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May 29, 2018

Over the past 18 months, we have witnessed quite an uprising from women across America.  Their voices are being heard on issues around workplace sexual harassment and misconduct, gender equality and public education.

Here, I want to make the connection that is not often made, one between public education and gender equality. In February, West Virginia teachers joined in a 12-day strike to tell the governor, state legislators and the nation how they were suffering as victims of low pay, with inadequate support for school funding and health insurance. While they had union support behind them, this was a grassroots movement led by West Virginia teachers – 75 percent of whom are women. They let the state and the country know that they had had enough and were not going to take it anymore.  

What happened in my native state of West Virginia sparked similar eruptions in five other states this spring—Oklahoma (where 78 percent of the teaching force are women); Arizona (79 percent); Colorado (76 percent); Kentucky (78 percent) and North Carolina (79 percent).

It’s important to underscore the extremely high percentages of women in the teacher workforce because it’s time to put an end to the blatant salary discrimination that happens to most women who are teaching today in the U.S. Historically, women have carried the load of educating the U.S. workforce but have not been adequately rewarded for their valuable work.

Let’s look at who makes the decisions around what teachers are paid. It’s a very large group of men who have called the shots for decades, and very little has changed in recent years.  Some data points to consider:

*School funding and base pay are usually determined in state capitals. And, today, only six of 50 states have women governors (Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon and Rhode Island).  And, when you look at state legislatures, women account for only 25 percent of the seats held.

*The other decision maker on teacher pay is local school boards. The numbers are a little better there, but women do not yet hold a majority with only 44 percent of school board seats. 

Since the election of Trump, women have organized and made their voices heard (we’ve witnessed millions of women marching in the streets). More women are coming forward to tell their stories of harassment (#TimesUp), and the majority of protesters filling the halls of state capitals to protest low pay and inadequate funding for education are women.

How these advocacy efforts will play out is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, we can all agree that there is only one way to go, and that is up.  

Yes, there are too many obstacles in place, and the numbers are not encouraging. Women earn 80 cents to every dollar a man earns and they hold only 10 percent of the top corporate positions in America.

There is much ground to shake and earth to move to create systemic, dynamic change when it comes to greater women’s empowerment in politics, business and education. But, the teachers in West Virginia got us off to a good start.


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