The Evolution of Women’s History Month
The First International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, 1911, and would later evolve into what it is today- an annual, month-long, international celebration of Women’s History. In the late 1960’s an activist named Laura X galvanized a deeper appreciation for the day by organizing a march that advocated for a more enduring reflection. Believing that honoring the history of women deserved more than a day, she called on the establishment of a National Women’s History Month; prior to this march, the holiday had almost fallen out of public attention.
In 1978 a school district chose to participate in Women’s History Week, and in 1979 a fifteen-day conference about women’s history was held at Sarah Lawrence College, chaired by historian Gerda Lerner, and co-sponsored by the Women’s Action Alliance, and the Smithsonian Institution. In 1980 a presidential proclamation was declared establishing National Women’s History Week, and in 1987, petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress designated the month of March as Women’s History Month.
The evolution of the holiday has spanned a time frame of over 75 years, progressing through the consistent efforts of organized bodies, and without the inspirational call to march by Laura X in 1969, might never have evolved into the celebration we are fortunate enough to share today.
Efforts on Multiple Frontlines Lead to Long Term Change
Achieving the nationally recognized celebration of Women’s History Month was only possible with the enduring efforts of individuals, educational bodies, and organized institutions. Applying these efforts to the heart of popular culture, looking towards the engagement and development of younger generations, and coordinating in numbers for political influence were instrumental forces that have not only won women a month-long holiday honoring their achievements, but have also won them other historical benchmarks such as the right to education, and the right to vote.
Within the industry of technology and business, this same formula of collective efforts are what industry experts look to when discussing how to grow the presence of women in leadership and improve the quality of women’s experience overall and for the long term.
Women in Data & Leadership: Acknowledging the Decline
Women in the Workplace Study is an annual report published by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company, spanning research of over 600 organizations that employ over 20 million people. It reports that 1 in 4 C-Suite executives is a woman, and 1 in 20 is a woman of color. “The Broken Rung” was a key finding in the report, which is the analysis that of 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager, only 87 women are comparatively promoted.
In essence, the report further indicates that “for every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.” The inequity in promotional practices in tandem with a one-step forward, two-steps back momentum ultimately points to a decline in the number of women occupying leading roles.
In the field of data science, an overview of Data Scientist Demographics and Statistics shared by career development platform Zippia, indicates that the challenges the pandemic brought to the world had a noticeable impact on the presence of women in the field, bringing the numbers down to a reported 12% of women in 2020 working within the population of data scientists.
By 2021, the overview goes on to report that some recovery had been made with numbers reaching 20%; however, these numbers are far from what we know is possible, with 2010 being a higher point in history reporting 30% in the industry. In summary, these findings indicate that within the span of a decade, a 10% decline for women working in data science became a reality.
Advice on Closing the Gender Gap
In February 2023 at Data Science Salon Austin, five women in data shared the stage to discuss the topic of Creating Value with Diverse Data Teams and why diversity should matter to businesses
- Eve Psalti, Principal Group Program Manager at Microsoft
- Kim Martin, Director of Software Engineering at Indeed
- Angel Durr, Founder of DataReady
- Roja Boina, Chapter Co-Lead at Women in Data
- Chris Benevich, President at Revel Data Incorporated
Eve Psalti speaking at DSS ATX 2023
The panelists outlined ways to approach supporting organizations and internal teams to be more intentional in aligning their hiring practices and cultivating a work culture that yields better outcomes not only for underrepresented communities and women within the industry but for organizations as a whole, including customers.
Speakers agreed that a full-bodied approach involves the key strategies of incentivizing organizations to prioritize equitable representation, investing in initiatives that evolve company policy and culture, and fostering communities where women uplift one another.
Motivating the Prioritization of Diverse Leadership
Panelists expressed that incentivizing the prioritization of diversity comes with conveying the reality to involved parties that success depends on product reach and adoption. Achieving a robust customer base is a matter of mirroring customer interest, which can only be done through an authentic understanding of what drives customers’ needs. With women essentially being the other half of the global population, the reality of underrepresentation points to the unrealized potential for better business performance.
Kim Martin speaking at DSS ATX 2023
Speakers affirmed that the question isn’t if creating more equitable representation in leadership will elevate a company’s performance, as it is well documented that diverse teams are more innovative and perform better than homogenous teams- the question they suggest focusing on is how to support organizations in acting on this knowledge.
Taking Initiatives to Shift Paradigms in the Interest of the Whole
Essential to addressing barriers that women face in the industry, panelists covered topics such as acknowledging gender biases, investing in mentors and leadership development, and reflecting on ways in which the default standards of work culture sustain divergent trajectories between men and women’s career path, in an effort to improve the long-term retention of women in leadership.
When organizations take the initiative to reflect and proactively take stock of deficient practices, they can begin to reshape the paradigm of what it means to thrive at work. Panelists expressed that the common denominator addressing inequities promises to improve is the experience of a more holistic work environment for everyone.
Uplifting One Another in Community & Mentorship
Panelists recognized that elevating women into leadership for the long term requires a systemic approach, one that begins with architecting pipelines, networks that connect the uninitiated to the experienced and initiated, fostering enrichment and meaningful exchange. The value of bringing role models both past and present into the worldview of younger women could not be understated.
Roja Boina speaking at DSS ATX 2023
The theme of celebrating Women’s History Month creates opportunities for women like Ada Lovelace to be remembered and celebrated, grounding younger generations in the deeper roots of their realized capacities. Ada, a woman of the early 19th century, is regarded as the first computer programmer to publish an algorithm computed by a machine, and within the industry of data science such a contribution is not an afterthought, it is a foundational one.
Establishing an authentic and inspiring connection between generations of women, sharing experiences, and encouraging development and achievement is the purpose of mentorship and community, and offers an immeasurable value towards uplifting one another.
The Promise of Success in the Long Term
Ushering advances in the quality of women’s experience at work is not just about women. Confronting challenges that are common themes women share in navigating their careers has the pay off of improving an overarching work-life balance for all individuals. Doing so promises to ensure an evolution of how society redefines standards on the subjects of career and family responsibilities, as well as what a default work environment will look like in the modern age.
Companies only stand to benefit when a balanced spectrum of humanity occupies its decision-making seats, as long-term success is won not just by having a competitive instinct but also being guided by a deeply collaborative and intuitive one as well.