Since 1981, March has been proclaimed Women’s History Month. The esteemed designation is intended to celebrate women’s contributions and recognize the specific achievements women have made throughout American history and continue to make daily.
With Women’s History Month officially underway, it is essential for organizations to use this time to focus on the progress and advancement of women leaders in the workplace. In the DEI space, commemorative months like March provide an opportunity for us as employers to reflect on our own efforts and acknowledge the work that has been done so far, identify areas of improvement and synergize to employ strategies in our workplaces that make a real impact.
It wasn’t long ago that female representation in leadership roles was nonexistent. When women did start holding leadership positions, they were often compared to their male counterparts in ways that could be labeled disparaging using words such as rigid, demanding, bossy, feisty and commanding instead of words that describe their unique approaches to their position.
On the contrary, leadership styles that include empathy and compassion were marginalized and defined as signs of weakness. Unfortunately, these harmful labels and contradictions still occur in the workplace, but great strides have been made to end them. A previous female colleague of mine was once challenged to rewire her leadership style by her organization. She was held back from a promotion due to scoring high in empathy on a personality test, which was viewed poorly by her employer.
15 years later, she is one of the most celebrated and trusted leaders in her current company. In today’s modern workforce, empathy is a sought-after skill used by leaders to increase the effectiveness of management by building trust and improving the quality of relationships with team members, ultimately benefiting the entire organization.
As part of DEI work, it’s crucial to set the standard that there is no “one size fits all” approach to leadership. To have an equitable workforce, you must embrace the unique skills that people bring to work each day and help amplify them instead of fitting them into a stereotypical mold.
In my 25 years in the workforce, I’ve been fortunate enough to manage, work beside, and work for many talented and admirable women whose talents made a difference in the workplace. I have seen firsthand how the progression of women into leadership roles is advantageous to all aspects of a business.
Women not only bring various perspectives and skills to the workplace, but they also have great influence. Women currently hold 24% of C-Suite positions and 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Compared to several years ago, these stats show progress but reemphasize the importance of organized campaigns like Women’s History Month, to celebrate the progress that has happened but focus on the ongoing efforts that remain.
With the increasingly high demand for flexible schedules and remote or hybrid work settings, today’s workforce requires an evolution that will continue to open doors for equitable and diverse growth and leadership. Low unemployment has also created a need for companies to double down on leadership development that provides equal opportunity to their teams. Mentorship and sponsorship programs have gone from informal to formal, creating better support and advocacy for talented individuals across cultural backgrounds and experiences. It is also important to note that younger generations entering the workforce typically have a capacity for inclusion and look across differences to coexist in a particular environment. These factors and more will create shifts in employer mindsets and influence positive change to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce. And with time and sustained work, a more equitable future can be had by all.
Here at BerganKDV, we aim to use this month to further highlight and recognize the work and contributions of the women in our workforce and identify ways to advance women in leadership. DEI initiatives take continual time, effort and meaningful conversations to create an impact, but I am proud to work in a people-first setting that understands it takes all of us to make a difference.
We should all leverage Women’s History Month to celebrate the positive impact women have in our workforces, communities and lives, and create awareness of the societal roadblocks that keep women from reaching their fullest potential. On a more personal note, this month is even more significant to me because it aligns with my number one priority of raising two daughters to be responsible, kind, forward-thinking, and, most importantly, without limitations.
We all have women in our lives that allow us to shine brighter and who we want to succeed. So, let’s do our part to champion them this month and beyond by doing the work and lifting their voices.