Labor Day. It’s a holiday we often look forward to as we wrap up summer with our friends and family, but the day signifies much more than barbecues and last-of-the-season beach outings. Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. It highlights how far we’ve come — and how much further we need to go — in defining a world of work that works for all.
The first Labor Day celebration was coined “a workingmen’s holiday” in the late 1800s, but the dynamic of industry and trade has dramatically shifted since the holiday’s origins. Women joined the workforce in this country decades ago, generating income in our own right. In fact, hundreds of thousands of women worked in factories during World War II. (Notably, the government responded by building a far-reaching, heavily-subsidized child care program to ensure that mothers were able to provide for their families and their country.)
However, at the same time we witnessed men build the modern-day corporate America. By default, they built it for men. From the way a workday is structured to the temperature of an office setting, male leadership has defined how work should run. In turn, this meant that the paths to power and key decisions were dominated by men, and any woman who could break into the ranks of business power was an anomaly.
This past-tense isn’t too far in the past, something made clear when contemplating that there are 24 female CEOs in Fortune 500’s 2018 list. However, women have made gains, at work and at home. As double standards still exist, female leaders are taking action. Even as we read about the fact that there are more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies named John than there are women, women are launching businesses at five times the rate of men. We’re at a pivotal moment in politics with more than 500 women running for U.S. House, Senate, or state governor seats, according to Politico. Once elected, these women will fight for equality and policy issues that put women at the forefront, from paid parental leave to closing the gender pay gap.
Broadly, we’ve also seen a shift in how American workers approach both our careers and the workday with the rise of the internet and mobile technology. Remote working, online networking, the gig economy, and a talent marketplace — all decentralize the traditional structures and are markers of a transformative democratization. The future of work is here, and it involves us all.
When women have opportunities to build successful businesses, the economic benefits include everyone. The future of work is inclusive, optimistic, and flexible to meet the ever-changing needs of the worker. The future of work is devout to the idea that equity is good for business. I built The Riveter to help map this exciting future, and to provide a professional network of spaces, tools and content to enable people to succeed at their business, whatever it may be. As The Riveter opens it’s fifth location in Bellevue this month, we’re doing our best to create a community where women and men can work toward this future together. Pacific Northwest communities are embracing these changes, and we’re excited to be a part of this movement.
This Labor Day, I’ll think of how our community is working to redefine the future of work with women at the forefront. Corporate America was built decades ago at a time when men went to work and women stayed home, and it’s time we embraced a change of pace. I know I’m not the only person who wants to see tangible change in how we work, live, and succeed as a society, and I think we can do this together.