It has happened more than once in the last year to me. Actually, it happens a lot.  I get asked, or rather told, “I don’t understand the big deal, didn’t the women’s lib movement fix women’s issues?” How do you even begin to unpack that? How do I, in a minute conversation, explain that while there have been strides over the last forty years, women still feel the effects of the legacy of disenfranchisement.

On August 26th, Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate the anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United States. This inalienable right was denied to women until 1919. I wonder what the women of the suffrage movement and the women who followed their path in the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s would think of us 40 years later. What would our predecessors think of us for not standing up and speaking out for women that are still disenfranchised?  What does disenfranchisement look like today? Well it’s more subtle, and in that subtlety there is a threat to prevent women from being the best versions of themselves, for them to find their own voice, and seek the opportunities that exist today.

This week I have been following the backlash from the controversy an internal google memo caused, highlighting the very real inequities in the Technology sector for women.  It is highly relevant to the work of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas because we are a state leader in advancing equity for women and girls in STEM education and careers. We believe a pathway for women’s economic empowerment is through advancement in emerging STEM fields. Is inequity real? Does it still exist for women? Simply, yes, yes it does. As we watch from afar here in Arkansas the backlash in Silicon Valley, we should be mindful of the implications in our state what this means as we work with partners to transform our workforce. We want to be a state that is is producing the best talent for industries in need of human resources. If we continue to disenfranchise half our population by continuing to foster negative stereotypes, not recognizing the talents of female leadership traits in the workforce, and discouraging girls from pursing traditionally male dominated education and career tracks, then Arkansas will get left behind. We all will.

I am proud that at the end of this month we are partnering with Local First and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub to host a panel for Women In Business. I am proud that at the WFA we look for solutions, we offer ideas, and we engage with our whole community.  We do our best to bring women and men together, of different backgrounds, ages, races, and viewpoints. Yes, we want women to be stronger.  We want to ensure access to resources that now exist thanks to our predecessors. But we need to realize that for many women in our state that access is out of reach unless we do something about it.

This week we welcomed the newest member to to the WFA team, Rebecca Webber.  Rebbeca joins the WFA as our Girls of Promise Project Coordinator.  Through our Girls of Promise Initiative we are working to ensure that girls have access to resources and opportunities in STEM. In two weeks, we will have a very special announcement from our Girls of Promise Initiative. Stay tuned for how we are being the difference.

Until then, join us, let us know how you are celebrating Women’s Equality Day!

Anna Beth, Maddie, and Rebecca

Anna Beth Gorman is the executive director of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.

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