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Women’s History Month Reflection: by Nicole LeBlanc

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author.

Nicole LeBlanc with other panelists at RespectAbility's 2019 Summit, smiling together.

Nicole LeBlanc (on the right) with other panelists at RespectAbility’s 2019 Summit

As we celebrate Women’s History and Developmental Disability Awareness month, we must recognize the struggles women continue to face in our society. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the social and economic injustices that women, and especially women with disabilities, face. Millions of women, especially mothers, have dropped out of the workforce due to caretaking responsibilities and layoffs. Since the start of the pandemic 2.5 million women left the labor market, compared to 1.8 million men. As a society we must do better to ensure our workforce can accommodate the unique needs of women and women with disabilities in general.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers a perfect opportunity to reset the social contract for all workers, especially women with disabilities and single parents. One of the biggest disparities women face is the fact women often work in female dominated industries like hospitality, food services and home care. They also have to balance family caretaking responsibilities while maintaining household upkeep. If they have kids, barriers like poor access to childcare have forced them to take a more active role in ensuring their kids are participating actively in remote schooling. Our society can and must do better at supporting women in the workforce and balancing the cost of unpaid childcare, caregiving of seniors and adults with disabilities.

As we begin to dream of the post-pandemic world, it is my hope that we launch an aggressive economic policy agenda to support women and women with disabilities that enables them to get ahead in today’s world while being accommodating to the challenges of parenting and maintaining a household.

Some ideas for improving the lives of women include but are not limited to:

  1. Expanding childcare support for all so that they can continue to stay in the workforce.
  2. Employers need to embrace a shorter work week and flexible scheduling. In many countries, full time is considered 30-34 hours instead of 40. Some countries have shortened the work day and/or embraced a 4 day work week. By doing this, especially during a pandemic, women can meet daily obligations while protecting mental health.
  3. Pay all women equal to the same wage as men. There is no better time for equal pay than the present.
  4. Make investments to pay direct support professionals and home care staff a livable wage. Caregiving is a job that must be recognized and fairly compensated.
  5. Adopt paid leave and sick days for all workers. No one should have to worry about income loss due to illness or illness of a family member.
  6. Adopt Universal Basic Income so that parents can go back to the days when one person worked Full Time and the other worked part time.
  7. Ban asking for salary history in the hiring process nationwide.
  8. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
  9. In the disability world, study and develop effective ways to address the gender bias in the autism community. Autism is often thought of as a boy thing and it looks different in girls. Girls tend to mask by “passing,” or acting as “normal” as one can be socially until social demands to daily living become too much. This can cause major issues with mental health. For example, when I was at Job Corps, I developed anxiety, trauma and became more aware of my differences.
  10. We need more women leaders on the frontlines! The COVID crisis has been better managed by women leaders globally.
  11. We must embrace intersectionality in all that we do. No movement can succeed without taking diversity and intersectionality into account, and all civil rights movements are connected.


Meet the Author

Nicole LeBlanc

Nicole LeBlanc was a Policy Fellow with RespectAbility. While LeBlanc was at RespectAbility, she represented our organization at multiple DC-area events, conferences and meetings. She also conducted data entry for a variety of outreach projects and contributed to the selection process of the class of summer 2017 Fellows. In December 2020, LeBlanc started as the Self Advocate Advisor with TASH on the AOD Disability Employment TA Center, where she researches material on employment and self advocacy, recruits focus group members and provides TA to AODI grantees.

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