Throughout history, women have shattered barriers, defied conventions, and played pivotal roles in shaping economies and societies. Despite facing many unique challenges, successful and prominent female leaders have preserved and left their mark on history.
This Labor Day, we’re taking a moment to honor the impact of women on our modern workforce and their contributions to society, which go unrecognized all too often.
Understanding the role of women in the workforce throughout history
History is full of examples of women who defied social norms to break into the workforce and positions of power. From ancient civilizations to early modern history, there’s an abundance of prominent female entrepreneurs who’ve made significant contributions to their society.
That’s not to say that women haven’t faced their fair share of challenges. Throughout history, women have faced lower wages than men for the same type of work. In some cases, such as during the Industrial Revolution, they even faced harsher working conditions, especially in the garment sector.
When women remain in traditional roles of homemaking and caretaking, their work also tends to be underappreciated. Work in family businesses, domestic agricultural production, and personal household financial management often are unrecognized. Nevertheless, their contributions remain a crucial cornerstone of our modern society.
Today, women tend to be disproportionately underrepresented and underappreciated in their respective fields. At worst, women can be exposed to sexism in the workplace. But women continue to push forward, pioneering roles traditionally held by men, including lawyers, doctors, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals.
The resourcefulness and perseverance of women throughout history despite numerous challenges can’t be overemphasized. The power of the female consumption is reshaping industries and markets, and culminating in a $31 trillion dollar economy. Around the world, women make up a staggering 85% of global consumer spending.
Which is why we’re highlighting prominent female figures who paved the way for other women to enter the modern workforce.
Milestones for women in the workforce
1809 – Mary Kies becomes the first woman to receive a patent for a method of weaving straw with silk.
1869 – Arabella Mansfield is granted admission to practice law in Iowa, making her the first woman lawyer.
1872 – Female federal employees are guaranteed equal pay for equal work under the law.
1887 – Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.
1889 – Anna Bissell becomes the first-ever U.S. woman CEO, heading Sweeper Co.
1916 – Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
1933 – Frances Perkins becomes the first female cabinet member when she’s appointed secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1941 – A shortage of workers during World War II opens a large range of high-paying jobs to women. Almost 7 million women enter the workforce, creating the cultural icon Rosie the Riveter.
1963 – Congress passes the Equal Pay Act promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin, or sex of the worker.
1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
1983 – Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.
1984 – U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first vice president nominee by a major party by Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale.
1997 – Madeleine Albright becomes the first female secretary of state.
2007 – Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.
2008 – Nour Al Hassan tackles female entrepreneurship by founding Tarjama, a company that translates over 150 million words in 30 languages and helps Saudi women enhance their skills to obtain better job opportunities.
2009 – Michelle Obama becomes the first African-American First Lady and creates Let’s Move, which is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.
2011 – Oprah Winfrey becomes the first African-American multibillionaire.
2013 – The U.S. military removes the ban preventing women from serving in combat positions.
2016 – Hillary Rodham Clinton secures the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first U.S. woman to lead the ticket of a major party.
2017 – Congress has a record number of women, with 104 female House members and 21 female Senators, including the chamber’s first Latina, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
2018 – Stacey Cunningham becomes the first woman president of the New York Stock Exchange.
2019 – Esther Duflo wins Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, making her the second woman and the youngest woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.
2020 – Gitanjali Rao is named TIME’s kid of the year at age 15 for her development of two apps — one to detect lead in drinking water and Kindly, which uses artificial intelligence to detect cyber bullying.
2020 – New Zealand appoints Nanaia Mahuta as the first indigenous female foreign minister.
2021 – Kamala Harris is the first woman and first woman of color to be sworn in as vice president of the United States.
2022 – Giorgia Meloni becomes the first female prime minister of Italy.
2023 – Women dominated the entertainment industry summer of 2023 with The Barbie Movie, Beyonce, Taylor Swift generating record sales and audience attendance in the billions. The hashtag #billiongirlsummer has been trending for weeks.
7 ways to support women on Labor Day
While Labor Day marks the end of summer, it’s also a day of tribute and an opportunity to honor women for playing such a vital role in making a change in the world. Here are seven ways you can support women this Labor Day — both in the workforce and in the larger society.
1. Shop women-owned businesses
Buy yourself a new outfit or get someone special in your life a gift. Need a tote for your everyday essentials? Check out Francine Collections. Updating your home? Greener Stock is the perfect resource for natural, nontoxic, and eco-friendly building materials. Looking to learn more about personal finance? MoneyLion’s Bougie on a Budget is your go-to!
2. Acknowledge achievements
Take the time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women in your workplace or community. Highlight their successes and share their stories to inspire others. Ask your employer to host an event or create a newsletter to highlight the impactful women in your world.
3. Advocate for flexible work policies
Women tend to become mothers and often play the role of caregivers for their families, which is why it’s important to advocate for flexible work arrangements that accommodate the needs of working moms. Supporting policies like remote work options and flexible hours can make a significant difference in promoting work-life balance and making it easier for women to excel in their careers.
Volunteer your time by mentoring a young girl in your area through Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Many girls throughout the U.S. are held back by poverty, teen violence, and poor-performing school systems. You can help influence and mentor young women in your area to see their value and maybe one day be part of creating change throughout the world.
5. Support women-focused charities and organizations
Support women in crisis and donate to worldvision.org. Millions of girls are victims of abuse, child marriages, child labor, and human trafficking. By donating, you’re helping to protect these girls by equipping them with skills, education, counseling, medical care, and other programs to help end the cycle of gender-based violence.
6. Raise awareness
Use Labor Day as an opportunity to educate others about the importance of gender equality and the challenges women still face in the workforce. Share informative articles, resources, and statistics to raise awareness and drive conversations about gender equity. Raise awareness of the challenges women face in the modern workforce and create discussions to find solutions.
7. Be an ally
In today’s society, it’s critical to stand up and speak out against sexism whenever we encounter it. One way to be an ally is to listen to women and their experiences, especially when it comes to understanding their perspectives. Women experience the world differently than men and as a result, face unique challenges and obstacles. By creating an open and respectful atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to speak their mind, you’ll be able to foster a more empowering environment.
Honor women who got America to where it is today
Let’s continue to honor women who have shown great resilience in getting our nation to where it is today. Women who wouldn’t take no for an answer and saw a world full of opportunity. Women who speak powerful words and take even more powerful action, with a commitment to fighting the good fight for equality. Women, who have the ability to make a difference in this world and truly be the change, be the difference, and be the voice.
How can companies promote gender equality in the workforce?
Companies can promote gender equality in the workforce by implementing a multifaceted approach that encompasses policies, culture, and opportunities. This includes offering equal pay for equal work, ensuring transparent promotion and advancement processes, and actively seeking to eliminate gender biases in recruitment and performance evaluations.
Companies should provide flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies that cater to both men and women and invest in training and leadership development programs that empower women to thrive in all levels of the organization. Fostering an inclusive workplace culture that values diversity, offers mentorship, and holds leadership accountable for gender equality goals is crucial for creating an environment where all employees can excel without discrimination.
What are the benefits of having gender diversity in the workforce?
Gender diversity in the workforce brings a multitude of benefits to organizations. It enhances creativity and innovation by incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences, leading to more well-rounded decision-making processes. Gender-diverse teams often demonstrate improved problem-solving capabilities and adaptability, which can drive better outcomes and business performance.
A diverse workforce can attract and retain top talent, creating a competitive advantage in recruitment. Gender diversity promotes a more inclusive and equitable corporate culture, boosting employee morale and engagement while also appealing to a broader customer base by reflecting the diverse societies they serve.
How can men support women in the workforce?
Men can support women in the workforce by advocating for gender equality and inclusion. This involves acknowledging and challenging unconscious biases and promoting a workplace environment where women’s contributions are valued and respected. Men can serve as allies by amplifying women’s voices, supporting their career advancement, and ensuring equal opportunities for growth.