April 2, 2024
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Guest commentary: Why and how your company should celebrate Women’s History Month

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By Lois Phillips

Women’s History Month has been celebrated every March for the last 45 years to honor the historical and societal impacts made by women all around the world. 

Unfortunately, companies tend to lag behind when it comes to seizing this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of businesswomen in general as well as accomplished women within their own workforce. 

In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s not too late for your company to develop a program that highlights and celebrates the unique contributions of women in business and industry. 

To start with, there is a rich untapped history that your company can draw upon to acknowledge women’s achievements in business and industry. Most people have no idea that over 100 women were inventors who transformed society with innovations that built or enriched companies. Brilliant women transformed transportation and advanced computer technology. 

Some invention designs were more practical solutions that changed people’s everyday lives like the washing machine and the fold-out bed. 

In contrast, others were more earth-shaking scientific, medical, and technological advances, from the car heater and windshield wiper to the identification of viruses, from laser technology applied to treating cataracts to the classification of stars. 

The list of women’s inventions is jaw-dropping. 

Most importantly, it challenges the conventional stereotypes about what women are capable of. 

It’s also critical that organizations acknowledge the fact that stereotypes die hard and that women have a more difficult time than men advancing into top leadership roles. 

Many businesses and industries that had been formerly all-male enclaves are now providing pathways for women’s advancement because it’s been proven that hiring women into managerial or governance roles is simply good business. 

Research from the Wharton School concludes that when there is gender equality in the boardroom, there is less risk-taking behavior and companies are 20% more likely to improve their profitability. 

If your company hasn’t made a commitment to any sort of gender initiative, you can start by having the HR department create a woman-run committee of representatives from diverse functional areas to decide what types of events would be most meaningful and enjoyable. 

Here are five programmatic suggestions to consider:

1. LUNCHEON: Hold a March is Women’s History luncheon event with a knowledgeable woman speaker to address a topic of your choosing. Some examples include the accomplishments of women in your specific industry or in politics, government, business, or culture in general. Your company might have a businesswoman or Board member who is familiar with the company’s history in terms of the women who helped the company evolve and succeed. Staff may be surprised by how women were involved in the development of the company.

2. AWARD: Conduct a poll asking everyone in the organization for the names of women who went “above and beyond” during the year. The individual or individuals can receive an award and special recognition at a company-wide meeting. A paragraph explaining why the winner(s) were chosen could appear in a news bulletin and a press release could be sent to the local news media. Consider giving the winner a gift card or an additional paid day off.

3. ANNOUNCE A GENDER INITIATIVE: Organize a multi-functional Task Force to develop a company-wide Gender Initiative to ensure diverse women have access to the training, mentoring, and coaching that will help them advance. Announce the formation during Women’s History Month. The components of diverse Gender Initiatives are easily found on the web, but one example of a Gender Initiative commitment is to first recruit and identify diverse women interested in becoming managers, and then financially support their enrollment in a Women in Leadership Certificate Program, ideally hosted by a recognized business school.

4. WOMEN’S NETWORK: Develop a Women’s Network within the company facilitated by the HR department. Meetings in person or via Zoom allow women to get to know people across disciplines or working in different functional areas. Through discussions and conversations, networks allow women to find role models, mentors and to hear about openings. Women who are juggling a range of roles find it helpful to meet other working women at the same stage in life. Networking can help mid-career women who may feel stuck in a technical or scientific role without considering how their transferable skills and knowledge could benefit other departments.

5. SUPPORTING WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES: Learn about entrepreneurial women in the region through the work of Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV). They can help the company identify and support woman-run companies. The company might cater an event with refreshments from a woman-run company or provide gift bags for conferences. This is a measure of the company’s goodwill and interest in supporting local women’s businesses.

These are merely ideas, whether team-centric or company-wide, to spark an initial conversation by the C-suite executives about the value and meaning of honoring Women’s History Month. 

Whether you start small or have a nationwide conference, hold meetings in person or on Zoom, make your celebration of Women’s History Month something that your employees will look forward to, be inspired by, and enjoy.

Lois Phillips has a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara and wrote “9 Fast and Flawless Presentations for Women Speakers” with Dr. Anita Perez Ferguson and coaches executives and leaders in public speaking and media skills.