Women’s Equality Day, celebrated every August 26th, commemorates the passage of women’s suffrage, granting women the right to vote in the U.S., in 1920. This holiday reminds us of the hurdles overcome by women, and the many grave risks heroic women faced to propel the women’s movement forward.
Despite chipping away at the glass ceiling for the last 100 years, women are still far from achieving equal rights, and there are still many inequities that women face. The wage gap between men and women is still stubbornly high, gender-based discrimination still plagues workplaces and business, and barriers to women’s financial independence are still firmly in place.
The International Monetary Fund warned that 30 years of economic gains for women could be erased by COVID-19, and called for governments around the world to take immediate action to prevent longer-term damage. And the World Trade Organization warned that the coronavirus pandemic would have a more significant, negative, long-term impact on women because of women’s involvement in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – such as hospitality, travel, and manufacturing.
What can you do?
- Support women-owned businesses
While women own nearly half of all small businesses, female founders receive only 15% of venture capital funding, according to a study by All Raise. Without the safety net of outside financial support, many of these female entrepreneurs are already working with slim margins. Several month-long shutdowns could shutter their business.
You can use your consumer power and support women-owned businesses by shopping online for a new Zoom outfit (think solid bright colors) or purchase gift certificates if you are not in the market for goods now. The Small Business Administration’s website lists thousands of female-owned small companies that you can support.
- Register to vote
Suffragists risked arrest and imprisonment so that women would be allowed to vote. Today, voting is a much easier proposition, yet many women do not participate and, consequently, their voices are not heard. Please do your part to honor their sacrifices by making sure you are registered to vote in your community. The COVID-19 pandemic is poised to present additional challenges this election year, so registering early is more important than ever.
- Shore up your financial situation
As a result of lower lifetime earnings and many years outside the workforce due to caretaking responsibilities, women 65 years old and older are more likely to end up in poverty. Those most likely to find themselves without enough financial resources in retirement are single women who have never married, or divorced women. Clare Boothe Luce, a heroine of the feminist movement, said it best: “A woman’s best protection is a little money of her own.”
The secret to building your nest egg is to live below your means and have a healthy savings rate. Your annual savings should be 15%-20% of your income, to maintain a lifestyle in retirement similar to what it was in your working years.
Women should maximize all tax-advantaged employer retirement plans, and also contribute to an IRA. Be sure to make the maximum-permitted contributions while working. Take advantage of any promotions or raises and give your savings rate a raise. Each time you receive an increase, move at least half to savings.