Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The Commerce Blog
It is tradition in March to celebrate Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the changing role of women in society and their social, economic and political achievements. From the ballot box to the boardroom, today’s American women have paved the way for future generations by overcoming obstacles on their path to equality and empowerment.
It was with this message that President Obama commemorated March Women’s History Month last week, saying, “We cannot rest until our mothers, sisters, and daughters assume their rightful place as full participants in a secure, prosperous, and just society.”
The Obama administration is dedicated to helping blaze this trail. This week, I had the opportunity to speak about the administration’s work to support women–and particularly the evolving economic role of women in American society–during a visit to Bern, Switzerland. President Obama has fought for American women by leading the administration’s fight to combat discrimination in the workplace and supporting women-owned businesses. The president has also taken concrete steps to ensure that women’s voices are heard throughout government and society, appointing two women to the U.S. Supreme Court and a strong team of women leaders to the Cabinet and White House staff.
I began my trip by helping unveil a study by the George Washington University Global Women’s Initiative titled, “Gender Equality in Employment: Policies and Practices in Switzerland and the US,” which features a comparative analysis of Swiss and U.S. gender workplace issues. The study echoes findings from a report (PDF) I worked on for the White House Council on Women and Girls last year. Designed to help inform Washington policy decisions, it was the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women in almost 50 years. President Obama created the Council in 2009 to coordinate Federal efforts to support women in America.
While in Bern, I also delivered an opening address at the conference entitled “Sister Republics Building Bridges 2012: An Action Plan for Women’s Leadership,” which gathered Swiss and American women leaders to talk about gender equality in the workplace. In my remarks, I discussed the progress made toward gender equality in the U.S., notably in the areas of education and labor force participation. As an example, women in the U.S. have not only caught up with men in college attendance, but younger women are now more likely than younger men to have a college or a graduate degree. Women are also working more, which means that, more than ever, women are often the breadwinners in many American families.
Despite that progress, women in our workforce still face challenges. One such hurdle can be seen in wage disparities–an American woman on average still only earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Women also represent only 30 percent of business owners in the U.S. and their firms tend to be smaller, generating only 11 percent of all revenue from privately-owned businesses.
Expanding economic opportunities for women offers vital potential in rebuilding a strong American economy. That’s why President Obama has signed legislation that gives women more tools to fight discrimination in the workplace, greatly expanded access to finance for women-owned businesses and worked to provide tax credits for working families. Other administration efforts to reduce gender disparities include promoting workplace flexibility efforts, ensuring fair labor standards for in-home care workers and increasing access to and improve early childhood programs.
Following the conference, governments around the world yesterday acknowledged International Women’s Day, a global day of recognition and celebration honoring the advancement of women and highlighting remaining challenges to equality. This administration has pledged continued collaboration with partners at home and abroad on new initiatives to bring economic and political opportunity to women everywhere.
As President Obama stated in his proclamation honoring both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day: “From securing women’s health and safety to leveling the playing field and ensuring women have full and fair access to opportunity in the 21st century, we are making deep and lasting investments in the future of all Americans.”
Rebecca Blank is Acting Deputy Commerce Secretary.