5 Feminist Movements That Have Shaken Up the U.S. Workforce

Women’s rights in the workforce have evolved over time from 1910 to present day. In the past, women were restricted in their roles, but now they hold key leadership positions in the government, thrive in tech and make key military decisions. In a recent post, [email protected], UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, explored how 100 years of feminist history is reflected in changes in business attire for women over the years. There were some significant feminist movements occurring during those periods that both helped change women’s work suits—and shake up the U.S. workforce at the same time. Here are five movements from 1910-1960 that had a major impact.

  1. Ratification of the 19th Amendment—granting American women the right to vote. Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established woman suffrage, a phrase often used to reference the intent of this landmark legislation. This ratification was the result of a 70-year battle by feminist leaders that included Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) and Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). In 2012, when the last presidential election was held, 72.9 percent of registered voters were women.
  2. Secondary effects of the New Deal—due to the expansion of social welfare services and women’s dominance in the field. This dynamic resulted in women being appointed to positions at high levels in the government for the first time—including the first female Cabinet member, the first female director of the United States Mint, the first female ambassador and the first female judge on the Court of Appeals. The contemporary effect is quite visible in 2016 with Hilary Clinton being selected as the first female presidential nominee of a major political party.
  3. Entry of women into the military—when women’s branches were created for each of the armed services in World War II. During this era, close to 350,000 women served in the Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Air Force. According to Pew research, while there are still fewer women than men in today’s armed forces, slightly more of them are officers—including three women who hold the highest rank of four stars: Admiral Michelle Howard (Navy), General Janet Wolfenbarger (Air Force) and General Ann Dunwoody (Army).
  4. Legislation in the 1960s that advanced women’s rights—including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a presidential Executive Order in 1967 that banned discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring and employment. Today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant because of “the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” It’s also illegal to discriminate against someone who complains about discrimination or participates in filing formal charges about discrimination or participates in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  5. The 1963 publication of “The Feminine Mystiquewritten by Betty Friedan and widely credited with igniting the second wave of feminism in the United States, also referred to as the Women’s Liberation Movement. The book highlights how the women of the post-World War II era were encouraged to limit their aspirations to being wives and mothers—which prevented them from also seeking fulfillment through education and careers. Frieden co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and served as its first president. She died on February 4, 2006—but her words and legacy live on. There have been more than 1 million copies of The Feminine Mystique sold, it’s been translated into multiple languages, and serves as a foundational text in Women’s Studies and U.S. history classes.

The evolution of women’s rights in society has had a major impact on women in the workforce. Although there are still glass ceilings that need to be broken, women have made incredible advances in the 100 years since the first feminist movements began to take hold. Men no longer hold the keys to the workforce kingdom—women now have their own set as well.

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