Make Women’s History Month Matter
By: Jessica Gendron
ssWomen’s History Month is often dedicated to reflecting on the often-overlooked contributions of women throughout history. It’s a time to celebrate the vital role women have played in American history. I’m all for celebrating and learning about the many important contributions that women have made – and how those contributions have paved the way for so many of us that have followed them, but if we only celebrate the past we’re missing the point.
We still have so much work to do. We still have so far to go. Focusing merely on the past – for an entire month – is a massive missed opportunity. Gender equality and gender equity still doesn’t exist, here in America and globally. Women’s history should serve as the foundation for our future work, but we can’t live entirely looking backward. I fear, that spending a whole month celebrating only the contributions of women throughout our history gives the impression that there’s not more work to do. That we have somehow “arrived” and our work here is done.
So what do we do instead? We engage in meaningful conversations with each other about the future and how we can continue to work toward meaningful change that brings us closer to gender equity and creating a world where gender equity is a part of every society’s DNA. We use this time to invest in the women who are coming behind us, sharing valuable tools, resources, insight, experiences, and connections to help them rise quicker. We engage allies to bring greater understanding to bias, systemic oppression, and what we can do to change it.
Here’s a couple of ideas of ways you can make Women’s History Month more meaningful in 2023:
Share your story: The most powerful and important work we can do as women is to give voice to our experiences that have impacted us. The oppression, discrimination, and challenges we’ve encountered. It helps other women not feel alone in their experiences. It gives power to change. Tell a friend, share in a women’s group, gather some women together and share your story, the success and the failure.
Listen to Other’s Truth: I remember feeling crazy and irrational for getting so angry and frustrated every time I encountered bias or discrimination in my career. When I did have the opportunity to challenge the behavior, I was always met with denial and defensiveness. I believe that so many of us are wholly unaware when we are the perpetrators of systemic bias and discrimination – and are generally well-intentioned. Just because we mean well doesn’t mean we can’t be wrong. Take the time to truly listen to other’s experiences. Try listening with the intent to be proven wrong, it’s incredible what you might hear.
Read a Book: Educate yourself on the realities that women face in business, the United States, and in the world. We’re highlighting a few books this month based on what we’ve read recently. Look for book reviews coming on our blog throughout the month for:
Here are a couple more recommendations:
Reflect on Your Bubble: Our worldview is greatly dictated based on the 5 people we spend the most time with. How many of those people are women? How many of those five people are challenging you to be better? Where might you have bias around the experiences of women (or women that are not like you)? What can you do about it? Challenge yourself to build relationships with women who are different than you. Understanding their unique experiences and perspectives helps to expand our worldview and raise awareness to bias, discrimination, and systemic oppression we didn’t know existed.
Reflect on Your Female Friendships: Take time to reflect on the state of your relationships with [other] women. How can you grow and improve your relationships? How can you spend time investing and pouring into other women this month? Who are two women that you can intentionally invest in, personally or professionally, to help them overcome barriers, accelerate their career, or learn to advocate better for themselves? How do you want to show up better for the women in your life? We know that the role of allies, both male and female, is critical for our success as women. Consider how you personally can show up as an ally for women this month and in the future.
Hold Space for Women: Create space and time for the women at your organization to connect and discuss the realities of being a woman, at your organization and in the world. Target topics this month that encourage vulnerability among the women and encourage them to share the challenges they faced in life and in work and what they have done to navigate and/or overcome them. So often, women feel that their experiences with bias, discrimination, or systemic oppression is unique to them. They feel alone in those experiences and don’t realize that are, in fact, common. When we realize that we have shared experiences it allows us to help and support each other through the challenges and navigate them more successfully.
Talk About Change: Ask, have conversations about, and truly seek to understand how we can each be better everyday. How we can personally change our behaviors to create more inclusive, respectful and safe environments for women in our lives and at work. Understand the spaces where we might have privilege and how we can use that privilege to help create better spaces for other women. This means you, too, women. How can we do a better job confronting our own bias of the women who are different than us? How can we make space for them and create a safer and more inclusive world for them, as well?
Personally, as a white woman, I recognize that I have privilege that I can use to create space and opportunities for women of non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, (+ + +) identities. It’s critical that I recognize that my experience as a woman does not represent the experiences of every woman and it is my responsibility to use my privilege to make space for more diverse voices. We can’t talk about change in our own comfortable “sameness” bubble. True change comes when there is a diversity of voices contributing to the conversation. As you talk about and reflect on change, make sure you invite diverse voices to the conversation.
Let’s make Women’s History Month this year about more than looking back. Let’s face the realities of the present, but also use this month to create a more inclusive, respectful, and equitable world for women.