It’s Women’s History Month, and I am excited to celebrate the women whose shoulders we stand on. But more importantly, I want to address every leader, across all genders, who is in a position to set policies, practices, and precedents. Because every day offers a chance to make history for you, your organization and for the world.
Support or announce a “first time.”
When I was in high school in Florida, I found out that our band was tapped to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our band director, the incomparable Ms. Pattishall, would be the first female director to have a band at the parade. Not only was this important to our band director; it was also a seminal moment for Macy’s, for the parade and for our high school. Our male principal was a huge supporter of our band director and helped rally the community to raise the funds needed to get us there.
When Stacy Abrams gave the response to the State of the Union, she was the first woman of color to do so. Here at Spitfire, we also made history by instituting – for the first time – a new parental leave policy that applies to both women AND men, allowing both parents to take time off to bond with a new child. This policy move reflects our values: it shows that Spitfire views both parents as critical in these early days.
We see firsts and they inspire us. Think about the firsts in your organization: the first woman to lead the board, the first time a majority of board members are women or the first time the opening plenary of your conference features a woman.
Announce a “last time.”
When I graduated from Smith College, they announced that my commencement speech, delivered by author Robert Fulghum, would be the last time they didn’t have a woman give the commencement speech at our all women’s college. (Admittedly, the idea that they had the author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” made my dad apoplectic after footing my tuition.)
Think about what you can lift up that is officially in the past: the last time you will have panels that don’t include women, particularly women of color; or the last time you’ll say “there are no qualified women” for the board as opposed to “we need to do a better job at recruiting women” by forging alliances with groups like the Thirty Percent Coalition. And, may I recommend you vow to have said for the last time “congressmen” when you mean people who serve in Congress? Because that makes you sound really outdated.
At Spitfire, we announced last year that we had posted our last job that does not offer a salary range. Studies have shown that women are often at a disadvantage because they start with lower salaries and as a result, their future pay is based on this starting salary. Consequently, women are playing catch up the whole time. While Spitfire is small, the more companies that take this step, the faster we will level the playing field and close the gender pay gap.
Use your power to empower other women
Lean into the idea that it isn’t just women who need to lean in. Sure, they can break through glass ceilings, and we see them shattering every day, but those above could also dismantle the glass ceiling by creating a more fair system for all women.
Women, and especially women of color, often face greater barriers on their road to success. When Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) became the first Native American woman to sit in the Speaker’s chair during a debate, she used this as a platform to lift up others:
“When a young woman of color sees me in the Speaker’s Chair, I want them to think ‘I can do that,’ that’s part of why I’m here,” she said. “I want to help those who have not been represented before to identify with me and identify with Congress. It’s their Congress too – it belongs to all of us.”
If you find yourself rationalizing why the majority of people at your conference panels, spokespeople for your organization or top talkers in any meeting are men, stop. Think. What can you change about how your organization works, so these are not the results? Today is that day. You have the power to create groundbreaking change. Yes, YOU!
I am the first woman in my family to start a business. I’d like to say I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, but the truth is, I don’t have any bootstraps. What I do have is a long line of people who encouraged me and did their part to create a world where my dreams were ambitious, but not impossible.
This Women’s History Month, I urge you to do more than celebrate. Make history yourself.