Labor Day 2011: Celebrating Working Women

As America celebrates Labor Day 2011, the Women’s Bureau honors and respects the many contributions of women workers and our women veterans; yet, the broader story of women in this country is a story of both unyielding progress and limitless potential. 

Today, women comprise nearly half of our country’s workforce.They are serving our country at every level, from caring for our elderly, to teaching our children to serving at the highest levels of government. And women are breaking barriers in every field, from science to business to the Armed Forces.

Not only are women contributing to existing infrastructures, but creating opportunities for themselves. The number of women-owned businesses is growing at four times the rate of businesses owned by men. While young women are making strides in the education arena – the majority of students in our colleges and our law schools are women .  

Think about that for a minute and the sea of change it represents for women in American society. Today, we celebrate the immeasurable contributions that all women workers have made, and continue to make, to our great nation.

Although much progress has been made for women workers; there is still much to be done. We can ensure that women workers prosper in the 21st century economy with the support of leaders like Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis and the courageous efforts of other trailblazing women, including:

  • Lilly Ledbetter who for nearly two decades was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work. She fought for what she deserved and lead the way for other women in getting what they deserve, resulting in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law in January 2009.
  • Geraldine Doyle, the inspiration for the popular World War II era poster, “Rosie the Riveter,” which still inspires women and girls today to pursue nontraditional jobs. One of our top priorities in the Women’s Bureau.
  • Mae Jemison, the first African American woman ever admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program, and in 1992, aboard the space shuttle Endeavor, becoming the first African-American woman in space. 
  • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina and third woman on the United States Supreme Court.

We’ve also come a long way in closing the pay gap but we’re not there yet.  When the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, women made 59 cents on the dollar compared to men.  Today, we make approximately 80 cents on the dollar. We’re moving closer and closer to the kind of true equality that our heroines—women like Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul—imagined for us when they waged the fight for suffrage generations ago.

This Labor Day and everyday, Secretary Solis and I are committed in our vigorous support of policies that strive for equal pay for equal work and we stand firmly for the education and advancement of all women.  The continued prosperity of our country must ensure that women are part of growing sectors such as science, math, and clean and new green industries. In addition, we must continue to empower women by supporting policies that guarantee their rights in the workplace, such as the enforcement of the Family Medical Leave Act, flexible workplace initiatives, and training services that help women move up the career ladder.

Learn more about the Department of Labor’s actions and commitment to improving working conditions and increasing employment opportunities for all Americans by visiting the Labor Day 2011 Web Site at http://www.dol.gov/laborday/.

To find out more about the Women’s Bureau and our priorities, visit www.dol.gov/wb.

Sara Manzano-Diaz is the Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

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