This month, several female employees from Vitalyst attended the ever-inspiring 13th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women with over 7,000 attendees. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share our perspectives with you through a series of blog posts capturing highlights from some of the most powerful keynote speakers.
This year’s conference theme was “The Power of Us: Amplify Your Voice” and the agenda was packed with impressive speakers who have committed their lives to lifting their voices on behalf of women in every sphere of influence. An underlying refrain focused on by several keynote presenters was the impact of Title IX, especially on women.
Many of us had never heard of Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding. Most people who are aware of this legislation may think it only applies to sports, but that’s only one area addressed by the law. It also covers access to educational programs, employment and protection against sexual harassment. Featured conference keynote speakers Anita Hill, Annie Clark and Abby Wambach all discussed how it impacted their lives and supported their efforts to push for equality in an environment free from sexual harassment on college campuses, sports and the workplace. In each case, Title IX allowed them opportunities women in the past could not take advantage of.
Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University, is a leader in civil rights and women’s rights movements. In 1993, she made sexual harassment in the workplace a national issue when she testified that Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas committed sexual harassment against her.
Annie Clark is co-founder and executive director of the national non-profit End Rape On Campus (EROC) and a lead complainant in the Title IX and Clery complaints against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she played sports, earned a BA in political science—and was a victim of sexual harassment.
A retired forward of the 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion U.S. women’s national soccer team, Abby Wambach is one of the world’s greatest players of all time. Abby credits Title IX with opening up opportunities for her and other women in the world of sports and is a leading voice for her generation of female soccer players and athletes.
Since I was not aware of the law, I thought I would dig into some research on the topic to better understand its origin and ongoing value—especially in light of the continued and growing focus of gender equality and diversity at work and in our personal lives. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s recommendation to “Lean In” (2013) to witnessing a female politician as a top candidate for President of the United States (2016), women are advancing alongside of their male counterparts and achieving remarkable accomplishments.
When it comes to athletes, in 1971 just 7 percent of girls played high school sports. By 2013, 41 percent of high school females were participating. And, in 2008, Danica Patrick was the first woman to win an IndyCar race. The underlying reason is that Title IX paved the way.1
It all started with Dr. Bernice R. Sandler, who has spent over 40 years advocating for women’s rights and is today widely known as the “Godmother of Title IX.” Dr. Sandler played a pivotal role in creating and implementing the Title IX law after she personally experienced sexual discrimination trying to obtain a job as a university professor. That was her initial entrée into fighting for the rights of women in education. Beyond discrimination in the workplace, Title IX has become a powerful tool for students who want to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault, including rape, at school and on college campuses. (See the ACLU’s “Title IX–The Nine.”)
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Since Title IX was passed 44 years ago, it has been the subject of over 20 proposed amendments, reviews, Supreme Court cases and other political actions. That’s why it’s called a living, breathing law. Yet, despite the fact that true gender equity hasn’t been achieved—the original intent of the law—it’s surprising there have been so many attempts to change it. Thousands of schools across the country are still not in compliance with the law.2
One of many organizations focused on ensuring that the nation’s laws protect women’s health and provide economic security for their families is the MARGARET Fund of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in Washington, D.C. The MARGARET Fund, an acronym for May All Resolve, Girls Achieve Real Equity Today, is a nonprofit effort that develops and supports programs promoting education about, and compliance with, Title IX of the Education Amendments. Also established in 1972, the NWLC has worked to expand the possibilities for girls and women in education and employment.3
Although gender equality has come a long way, we still have a ways to go. I found a website that explains the regulations in easy-to-understand language and uses real case studies as examples. Plus, it provides ways to find out about Title IX in your local community, links to many governmental and educational organizations for more detailed information and e-mail access to contact the Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C., about Title IX. (I EXercise My Rights is a public service, informational campaign designed to educate the public about Title IX.)4
If you are a successful, female professional business woman or decorated athlete, take a minute to thank Bernice Sandler and all those before us who have paved the way for gender equality. Be aware of your rights. And let’s keep Title IX alive and in force.