March marks Women’s History Month — a time for reflection on what women have achieved in the U.S. It is also a time to think about a women’s agenda that gives women more opportunities to pursue the life they want to live. For many women, that means part-time work. 

Women make up about two-thirds of voluntary part-time workers. In fact, about 1 in 5 working women worked part-time voluntarily in 2016. 

In particular, many mothers prefer part-time work. Around 30% of moms with children under the age of 18 at home prefer to work part-time, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Research from the Institute for Family Studies found that 40% of moms with children under five prefer part-time work, with 35% preferring full-time work and 25% preferring not to work. Yet some states, including Tennessee, penalize part-time workers with unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. 

Penalizing part-time workers

Take the practice of law as an example. The legal profession is regulated by the states. Most states provide a way for lawyers who pass the bar exam in one state to be licensed without having to take another bar exam.

Several states, however, require that lawyers must be practicing full-time immediately preceding their application to be licensed without sitting for another bar exam. For example, the Tennessee Supreme Court requires that a lawyer be practicing full-time five out of the seven previous years to be admitted without examination. 

States with this full-time requirement make it more difficult for part-time lawyers to practice after moving to a new state as they must go through the burden of taking another intensive bar exam. These states essentially punish those lawyers who choose to reduce their hours, including to take care of family. 

Passing the bar exam signals competence. Reducing hours doesn’t reduce a lawyer’s competence. Full-time lawyers who decide to transition to part-time work don’t automatically lose their expertise in the process. 

Tennessee should review its bar admission rules and remove the full-time work requirement for admittance without examination.

This is the type of occupational licensing reform that should be taken up to help part-time workers, a majority of whom are women. Women make up more than 70% of the 6.2% of lawyers who work part-time at law firms.   

Tennessee is well-known for its role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. Tennessee can take a step this Women’s History Month to give women more opportunity in the workplace by reviewing how its licensing rules impact women.