How Do Leaders Make Women’s History Month Meaningful for Employees of All Gender Identities?

Julie Des Jardins
Insights

Thoughtful Women’s History Month programming can be part of a plan to support, inspire, and create equity for employees all year round. But how do we make this historical programming feel resonant and relevant for our people in the here and now?

As a former professor of women’s history, I found that invoking historical stories and figures was an effective way to ease into conversations about identity and equity in the present. But the problem was that most early adopters of Women’s History Month didn’t remember ALL women, just a few who won the distinction of being “great” individuals who excelled in the workplace, politics, and leadership — generally, theaters men had traditionally established as theirs. But over the years, more and more programs have accounted for broader categories of identity, including non-binary gender identity, to make this history reflect a greater cross section of people across our organizations. But, the goal should be to make it meaningful for EVERYONE. This Women’s History Month, ask yourself: 

  • Does your programming in 2022 offer a diversity of role models—does it reflect representation across races, classes, ethnicities, ages, religions, nationalities, sexualities, abilities, and marital statuses that are represented in the organization, or should be?
  • Does this history expose misalignment in your organization’s current words and actions, values and policies? For example, if you champion historical mothers, but offer insufficient parental leave for your current employees.
  • Does this history provide food for thought for broader conversations about organizational culture and its effects on women and non-binary employees? Don’t fear that the figures in your Women’s History Month programming worked in environments that make your people raise questions about their own. Take advantage of the month of March to let people talk about these observations and propose ideas for improving team and organizational culture.
  • Does this history provide inspiration for male employees to practice allyship at work? One of my favorite Women’s History Month stories is about how Madame Curie won her first Nobel Prize for the discovery of radium in 1903. The Nobel committee originally awarded the prize just to her husband Pierre and the physicist Henri Becquerel, but Pierre vociferously outlined for the committee Marie’s distinct role in their joint discovery until the Nobel Committee reconsidered. The story models ways men in the organization can perform similar forms of advocacy for their colleagues.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the stories of women pioneers in your sector of work, or bringing in historians to talk about women’s suffrage, or erecting a “Women Managers Hall of Fame” for employees to walk by at lunch.  But how else can we make these stories meaningful to the daily, collective experiences of work for people of a broader array of genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Share past and present stories of women/non-binary leaders in the organization, while also explaining how their leadership paved the way for others and what still needs to be done. Turn this conversation into action, soliciting ideas on leadership initiatives for minority women and non-binary employees.
  • Include in your organization’s blog or newsletter pieces that chronicle gender pay inequities past and present, with links to your organization’s compensation policies and channels for employee feedback. 
  • Tech organizations can sponsor a keynote about female and non-binary scientists or the gendering of STEM fields over time. This programming can better equip all employees with knowledge to curb the effects of unconscious bias at work.
  • Create an exhibit showing how notions of work/life balance have changed over the decades, for example, a timeline of your organization’s changing parental leave, sabbatical, and family-friendly policies.
  • Post profiles past and present of female and non-binary employees of different races, ethnicities, religions, body types, and abilities to reveal the many “looks” of competence and leadership in the organization. When people are exposed to diversity, they are less inclined to let stereotypes influence decisions they make about people at work.
  • Tell historical stories and offer workshops for male allyship, as well as resources for self-advocacy for women and non-binary people at all levels of the organization. 
  • Invite people at all levels and in all areas of the organization to view films and sponsor book groups in Women’s History, followed by group discussions of themes relevant to women and non-binary people at work. For example, books or films like Hidden Figures can be entertaining, thought-provoking points of entry into conversations about the current experiences of Black women in STEM, while also revealing more general truths about bias, gender, and race at work. 

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on women’s accomplishments in the past, but also to reflect on how we view accomplishment at work and make history relevant now for people across the gender spectrum and other groups traditionally left out of the annals of history.

February 22, 2022

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