There are several great ways to observe Women's History Month and recognize the many contributions women have made to culture and society. Here's a look at six ways organizations can celebrate the women on their teams not only in March but throughout the year.
With March being Women's History Month — and March 8 specifically being International Women's Day — many organizations are likely planning to pay tribute to the women on their teams and recognize the many contributions that they have made. There are several great ways to do so. While it's absolutely important to acknowledge the impact women have had on culture and society during the celebratory month, leaders would do well to ensure these acknowledgments are made all year long.
Here's a look at some of the important roles women have played in history as well as how Women's History Month came to be and how organizations can honor this group of workers.
Pivotal contributions by women in America's history
Women have long played an important role in shaping history, society and culture while bringing attention to issues of gender discrimination, gender inequality and women's rights. These are some of the notable figures who are often spotlighted during Women's History Month:
- Sacagawea: a Native American woman who helped make Lewis and Clark's expedition to map parts of the West in the early 19th century a success
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: two Americans who fought for women's equality in the mid-19th century, more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920
- Harriet Tubman: a brave and determined woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom during the Civil War
- Amelia Earhart: one of the world's first woman pilots — and first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean — who mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937
- Madeleine Albright: a diplomat and political scientist who became the first female Secretary of State in 1996
- Misty Copeland: the first Black woman to be named a principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre in 2015
This list continues with many influential women of today who are in disciplines and positions of influence, including science, business, politics, philanthropy and more.
How Women's History Month came to be
The custom of annually honoring the influence women have had on history began with just one day. It eventually became a week and is now the monthlong celebration we observe today.
The first National Women's Day was held in the U.S. on February 28, 1909. The idea was well-received globally, and the first International Women's Day took place in 1911, drawing more than 1 million people to rallies worldwide. Decades later, the United Nations General Assembly officially marked March 8 as International Women's Day in 1975.
The first Women's History Week was observed in 1978, when educators in Santa Rosa, California, publicly commended women's contributions and achievements with a local celebration to generate awareness. The initiative, set the first week of March to coordinate with International Women's Day, gained momentum, and other cities across the country joined in.
A consortium of women's groups and historians then successfully lobbied for national recognition of the observance, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation for March 8 to be the start of a National Women's History Week. Finally, in 1987, Congress declared the entire month of March as Women's History Month. Support for the monthlong celebration has continued with every president since.
Evolution of themes for Women's History Month
Each year, the National Women's History Alliance chooses a theme for Women's History Month. Previous themes have included:
- Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business (2017)
- Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2018)
- Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence (2019)
- Valiant Women of the Vote (2020)
- Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced (2021)
- Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope (2022)
For 2023, the theme is Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories. You don't have to abide by the theme, but it can give you a starting point for ideas. According to the Alliance, the aim is to "encourage the recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news and social media. This timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art and news, pursuing truth and reflecting society decade after decade."
6 ways to honor women's history in the workplace
Apart from centering around the designated theme of the year, Women's History Month continues the conversation of women and their contributions not only in the month of March but year-round. Business owners, leadership teams and others in the workplace can take several meaningful measures to show solidarity and support for their women colleagues and coworkers throughout the year, not just in March.
Here are six ideas to consider championing at your organization:
1. Host insightful "lunch and learns"
Consider coordinating an information session during a lunch break, where presenters can highlight influential women throughout history and the present day. This is a great way to educate staff members on prominent historical figures and celebrate their milestones. Topics can include everything from pivotal women in politics to inspiring women business leaders to famous female inventors who have changed the world.
2. Initiate an employee recognition program
Ask employees to nominate a "woman of the year" to show appreciation for an outstanding woman on your staff. Recognize the winner company-wide by hosting a ceremony at an all-hands meeting or by making an announcement in a company newsletter, email or webpage. You might even honor the recipient with a prize, plaque or poster that includes their colleagues' words of praise. Other awards could also be administered throughout the year, perhaps quarterly, for instance, a "woman to watch" award or a "women who support other women" award.
3. Plan a virtual museum outing
You can learn about trailblazing women past and present through virtual online exhibits, documents, video clips and photographs offered by organizations such as the Natural Women's History Museum. The museum covers a variety of topics related to women's history, including the women of NASA, women in social justice, women in STEM, women's involvement in wars, first ladies and more. They also have a "First But Not the Last" exhibit that documents the stories of women who ran for president. Another to check out is the "Standing up for Change: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement" online exhibit, which features the remarkable women that spurred the historic fight toward equity.
4. Hold a book club themed on women's stories
From fictional characters to real-life icons, there are many popular books about powerful women and many amazing stories told by women authors to help start meaningful conversations about women's challenges and contributions. Choose a book, give people time to read it, then select a date and place to discuss it as a team. This can even be done virtually, and it can recur often — book clubs generally meet every month or two.
5. Encourage thoughtful reflection and interaction
Inspire employees to interact with each other by inviting them to post notes on a bulletin board or other community space sharing a tidbit about women who have made a positive impact on their lives. Spotlighting incredible women within the company or announcing specific contributions and achievements of the women on your team are other creative ways to spark appreciation and bonding. Activities like this can foster conversations and create deeper connections among employees.
6. Start a business resource group
While planning activities and holding events are great ways to celebrate women's contributions, a long-term workplace culture shift can help you keep inclusivity at top of mind year-round. For instance, creating a business resource group encourages employees to come together and share their common interests and experiences. These groups aren't merely social, however. They can influence the overall organization's approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) by sharing awareness and viewpoints across departments, and they may participate in career development, networking, service-project and other opportunities.
Getting everyone involved in Women's History Month
While you can come up with many ways for your workplace to honor the historic accomplishments women have made, it's a good idea to ask your employees how they want to celebrate Women's History Month. You might set up a survey or send an email asking for input. This will not only help relay a message of commitment to the women on your staff, but it will also ensure that you are choosing the right campaigns to support your DE&I strategy.
As a greater focus is placed on inclusion, planning to celebrate women's history year-round can help strengthen an organization's culture and help individual workers feel seen and supported.
Visit ADP's DE&I Resource Hub for more on how your organization can do and be its best.