Time to Celebrate and Time to Keep Fighting

August 25, 2020

Today we celebrate 100 years of women’s fight for equality as the 19th amendment was adopted into the constitution, ensuring women’s right to vote and changing the state of our nation forever.

The 19th amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

With such powerful words, we have had 100 years of immense progress; however, we have not had 100 years of true equality for all. Despite being on the frontlines of the movement, these words did not award the right to vote to women of color, who were still bound by state laws and strategies (e.g. poll taxes and literacy tests) keeping them from voting.  The fight against disenfranchisement continued for Black women until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  However, this fight for equality is still not over.  This delay in rights has created barriers for women of color in the present day.

Women of color experience intersectional inequities due to their race and gender, two factors that cannot be separated from one’s identity.  The intersectionality of these social constructs creates a unique experience for women of color compared to their white counterparts, particularly regarding advancement in the workplace.

While we commonly see discrimination among women in the workplace in general, women of color must work twice as hard to overcome these difficulties. For example, while women currently strive for equal pay, there is an even larger wealth gap for women of color to overcome. While women fight for better leadership opportunities, there are even fewer women of color in these roles.

A 2020 Mercer global analysis report of women in leadership in over 1,100 organizations across the world found only 23% of women were executives, 29% senior managers, and 37% managers. In the United States, the chance of advancement decreases even more for women of color who only held 10.8% of management positions compared to their white counterparts who held 32.3% of all management positions in 2019.

Women of color face even greater disparities within the STEM sector. A Catalyst report listed that women only make up 29% of the current science and engineering workforce. Moreover, only 11.5% of science and engineering employees were WOC, despite WOC historically making major contributions to the success of STEM.

Even with these barriers, we must strive to close these gaps and create better opportunities for equality for women of color to advance, especially in STEM and research fields.  With these layers of intersectionality come experiences and alternate perspectives that could benefit the very marginalized groups that research organizations like RTI International aim to help.

Stephanie Hawkins, the Program Director for RTI International’s Youth, Violence Prevention, and Community Justice program, has contributed to more than 20 years of research working with youth in resource-poor urban communities.  Ana Perez, the new Co-Associate Director of RTI International’s Global Gender Center, has led a gender integration program for a large private energy sector through her work and brings 9 years of direct experience on gender issues in the energy sector.

Many more women of color in and out of RTI International have surpassed the sturdy barriers set up by society to produce great work and contribute to STEM and research fields.  However, too many great minds and ideas have been blocked from fruition due to these disparities. Not only is it time to close this gap of inequality for WOC, but it is needed for our society to progress.