Image showing the text "Women's Equality Day 2023" with a heart in the letter "D"

Striving for Equality for Disabled Women

August 26th is Women’s Equality Day, a day that commemorates the 1920 adoption of the 19th which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.

Though women have made great strides towards equality in many different areas of life beyond voting since the signing of the 19th Amendment, we still have a long way to go before true equality is achieved. For women with disabilities, the path to equality is even longer. One area where disabled women still experience significant disparities is in the workforce. 

For example, I am the Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network,  a non-profit run by and for girls and women with disabilities that connects, motivates, and guides disabled girls and women to grow, learn, and develop to their highest potential and have the confidence to lead. In 2022 we began a study focused on barriers that disabled women experience in the working world that prevent us from obtaining leadership roles. 

The study focused on reviewing hiring and promotion practices in businesses that impact disabled women as well as leadership opportunities for women with disabilities. To further understand how to increase the number of disabled women in leadership, Disability EmpowHer Network surveyed 445 hiring professionals about their hiring practices, business offerings, and disability representation within their organizations.  The study found that 44% of the total participants had no women with disabilities in leadership or management positions. The study also pointed out that in comparison to non-disabled women, disabled women do not have the same career options. Non-disabled women are more likely to work in managerial and full time fields, but disabled women tend to work part time and in service positions. 

However, this is not because women with disabilities cannot be leaders. Rather, societal barriers such as sexism, racism, and ableism have created situations where women with disabilities are left undereducated, unemployed, and under-invested in as leaders.

But we’re trying to change that. Disability EmpowHer Network is committed to supporting disabled women as they endeavor to advance into leadership roles. Through our career coaching, public speaking, and mentorship programs, Disability EmpowHer Network offers opportunities for women with disabilities to develop and strengthen the skills identified as necessary in this study and anecdotally. Disability EmpowHer Network is also committed to supporting businesses in becoming more accessible and welcoming to disabled women including but not limited to providing individual consultations on how to be more accessible and comply with the law, intentional hiring and business practices, and  expanding recruitment efforts, because we know that when disabled women lead, we all succeed.

Written By: Stephanie Woodward