As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month, women logically spend time looking to the past. We acknowledge the impact women had on the development of our nation, our state and our communities, and we honor the foundation they laid for those of us who follow in their footsteps.
But if we use this national recognition only as a time for women to talk about history, we are missing the point. We must also acknowledge the impact women are having today and how important women’s causes are to everyone. Specifically, I want to talk about a couple of ways that changes beneficial to women could strengthen the state’s economy.
First, I want to bring to your attention the results of a study by the Cause and Social Influence Initiative. A survey of 4,000 young Americans (ages 18 to 30), the 2022 study found that women’s issues were No. 1 on these young people’s minds. Please note: This wasn’t a survey of women, and it wasn’t focused on a particular issue. It was a representative sample of young Americans responding to a question about what issues concern them most. And their top concern related to women.
In a state that is desperate to fill its worker pipeline, that’s a significant fact.
Today, thousands of jobs are open in Indiana, with a recent Indiana Chamber of Commerce survey revealing that nearly three-quarters of employers have unfilled positions. And Conexus Indiana notes that, in the advanced manufacturing and logistics world alone—which accounts for nearly a third of Indiana’s economic output—current worker shortages soon will be exacerbated by retirements. Nearly 19% of Indiana’s population will be age 65 or older by 2025, and a lot of workers on the job are already past retirement age.
You see my point: Indiana needs young workers, but if young workers see the state as being unfriendly to women, they won’t come here.
Second, let’s look at how pay parity could affect the economy. In Indiana, women represent roughly 46% of the workforce, but they capture far less than 46% of the payroll. On average, female Hoosier workers are paid only 72 cents for every dollar men make, according to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And that inequity isn’t just a problem for women. The institute also points out that, if women received the same pay as men, it would add $10 billion to the economy and lower Indiana’s overall poverty rate (as reported in 2016) from 7.6% to 3.5%.
So, sure, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s honor the women who blazed trails, and let’s applaud those who made a difference in earlier generations. But let’s also improve the landscape for women today. Let’s strengthen laws addressing sexual harassment and assault. Let’s pass legislation that increases women’s opportunities to earn a living that’s on par with their male peers. Let’s ensure that all women have access to the voting booth. And let’s improve women’s health and reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.
Through these measures, we can strengthen the Indiana economy. We can make our state a place that’s viewed favorably by the up-and-coming generation. And we can help get Hoosier workplaces back to full productivity.
In other words, rather than simply honoring history during Women’s History Month, we can make history.•
Shahid is CEO of Women4Change.