Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Women's Right to Vote on Women’s Equality Day 2020
“This day is critical as women’s rights remain under assault by our legislative leaders. I hope it is a day of action and not just reflection.”
With that, Melissa Bradley, founder and managing partner of 1863 Ventures, a business accelerator designed to bridge the gap between entrepreneurship and equity, kicked off a discussion honoring Women’s Equality Day, which is celebrated every August 26.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote.
Today, women continue to lead efforts that shape and strengthen America and the world. There is good news to applaud. Currently, women represent one-fifth of board seats at the top 3,000 publicly-traded companies. Women just became the majority of the college-educated workforce. And more than ever, women have stronger spending power and often make major life decisions within their families. Women are gaining political power. There is more work to be done on all these fronts, but women and allies are nevertheless tirelessly marching on towards parity.
At Capital One, we are commemorating this milestone. And while 2020 may mark one hundred years since the passage of the 19th Amendment, the celebrations won’t stop. Through our stories, Capital One will be celebrating its own female leaders and partners who are bucking convention – chronicling their personal stories, career journeys and personal advice for advancing the stature of all women from all walks of life.
Today, three incredible women will share their perspectives on the importance of Women’s Equality Day, how far women have come, and the work to be done.
Cate Luzio, founder of Luminary, a collaboration hub for women to develop new ideas, says it’s time for women, whether they are entrepreneurs or employees, to make their voices heard.
“Whatever you stand for, you have to be strong and steadfast,” says Luzio. “You don’t have to be combative or controversial, but speak up on behalf of underserved communities, whether they are people of color or women founders because we’re still minorities.”
Prior to starting a company, Luzio was in financial services, and one thing stuck out. Women were in the pipeline, but they were promoted at a snail’s pace. “It comes down to using your voice, and claiming a seat at the table,” says Luzio. “Start by simply speaking up in meetings and advocating for yourself.”
Capital One’s own Chief Audit Officer Celia Karam adds to the importance of supporting rising women in the workplace, at home, and in the community.
“Women, particularly women of color, are the driving forces of their families and their communities. If we can create paths to success for women, they will uplift their children, their nieces and nephews, and their communities along with them. Investing in women – in their education, their professional development, their access to opportunity – will improve their outcomes and the experiences of those she touches. Most importantly, this isn't just about investing in white women in white collar jobs. There is also the importance of investing in Black women, brown women and women of less economic means. Coming together to invest in these women can change the trajectory of communities that are being left behind.”
Helping women to advance means supporting them at every rung of their careers, says Bradley. “I regularly mentor women, and advocate for women in leadership, on boards, and the like.” She also speaks at women’s events to share her own trials and triumphs.
Bradley admits she often faces bias from potential investors or partners as the founder of 1863 Ventures, and the co-founder of Ureeka, a community where small businesses gain access to needed expertise.
“Very few women run a national entrepreneur accelerator program and there are even fewer Black leaders in the space,” she explains. “At Ureeka, I am fortunate to have two white male co-founders who make sure folks see and hear me as equal.”
Still, she advises women to “find the time and courage to advocate for yourself and other women.” “While the risk is relatively low due to legal protections for women, I know fear and concern for retribution remains high,” says Bradley.
For Luzio and her team at Luminary, helping women to gain parity in the workplace means focusing on programming to get them paid, to provide access to better opportunities, and to create their own blueprint for success.
“Whether you are a banker, a fitness instructor, or a teacher, Luminary offers a digital and physical place for women to come together, learn, and connect while driving the idea of advancement of women in the workplace.”
Outside of your 9 to 5, Bradley advocates for women to make a big impact at the polls in November. According to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed by the Pew Research Center, 55% of women versus 51.8% of men eligible to vote cast ballots in the November 2018 midterms. “It means everything to not only allow women to vote, but to vote for a female candidate in one of the highest offices in the country,” says Bradley.
Given that social injustice permeates all facets of society, Luzio says, she wants to hold more companies accountable by asking: “How many women or people of color have been promoted over the past 18 months?”
It’s not enough to write a check, she says. And while she doesn’t agree with the “cancel culture,” Luzio says, calling companies out is a pretty bold move.
Leveling the Playing Field
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 39% of women work in female-dominated positions, and women remain underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations. Karam wants to see the next generation of STEM stars “Go for it” and describes the path toward making that a reality.
“Exposure to math and science early on is key, with parents and teachers encouraging and praising girls for their math prowess,” Karam says. “As they get into middle school, confidence on all dimensions can take a downward plunge for many girls and being in male dominated spaces like advanced math class or coding class isn't always appealing. Finding ways to help girls build their confidence and growth mindset seems like a big lever to me. We can encourage and develop our girls, but we also need to rewrite our systems for multiple types of successful people, not just alpha males.”
But leveling the playing field doesn’t end with empowering women to pursue and stick with careers in STEM. There’s a whole new generation of women starting their own businesses, so it’s crucial that we understand their specific goals and needs to help them thrive. Women now account for 40% of new entrepreneurs, and it’s clear that hanging out a shingle is helping women to advance as well. “For one, it is a means of economic freedom, but no less work,” says Bradley. “It also provides a chance to lead and offers the psychological boost of controlling your own destiny.”
Women-owned businesses increased five times faster than the national average, per a 2018 report from the SCORE Association. “There are more resources to provide the connections and guidance for entrepreneurship,” says Luzio. “But there’s still a lack of access to funding.” Despite the challenges, she says, it’s exciting to see women owners succeed.
Our conversation ends as it began. When asked why Women’s Equality Day is important to commemorate, Luzio thought for a moment, then said, “People want a sense of purpose, and right now is the time to make sure you’re not slinking back.”