By Ellen Chang, Contributor to Aunt Bertha

Women have many reasons to celebrate on Aug. 26, Women’s Equality Day: pay gaps have shrunk, more females are leading companies as CEOs, and dozens of women have run successfully for political office at the national level.

For over four decades, Congress has celebrated Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women gaining the right to vote, which was certified in 1920 by the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

U.S. Representative Bella Abzug of New York first proposed the passage of Women’s Equity Day in 1971 and two years later the law was ratified.

Women faced many hardships during the past several decades, especially attaining employment, being able to rent or buy a house independently or serving in the military. Until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 was passed, women could lose their jobs merely for being pregnant. Even running in the Boston Marathon was prohibited until 1972 when women were officially acknowledged.

Until the Equal Opportunity Commission defined the term sexual harassment in 1980, women had few options in the workplace. While women still face severe and serious consequences and backlash if they report harassment, the #metoo movement has highlighted the pervasiveness of the problem and more women have spoken publicly about their experiences.  

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who has represented the 141st District in Texas since 1972, and Diana Martinez Alexander, who is running for Harris County Commissioner, attend a Texas Democratic Women’s 99th-anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 29, 2019. Photo by: Ellen Chang

In the past few decades, women have attained more financial freedom such as being able to have a credit card, rent or buy a home, or take out business loans.

Women were denied access to credit and were unable to apply and receive a credit card in the 1970s. The discriminatory trend changed in 1974 with the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) when made it unlawful for creditors to “discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status.”

Until then women could only obtain credit cards if they were married and their husbands agreed to cosign  for their applications. Women who were single, widowed, or divorced faced many challenges and often had to bring a male family member such as their father to cosign for them. Men did not face the same discrimination and were not denied access to credit or loans based on their gender. 

Women received greater access to credit when the First Women’s Bank in Manhattan was established in April 1975. The bank’s CEO was Judy Hendren Mello and it was the first bank that was operated by women solely for female clients.

Women had a difficult time establishing credit history during that decade since the usage of credit cards is a helpful tool for consumers to build their credit and also increase credit scores.

Access to credit now is equitable and women are not asked extremely personal questions that were posed in the 1970s, nor do they need their husbands to cosign a credit card application.

Employers now recognize that having a diverse workforce improves results. Studies have demonstrated that female portfolio money managers outperform their male counterparts. Despite these advances, women are still only earning 78 cents for every dollar that a man receives and a low percentage of women receive funding from venture capitalists for their startups.

One conference for investment professionals, Wealth/Stack, allows female attendees to attend at 78 percent of the current registration fee to signify the pay gap between men and women.

Diana Martinez Alexander, who is an educational diagnostician at a Houston area school district and is running for a county commissioner’s seat in Harris county, said she gives back to her community by providing information about voting and local civic issues.

It helps everyone to have an informed, activated community and as an organizer and now candidate, I strive to redouble my efforts for outreach and canvassing,” she said. “It is our duty to use our voices and using a vote to be part of the body politic. Go door to door, make that phone call and write those postcards. It all matters.”  

Here is how you can support and help advance women at work and at home throughout the year:

  • Support female political candidates by donating to their campaigns or blockwalking for them;
  • Register people to vote;
  • Offer mandatory maternity and paternity leave if you run a business;
  • Make gender diversity a priority at your company ;
  • State your gender pay gap and how the company’s plans to shrink the difference;
  • Mentor female high school and college students and new or entry-level employees ;
  • Invite women to speak at panels; avoid speaking at a panel or conference where women are underrepresented;
  • Provide remote or virtual working;
  • Have a strong policy against sexual harassment and enforce your policy;
  • Provide additional training to all employees;
  • Promote more women to leadership roles and boards of directors; and
  • Provide equity to microlenders, angel funds, or private-equity funds that focus on female entrepreneurs.

Ellen Chang is a freelance journalist who is based in Houston and writes for TheStreet and U.S. News & World Report. Chang focuses her articles on stocks, entrepreneurs, personal finance, energy and cybersecurity. Her byline has appeared in national business publications, including USA Today, CBS News, Yahoo Finance and MSN Money. She is a proud graduate of Purdue University and a lover of random acts of kindness, volunteering and dogs and cats. Follow her on Twitter @ellenychang and Instagram @ellenyinchang.