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.
(Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972)
June marked the 30th anniversary of Title IX, the law that revolutionized education and athletic opportunities for girls and women. Better known for its significant effect on women athletes, Title IX also has had a huge effect on women professionals by providing better access to higher education and the advancement opportunities it provides.
I am a direct beneficiary of Title IX in so many ways, as an athlete, student, engineer and business professional. And whether women realize it or not, most of us, including those in the cable industry, owe a great deal to this groundbreaking legislation.
While Title IX has achieved much, there is still more work to be done, and organizations such as Women in Cable & Telecommunications are committed to further leveling the playing field.
I was almost 11-years-old when Title IX was enacted, and had yet to begin the track career that would lead me to win a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Games.
My passion for track was ignited a year later when, after failing at many other sports and activities, I began to win events on my first try. This exhilarating feeling of accomplishment propelled me to win numerous local, state and national championships in middle school and high school. I attended the University of Tennessee on a full athletic scholarship and graduated in 1984 with a degree in industrial engineering.
And of course, winning the 1984 Olympic gold medal was the crowning achievement in my athletic career and a moment that I'll always cherish. Among my best memories are crossing the finish line with close to 100,000 screaming fans cheering my success, hearing the national anthem played while on the victory stand, seeing the faces of my beloved parents bursting with pride, and afterwards, a parade and a street named in my honor.
In 1988 after 15 years of competition, I decided to retire from track and field. Since then, my professional career has been quite diverse — I've worked as an engineer, an athletics administrator and now as president of WICT.
CHANGING THE RULES
It astounds me that without Title IX, very few of my life's most precious moments would have become a reality. In 1972, few women experienced the feeling of unadulterated joy that can only come from kicking the winning goal, crossing the finish line first, or achieving a personal best performance. In fact, only one in 27 high school girls played any sports at all compared with one out of every two boys.
Three decades ago, many women were denied important educational opportunities that would prepare them for careers outside the home. According to Title IX at 30: A Report Card on Gender Equity, published last month by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education:
- Until the 1970s many of the nation's colleges and universities simply excluded women outright;
- Even those colleges and universities that did admit women had quotas limiting the number of women who could attend;
- And admissions criteria for women, including test scores, were much tougher than those for men.
Today, where they were once denied entry, women are graduating from college, law school, business school and medical school in record numbers. Studies show that women make up 47 percent of the U.S. labor force and 49.5 percent of managerial and professional specialty positions. Women's purchasing power has increased accordingly. In 2001, The Cincinnati Enquirer
reported that women have $3.7 trillion in spending power.
Women's sports participation also has multiplied. High school girls now make up 41.5 percent of varsity athletes in the U.S. and women constitute 43 percent of college varsity athletes. Successful women's professional circuits in tennis, golf, basketball and soccer are enjoying growing popularity.
There is a distinct correlation between women's sports participation and success in business. It's no coincidence that "more than four out of five, or 82 percent of, executive businesswomen played sports growing up — and the vast majority say lessons learned on the playing field have contributed to their success in business." (Game Face, From the Locker Room to the Boardroom: A Survey on Sports in the Lives of Women Business Executives, February 2002.)
According to Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, it takes 15 to 20 years after a girl first begins playing sports for her to become a professional or Olympic athlete. Accordingly, it takes at least 20 to 30 years for men and women who enter the workforce to gain top jobs.
PARITY STILL ELUDES US
Today, 30 years later, women that were educated in much larger numbers in the 1970s are beginning to reach an age and experience level where they should be considered for top executive-level jobs and board seats. In the next two decades, even larger numbers of women will be ready to assume key leadership positions in their companies. We need to work together to ensure those leadership opportunities.
Considering how few years we've comprised a significant portion of the workplace, women have greatly advanced, but we still must overcome quite a few hurdles before we gain true equity.
Even in the sports world where we've seen many gains, boys still receive 1.7 million more high school sports opportunities than girls and 30 percent more college sports opportunities than women. There are recent attacks on the law from those who wrongly blame Title IX for the reduction of some men's minor sports such as wrestling and gymnastics.
According to the Title IX at 30
report card, despite women's progress at all levels of education, they continue to be underrepresented in traditionally male fields that lead to greater earning power upon graduation. Education institutions are also moving to dismantle affirmative action programs that have increased access for women.
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, women still earn only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men. And the wage gap has actually increased since 1995, during a time of great prosperity in the U.S.
A March 2001 report from The Annenberg Public Policy Center showed that women made up only 13 percent of the top executives of media companies and 9 percent of their boards of directors. Only 3 percent of the women in the study had "clout titles" (executive vice president and above).
WICT's own studies report that the total number of women in the cable industry is declining at an alarming rate. And while women make up 31 percent of employees at the vice president level and above, they make up more than 80 percent of clerical workers.
So even though women are a more integral part of the U.S. workforce, they are still being relegated, in large part, to jobs with the lowest pay and lowest status.
PASSING THE BATON
It is during times of great economic strife that companies tend to focus less on diversity and more on the bottom line, but these two things are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, now is the time to make sure that you hire and develop the best employees of diverse backgrounds and opinions from which to draw the most creative solutions.
Now is the time to call upon talented women with the skills and experience gained during three decades of progress and put them in leadership positions at all levels of your companies.
And now is the time to partner with organizations like WICT whose mission is to develop women leaders who transform our industry. Encourage women in your organization to get involved in WICT programs at the national and local levels.
Title IX created unprecedented opportunities for women on the playing field and in corporate America. Now, it's up to us to fulfill the promise made 30 years ago to ensure that all citizens, regardless of gender, have a chance to bring home the gold!