History of Business and Professional Women

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1919

While mobilizing for World War I, the U.S. Government recognized the need for a cohesive group to coordinate identification of women’s available skills and experience. A Women’s War Council, financed through a federal grant, was established by the War Department to organize the resources of professional women. The National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs was founded on July 15, 1919. The organization later filed to “do business as” (dba) Business and Professional Women/USA (BPW/USA).

Throughout the years, three major issues shaped BPW/USA’s legislative agenda: elimination of sex discrimination in employment, the principle of equal pay, and the need for a comprehensive equal rights amendment.

1920s

“BPW Goodwill Tour” of Europe initiated the founding of the International BPW Federation. With the theme, “Better Business Women for a Better Business World,” National Business Women’s Week was established in 1928 to celebrate and dramatize the contribution of women to the country.

1930s

BPW/USA worked to prohibit legislation or directives denying jobs to married women. BPW/USA lobbied successfully to legislatively end the legal practice of workplace preference for unmarried persons and, in the case of married persons, preference for males.

1940s

At the advent of World War II, BPW/USA developed a classification system for women with specialized skills critical to the effort and supported the formation of women’s branches of the Armed Forces. While wage discrimination has existed in the U.S. since women and minorities first entered the paid workforce, its prevalence was not felt until the massive influx of women sought work during World War II. Immediately following the war, the Women’s Pay Act of 1945 - the first ever legislation to require equal pay - was introduced in the U.S. Congress. It would take another 18 years before an equal pay bill would make it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

1950s

The national executive office relocated from New York to Washington, as BPW/USA became more active in legislative issues.

Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation was incorporated in 1956, creating a branch to provide research, information, career development programs and scholarships to disadvantaged women, as well as workshops and other training opportunities.

The Marguerite Rawalt Resource Center opened, becoming a major library and resource on the history of women and women in the workplace.

1960s

The establishment of “Status of Women” commissions in the U.S. in 1963 was due largely to BPW/USA efforts. President Kennedy recognized BPW/USA’s leading role in securing passage of the Equal Pay Act by giving BPW/USA’s National President the first pen he used when signing the Act into law.

1970s

BPW/USA intensified efforts to eliminate discrimination based on sex and marital status in credit, capital, and insurance practices. A legislative strategy was developed to achieve the Congressional votes needed and the BPW Political Action Committee (BPW/PAC) was formed in 1979 to endorse federal candidates.

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1980s

BPW/USA tackled “comparable worth” by calling for newspapers to stop the occupational segregation in classified ads (clustering of women in a few restricted occupations of low-paying, dead-end jobs). Numerous state and municipal governments revamped their pay scales, recognizing dissimilar jobs may not be identical, but may be comprised of tasks, educational requirements, experience and other characteristics that are equivalent or comparable. In 1986, San Francisco became the first in the nation to approve a pay equity referendum, implementing $34 million in increases for employees in female and minority-dominated jobs.

The “Red Purse Campaign” of 1988 drew national attention to wage disparity. Using the “BPW” letters to represent Better Pay for Women, BPW/USA capitalized on the national media attention focused on the red purse.

At the Hartford, Connecticut Convention in 1985, BPW/USA’s Legislative Platform expanded to include the Equal Rights Amendment Preamble. Also at this Convention, BPW/USA initiated the $2.65 million campaign to renovate the national headquarters at 2012 Massachusetts Avenue (“Project 2012”).

1990s

Workplace equity issues including sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, health care reform, dependent care, tort reform, increasing the minimum wage, lifetime economic security and pay equity continued to be BPW/USA’s targeted issues. Then-Secretary of Labor, Elizabeth Dole, and First Lady Barbara Bush addressed BPW/USA’s members at the White House Briefing during the 1990 “Lobby Day” event.

At the Minneapolis, Minnesota 1992 Convention, BPW/PAC announced the first-ever endorsement of a presidential ticket by endorsing Clinton-Gore. BPW/USA’s grassroots membership worked as never before in GOTV (Get Out The Vote!) campaigns. From voter education forums, working in candidate campaigns, fundraising for candidates and registering women to vote, 1992 proved to be the “Year of the Woman,” electing a record 4 women to the U.S. Senate and an unprecedented 24 women to the House. This political activism continued to the 1996 elections where BPW/USA joined other women’s groups endorsing the Women’s Vote Project.

Continuing with a focus on workplace issues, BPW/USA lobbied Congress for passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. After nearly a decade, the FMLA passes in 1993.

Discussions on “comparable worth” are expanded to include enforcement and strengthening of existing Equal Pay legislation. The Pay Equity Employment Act of 1994, followed by the Equal Pay Act (introduced in 1994) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (introduced in 1997) became BPW/USA’s focus legislation through the ‘90s.

1994

Business and Professional Women/USA’s (BPW/USA) members lobbied their Members of Congress successfully convincing them to pass the groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included millions of dollars in state grants to combat violence against women. The programs created by VAWA have also been successful at providing victims with emergency shelter, hotlines, and supportive services. VAWA also created, for the first time, a civil rights remedy for gender-motivated crimes.

BPW/USA celebrated its 75th anniversary at the 1994 St. Louis, Missouri Convention with Gloria Steinem as the keynote speaker. Also in October 1994, the syndicated cartoon, “Cathy,” celebrated National Business Women’s Week, one of BPW/USA’s Signature Events.

1996-1999

BPW/USA battles attacks on affirmation action throughout the nation: 1996 in California, 1998 in Washington, and 1999 in Florida.

Social Security Reform became a front-burner issue for BPW/USA in 1999 and continues to be an issue BPW/USA follows closely. The wage gap contributes to a $200,000 loss in social security benefits to the average woman.

2000s

BPW/USA expanded its ‘90s “Making Workplaces Work” initiative to the “Working Family Values” Program, and more recently, the theme of “Workplace Equity & Work- life Effectiveness,” with education and awareness focusing on pay equity, dependent care, workplace flexibility, and social security reform. BPW/USA initiated “The Women & Social Security Summit” in February 2001 and coalesced with the National Council of Women’s Organizations, OWL, National Council of Negro Women and American Association of University Women, to focus on one specific issue during our annual “Lobby Day”- keeping social security a guaranteed part of retirement.

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2002

BPW/USA continues to be branded as the premiere grassroots organization addressing the wage gap, with most of our Local Organizations participating in events to focus on Equal Pay Day, usually the 2nd Tuesday of April. In 2002, the “Take the Pay Equity Pledge” Campaign asked candidates for Congress to sign a pledge to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. As pledge cards came in, BPW/USA’s Local Organizations held press conferences and distributed press releases on those candidates friendly to BPW/USA’s focus issue-Pay Equity.

2003

The 75th Anniversary of National Business Women’s Week® (NBWW) was recognized in 2003. To cleberate of the vital role of women in business, leaders of Business and Professional Women/USA (BPW/USA®) and BPW Foundation rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003.

The ringing of the bell at the NYSE launched a six month focus on women’s issues that saluted the 75th Anniversary of National Business Women’s Week® and acknowledged the accomplishments of workingwomen and their important role in the business community. BPW/USA received a special welcome to the NYSE by Catherine R. Kinney, President, Co-Chief Operating officer and Executive Vice Chairman. The celebration included a six month national discussion with workingwomen and business leaders on “WOMENomics: The Economics of Work-life Balance” and the distribution of a nationwide survey on workplace equity and work- life effectiveness issues.

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2005

BPW/USA successfully urged the Bureau of Labor Statistics to continue collecting data on women workers in the CES (Current Employment Statistics Survey) after they announced they would cease collecting it after July 2005.

VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) was set to expire in September 2005 and BPW/USA made the VAWA reauthorization a top legislative priority. VAWA 2005 focused on expanding several of the key provisions contained within the previous VAWA authorizations.

In October 2005, BPW/USA launched Women Joining Forces:Closing Ranks, Opening Doors (WJF) , a program to support women veterans as they transition from military to civilian life. This committment made BPW/USA the first and only non-governmental agency to offer programming that supports women veterans.

Because BPW/USA has a national network that can offer leadership training, professional skill development and mentoring, it is uniquely positioned to support and assist women veterans. Take time to thank a veteran for their service and visit http://www.womenjoiningforces.org today.

2006

BPW Foundation celebrated its 50th Anniversary throughout the year with Lighting the Way: Exploring Our Past, Discovering Our Future. February 27th was declared BPW Foundation Day by Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams.

Through its strong grassroots efforts, 2006 BPW/USA members were instrumental in getting Johanna’s Law signed into law. This law authorizes a national gynecologic cancer early detection and awareness campaign targeted for women and their healthcare providers.

BPW/USA Career Center launched as the only online job service created specifically for women and veterans. It is customized to allow employers to showcase their women- and veteran-friendly programs and policies. 

BPW/USA and American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women partner to create a nationwide, grassroots initiative to teach and encourage working women to advocate for a healthy heart through their personal, professional and political actions.

BW Magazine publishes When Women Go To War, a timeline of women soldiers’ milestones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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2007

U.S. House of Representatives and Senate held hearings on Equal Pay, where BPW/USA and BPW Foundation submitted joint testimony highlighting the economic impact of the wage gap on women and families. The hearings discussed how and why legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed to address remaining systemic barriers to women being paid fairly.

BPW Foundation published ground-breaking research providing a unique snap shot of women veterans as they return to the civilian workplace. Women Veterans in Transition provides recommendations for employers, social organizations and policy makers to assist this talented group of working women transition successfully into their lives.

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2008

BPW/USA attends Equal Pay Day press conference, also attended by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and George Miller (D-CA). BPW/USA expressed its disappointment that the Senate was unable to bring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (HR 2831) to a vote.

BPW Foundation released Successful Workplaces Digest, an innovative how-to guide for employers to improve workplaces through policies and programs that support employees. The Digest features best practices from companies such as The New York Times Co. and Deloitte. Request your copy of a blueprint for an innovative workplace.

A BPW/USA poll released at its National Conference, provides insight to presidential campaigns gauging women’s voting preference and patterns. With 2,000 BPW/USA member respondents, the poll found that 47 percent planned to vote for Sen. Obama for President of the United States. Thirty-three percent for Sen. McCain, 15 percent remained undecided, and 2 percent were not voting this election cycle. The poll results were later published on Barack Obama’s web site.

On November 14, BPW/USA and BPW Foundation co-sponsored a congressional briefing about the challenges facing women veterans transitioning from active military to the civilian workforce. Subjects discussed included BPW/USA’s historical interest in supporting women veterans and the groundbreaking research conducted by BPW Foundation.

BPW/USA and BPW Foundation launch the BPW Foundation blog to share and discuss current events, opinions and information for, by and about working women, families and successful workplaces. This launch is part of BPW’s use of social media and BPW Foundation’s Young Careerist research project.

2009

Business and Professional Women/USA (BPW/USA) merged with Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation effective July 1, 2009. BPW/USA members approved a friendly merger with its sister organization, BPW Foundation, ensuring that their advocacy and support for working women and families would continue. This merged organization represents over 143 years of combined experience and will offer membership opportunities. (Click here to see the BPW Foundation Historic Timeline)

BPW Foundation is dedicated to promoting and advocating for successful workplaces for women, families and their employers. BPW Foundation defines successful workplaces as work environments that embrace and practice diversity, equity and work life balance. BPW Foundation will continue to focus on public policy and on grassroots activism to ensure that key issues impacting women and families are addressed at all levels.

On January 29, 2009 BPW/USA joined women’s, civil rights and human rights organizations at the White House to witness the historic signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. BPW/USA was present at that historic 1963 White House signing as well.

This year, a BPW/USA Member was nominated as Secretary of Labor. Representative Hilda Solis, (D-CA), was confirmed to be Secretary of Labor on February 24. During her first week on the job, Secretary of Labor Solis was thinking of working women. She asked, “what about green jobs for women—how can we be sure women can get these jobs?” This demonstrates how important it is to use green jobs as a way to reinforce gender equity – especially in sectors with past historical bias. This is good news for working women and a new area of focus for BPW Foundation.

On March 11, President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Council on Women and Girls. The Council’s day-to-day operations will be run by Christina (Tina) Tchen, who is currently director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Tina Tchen was a featured speaker at BPW Policy and Action Day 2009 held on March 31. BPW/USA also attended the unveiling of the new Small Business Initiative by President Obama in March.

BPW/USA celebrated Equal Pay Day in April by co-sponsoring a Congressional Briefing on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182). BPW Foundation data was used in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act by U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who quoted BPW Foundation in his press release in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

June 11, 2009 BPW Foundation testified before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee on two work-life bills – the FIRST Act and the Healthy Families.