Why We Need Women's History Month

When Graduate! Network Fellow Micaela Rios thinks about why we need Women's History Month, her first thought is our Comebackers. Click here or scroll down to read more >>
What We're Reading:
Deeper in Debt

A new report from AAUW looks at the disproportionate share of student loan debt belonging to women -- and the negative impact it's having on them. Click here or scroll down for more >>
Why We Need Women's History Month
by Micaela Rios, Graduate! Network Fellow

Women’s History Month provides us with the opportunity for reflection, acknowledgment, and celebration. In 1981, Congress authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week of March 7th as Women’s History Week. This eventually evolved into Women’s History Month. The goal was to celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States.

When I think about why we should celebrate and acknowledge women’s history month, I first think of our Comebackers. The 2020 Data That Move Us report, The Comeback Story, uses data collected from eight Graduate! Network communities that utilize the Comeback Tracker. Based on that data, 64 percent of our Comebackers identify as female. Of these female Comebackers, 49 percent are Black, 26 percent are white, and 19 percent are Latinx. Eighty-one percent have a household income of $42,000 or less, 35 percent work more than 40 hours per week, and 17 percent are not employed but are looking. While our data is limited to the geographic regions we serve that use the Comebacker Tracker, the data tell a story about who we serve. 

The last 60 years have been historic with progress for women: women of all racial backgrounds have been granted access to vote, women have surpassed men in terms of college enrollment and attainment, laws have been passed to allow women to open checking accounts without permission from their husbands, women's participation in the workforce peaked at 60 percent, and we’ve had many female “firsts” in leadership roles. In 2021, we have a record number of women in the House of Representatives, and of course, our first female Vice President.  

As with Black History Month, Women’s History Month isn’t just a time to celebrate all that women have accomplished; it is also a time to acknowledge all that is left to be done. And the reality is that although there has been significant progress, there is still so much work to do. Here are just a few examples:

  • Higher Education:
  • Workforce:
    • Across all racial-ethnic groups, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by white men. (American Center for Progress) Here’s how that breaks down by race/ethnicity:
      • Latinx women earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men
      • Native American women earn 57 cents for every dollar earned by white men
      • Black women earn 62 cents for every dollar earned by white men
      • White women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by white men
      • Asian women earn 90 cents for every dollar earned by white men
I recently had the opportunity to attend a racial equity training, and a particular quote from Einstein stood out to me the most: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” As we reflect both on the progress and the current state of women in America, I think it is tremendously important to also reflect on our history, or rather herstory, instead of trying to come up with quick solutions around gender inequities. I encourage us to all take time this month to learn more about the issues affecting women, especially as we think about our female Comebackers. Some topics to research or learn more about:
  • The history of women in higher education
  • Women in the workforce
  • Contributions from women community leaders, activists, artists, scholars, business leaders 
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor and lawyer, coined the term “intersectionality” to specifically address how different identities intersect. As you take time to read and learn this month, be sure to look at data from an equity lens, considering race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, religion, immigration status, etc.

Lastly, while we focus on history and contributions from women, let us not forget the women in our own lives who have had positive impacts on our lives. Too often when we think of “influential women,” these may be women in positions of power and/or women who are highly educated. May we also take some time this month to celebrate the women we care about. The women I refer to as my grandmothers both had elementary school educations, and my own mother started college and stopped when she met my father. These women have played such a significant role in my life that I would not be here today without their resilience and love. 

Here is a listing of virtual events this month. Also, stay tuned for a DEI Multimedia Club meeting this month!  

For additional reading:
We're planning to include a piece in the Lightbulb later this month that features the women who inspire our network community. Would you be willing to share with us about a woman who has inspired you? 

If so, please fill out this brief form by Friday, March 19, and we'll consider your response for inclusion in our upcoming special issue of the Lightbulb.

If you have any questions, please email Noelle Tennis Gulden:
What We're Reading:
Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans in the Time of COVID

by Annette Mattei,
Graduate! Network Research Director, Data That Move Us

Here’s a fact that made me do a double-take: of the $1.54 trillion of student loan debt in the US, two-thirds—$929 billion—is held by women. Moreover, Black women graduate with the highest average student loan debt of any demographic group.

What is especially troubling is that these statistics were issued before the pandemic hit, when female graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree and were working full-time reported making 26 percent less than male college graduates.

As we remain mired in a “COVID recession,” women’s ability to pay off student loan debt has been further degraded by the disproportionate disruption to their working lives: women were more likely to be working in industries that suffered severe job loss and furloughs, and women were more likely to withdraw from the labor force because of caretaking responsibilities.

Deeper in Debt report explains how “the difficulty of paying off student loan debt—sure to be compounded by current economic conditions—[will have] profound downstream effects on women’s lives.”
Read the Report
Have you read, watched, or listened to something recently that you would like to share with the Network? Let us know!

Email Noelle Tennis Gulden with a link to the resource and a brief write-up telling us what you took away from it and why you think others would benefit from it.

Tell Us What You Think
What issues affecting women would you like to learn more about this month? Reply to this email or share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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