all according to research published in August by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
A few milestones for women are the right to vote, which was permitted nationally in 1920 — just 100 years ago — by the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The right for women to get a loan without a male cosigner was only permitted with the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. This blows my mind! I graduated from high school in 1988 and the thought that I could not get a loan on my own is mind-blowing.
Women have come a long way in the last 100 years. From voting to control of finances, women have gained the power to own businesses. In the U.S, 11.6 million firms are owned by women. They employ nearly 9 million people and generate $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017, according to National Association of Women Business Owners. About 5.4 million firms are majority owned by women of color. Another plus is the number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 hit an all-time record in May 2020, with 37 companies on the list led by women. In 2018, women held 25% of the five critical C-suite positions in corporations, according to Korn Ferry. These numbers are still low given women represent 50.8% of the U.S. population, but they are a large improvement over previous years.
According to New York Life Investment Management, women control more than half of the personal wealth in the United States. This is a staggering $22 trillion worth or 51% of the personal wealth in the U.S.
As the old Virginia Slims ad stated, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” but we have a lot farther to go. With more senior level positions, more representation in male dominated fields and equal pay needed, equality is still pretty far off in 2020.