This significant advancement was not accomplished by men leading the change. Men were not making the case to their colleagues that the time had come for women to have the right to vote. Much to the contrary, women persisted in leading the way. In 1869 the National Woman's Suffrage Association was formed and led by Susan B. Anthony. This movement was built off of previous women-led efforts around abolition and temperance movements.
Women have always been key in leading change and that is even more important for our future.
From a point of view of state pride, Kansas in many ways has led the nation on women’s equality. Kansas was the first state in the nation to hold a referendum on women’s suffrage in 1867 and recognized women's right to vote in local elections in 1887. That same year, the town of Argonia, Kansas elected the first female mayor in U.S. history. And, in 1912, Kansas recognized a woman's right to vote in national elections, eight years before the 19th amendment passed.
Understanding our past holds lessons for our future. My focus in this blog is on what should be done to make the most of the underutilized talents of the women in our workforce. This is not just about equal pay, but promoting women into positions that make best use of their talents and leadership skills for the benefit of everyone. Especially, at this time in our nation where there is a critical need for making positive change.
The growing fact is that many young women are outperforming young men at a significant pace by doing better in their classes, by simply learning more, and by being better prepared to really make a difference through leading change. I want to make it clear that we have many very talented young men, it is just that they tend to be fewer in number. The key is getting the right person in the right position of leadership and more often than not a woman.
So how does that progress take place? There needs to be more awareness and acknowledgment that when employers fail to fully engage women in the workplace, there are consequences, including a potentially negative impact on the bottom line. Whether financial or due to unachieved policy outcomes and practices with public institutions, the consequences can be quite significant. Given the huge challenges that are coming out of the pandemic, ensuring women are allowed to fulfill their potential is even more important.
In a strange way, the pandemic and all the needs it exposed for major change in our society may accelerate interest, motivation, and pressure for major change. We just might be more aware of the reality of our shortcomings, that we are no longer number one or close in many key areas, and going forward with the past ways will just not get it done. That will put more pressure on getting change agents—often women—in a key position to lead us on climate change, improving education, and addressing the many local issues needed for economic growth in the future.
The fact that more women are stepping up to run for public office also gives me hope. The new, very talented women in Congress from 2018, and likely more coming from 2020 elections including a candidate for Vice President of the United States, is very positive. Younger generations also inspire me to believe that the message of equality is taking hold, and their continued engagement is precisely the thing that can bring about the lasting changes we need.
So here’s to the women’s leadership and engagement that brought us the 19th Amendment. It is my hope that future celebrations of progress for women include not just pay equity but rightful promotions. When that happens, we will not only celebrate but also reap the economic and policy rewards.