It might have taken 100 years, but American corporations are finally taking a stand in support of full gender equality—for business reasons, no less.
In an amicus brief filed this week, 93 businesses—Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them—backed the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which guarantees constitutional equal rights for women. About a century after it was presented in Congress, and nearly four decades after its approval, the ERA is still stuck in legal limbo.
This year, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, reaching the quorum necessary to add it to the US constitution, albeit too late: According to the ERA’s preamble (whose legal significance is subject to much debate), the ratification needed to happen by 1982. In February, America’s foremost feminist legal expert, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said she would like to see the process started afresh, so that the amendment—which she wholeheartedly supports—could stand on unimpeachable grounds.
A bill to dissolve the deadline received House approval earlier this year. The Senate’s bill, which is bipartisan, is yet to be voted on. Meanwhile, the amendment is the subject of two lawsuits. One, filed by a few states that had rejected it, demands the amendment be dropped, as its deadline for adoption has passed. The second, filed by Virginia’s attorney general, says the amendment already clears all the requirements for its ratification, and demands that the ERA be added to the Constitution.
The Trump administration took a position against the ERA in May, but the amendment now enjoys broad support across sectors, including from some of the world’s largest businesses. The amicus brief filed this week backs the Virginia attorney general’s suit—citing not just human rights, but a business case.
“The ERA would facilitate women’s full participation in the workforce,” the brief reads. “Eliminating some of the systemic barriers that discourage women from entering certain fields, for instance, would significantly expand human capital.” The document highlights in particular the benefit of having more women, who hold the majority of college degrees, join the technology, STEM, and manufacturing fields. “Sex equality,” it reads, “would increase economic output.”
These signatories should know what they are talking about: The list is packed with big names, especially in the tech field. Many of the companies on the list—Uber, Vice, Apple, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft among them—also have dubious track records on gender equality.
The ERA Coalition, an umbrella organization comprised of more than 100 groups working toward the ERA’s ratification, says it welcomes the corporate advocacy, which it fought to secure.
“It’s not only women’s groups, it’s everybody else—they finally get it,” Carol Jenkins, director of the ERA Coalition, told Quartz. “We must say that we are extraordinarily happy and proud, because it is often so hard to get businesses [to sign the same brief].”
Jenkins declined to comment on some notable absences from the list (Facebook, Amazon), but said there will be chances for more businesses to join the signatories. The lawsuit is in all likelihood going to be taken on by the Supreme Court, and more briefs will have to be filed then. ”This game is only beginning,” she said. “Hard to say that after 100 years, but still.”