Creating an Equal Environment for All

Although progress has been made, there are still many issues facing women that prove they are not yet seen as equal to men. Discrimination against women exists today in the form of pay inequity, underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and in many other ways.

Women’s rights activist Jessica Neuwirth is calling for an end to inequality between men and women through the ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), ensuring that women are guaranteed the same rights as men under the Constitution.

“This is not only the best time for an Equal Rights Amendment, it is the only time,” said Neuwirth at a lecture hosted by the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame on June 10.

The History of the ERA

The ERA is not a new idea; in fact, it was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader and founder of the National Women’s Party. It was then introduced in every session of Congress until it was passed in 1972. Over the next 10 years, the ERA was ratified by 35 states, falling just three states short of the 38 required for it to become part of the Constitution. Since then, the ERA has been reintroduced into every session of Congress, but has never been taken to a vote.

Neuwirth speculated that the reason the ERA hasn’t passed in Congress is not because people are against it, but because they are misinformed about what rights are actually afforded to women in
the Constitution.

“More than 70 percent of people think the ERA is already in the Constitution,” said Nuewirth. “And the majority of them are actually shocked and angry when they find out that it’s not.”

Inequality in the Workplace

The absence of an Equal Rights Amendment is most evident in the workplace, especially when it comes to equal pay for equal work. In her lecture, Neuwirth stated that women who graduate from high school earn an average of $700,000 less than men in their lifetime, while college graduates earn $1.2 million less and those with graduate degrees earn up to $2 million less than men.

Although the Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for companies to pay women less than men for equal work based on their sex, some of the wording in the Equal Pay Act allows businesses to pay a person less on the basis of “factors other than sex.”

“A person’s previous salary can be considered a factor other than sex,” said Neuwirth. “If a woman was paid less in her previous job because she is a woman, and is paid based on that salary, ultimately this institutionalizes past sex discrimination resulting in wage differences based on sex.”

Many women have brought their employers to court in protest of unfair pay, but Neuwirth said that intent to discriminate must be established in the courts, which can be difficult to prove.

Another issue facing women in the workforce that Neuwirth discussed was pregnancy discrimination. Many companies fail to make accommodations for pregnant women, and some women have lost their jobs because of it. Some of the forms of pregnancy discrimination that Neuwirth cited were not allowing more bathroom breaks for pregnant women, not allowing them to sit instead of stand and termination when they are not able to lift more than a certain amount of weight as mandated by
the company.

“A lot of times these women end up on state-funded aid when all they wanted to do was continue working,” said Neuwirth.

Creating an Equal Environment

Although many of these issues are prevalent in the workplace, things are slowly getting better for women as more businesses create policies to prevent discrimination.

And while Neuwirth commends businesses that take steps to make their businesses equal, she says that ratifying the ERA is the best way to ensure that these issues don’t continue to arise. By establishing an ERA, women who experience discrimination of any kind will be protected under the Constitution.

“I think that more and more businesses understand that they can either be part of the problem or part of the solution,” said Neuwirth. “It’s my hope that businesses will continue to step up to the plate and take the lead on these issues.”

Neuwirth, who is president of the ERA Coalition, is currently working on a corporate outreach initiative to further involve businesses in the fight for an Equal Rights Amendment. If you are interested in involving your business in ensuring equal rights for women, visit eracoalition.org, or email Jessica at jneuwirth@eracoalition.org.

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