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For Women’s History Month, let’s honor the trailblazers with action

By Melissa Jezior

As I reflect on Women’s History Month, I’m so grateful for the many trailblazers who came before me and paved the way for equality – not just for women, but for other communities.

One such woman is Sojourner Truth. An African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, she escaped slavery and fought tirelessly for the rights of marginalized groups. Her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” for the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 was pioneering in challenging prevailing notions of gender and women’s rights. And she was instrumental in connecting struggles of women across different races and backgrounds in the fight for equality.

And of course, suffragist and social reformer Susan B. Anthony changed the course of history for women. She co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association and campaigned for women’s suffrage through lectures, publications, and lobbying efforts. Anthony laid the groundwork for the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote in 1920. Honestly, it boggles my mind that it’s only been 100 years that women have had the right to vote.

Then there’s Billie Jean King, whose impact transcends her numerous accomplishments on the tennis court. In 1973, she threatened to boycott the US Open if female players were not awarded equal prize money to their male counterparts. Her bold stance led to the US Open becoming the first major tennis tournament to offer equal prize money to men and women, which eventually led to equal pay advances beyond the sports industry. King was an early advocate for diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ+ rights. In 1981, she became one of the first prominent athletes to come out as gay, risking her reputation and endorsements to live authentically. Her courage and advocacy have helped break down barriers and challenge stereotypes in sports and society at large.

There are so many other women I admire – those we read about in the history books, who enact legislation in Congress, who lead companies, government agencies, and nonprofits, and who serve in the Armed Forces. And of course, there are the women we encounter in our everyday lives who continue to advocate for women and other marginalized communities – our co-workers, friends, family members, and community activists. For me, the most impactful way to honor all these women is to continue their work to build a society with equality for all. 

Despite big progress, challenges remain for women

While there has been tremendous progress for women, it’s important to focus on the challenges that persist, especially in the workplace. Today, women continue to face obstacles that hinder their professional advancement. From the gender pay gap to systemic biases, the road to equality still needs work. By acknowledging impediments and taking decisive action, we can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for women.

One of the most glaring issues women encounter in the workforce is the persistent gender pay gap. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take nearly a century to close the economic gender gap globally if current trends continue. In the United States, women earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, with even wider disparities for women of color. This wage gap not only undermines women’s economic security but also perpetuates systemic inequalities.

Moreover, women often encounter barriers to career advancement, including limited access to leadership positions and opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship. Despite making up nearly half of the workforce, women remain significantly underrepresented in terms of their representation in leadership positions. For example, Pew Research Center reports that the share of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies was only 10 percent in 2023, with 53 women heading major firms. 

Also, women continue to grapple with workplace harassment and discrimination, which can have profound effects on their mental health and job satisfaction. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 42% of women in the U.S. have experienced gender discrimination at work. These experiences undermine women’s confidence and morale, and create toxic work environments that stifle productivity and innovation.  

Actions that strengthen equality

When I founded Eagle Hill Consulting, creating a culture of equality was a top priority when I opened the doors. I’m proud that 20 years later, 95% of our employees report feeling respected and valued by their colleagues and our employee satisfaction measure is at an all-time high. And I was so gratified to learn that last month, Vault awarded Eagle Hill the number five spot on its list of best companies for diversity for women. Sixty-eight percent of our employees identify as female, and 73 percent of our leadership is female. We also earned high marks for diversity for LGBTQ+ individuals, military veterans, and those with disabilities.

From the early days, I knew we needed to put measurable systems in place that would establish a culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we continue to strengthen those efforts. For example, Eagle Hill has implemented multiple initiatives that have made us an employer of choice for women. Here is a “laundry list” of our efforts to provide some ideas of initiatives that might work to further progress for women and others at your organization:

Annually, we conduct a comprehensive pay equity analysis initiative to ensure our pay is equitable. We then hold an annual “Compensation at Eagle Hill” presentation for our employees to ensure they are fully informed and that there is pay transparency.

We provide a robust suite of mentoring programs including a New Hire Buddy Program, New Manager Mentors, Career Advisors, and Delivery Support Partners. 

We’ve established a hybrid model of progression/promotion that supports career development and the advancement of our people. We also have blind promotions to promote equity across career advancement opportunities.

We offer key benefits like hybrid work and flexible schedules, along with a 12-week paid parental leave. 

Women’s History Month is a point in time to recommit ourselves to advancing equality in the workplace and beyond. By taking decisive actions to address the barriers that remain, we can create a more just and equitable world for future generations. And we’ll honor the legacies of the women’s rights trailblazers by building on their efforts to create a future where women and everyone have an equal opportunity to thrive, succeed, and live their best lives.