What is the significance of August 26 in the United States? The date marks the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which extended the right to vote to women. Though this act took place in 1920, it wasn’t until 1973 that the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day — a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women and reflect on how the nation can better work toward equal rights for all citizens. There’s even a petition circulating to make it a federal holiday.
Women’s Equality Day and International Women’s Day
Sometimes Women’s Equality Day gets confused with International Women’s Day. The latter is a global event held on March 8 — chosen in honor of the women’s march in Petrograd, Russia, that sparked the Russian Revolution in 1917 — that recognizes contributions women have made to society as well as encourages further efforts toward gender parity.
Women’s Equality Day is an American occasion. It gives due recognition to the suffragettes, women who believed that they should have the right to vote and weren’t afraid to disrupt the status quo to make their opinion known. To generate interest, these trailblazers employed tactics such as picketing, petitioning, parades, demonstrations, and even hunger strikes. Some went to prison.
Yet despite their exceptional leadership and courage, suffragettes are far from household names. Women’s Equality Day provides an opportunity to learn about their contributions and to reflect on the fact that the United States once deprived half of its adult population of what we now consider a basic right.
Women’s Equality Day likely will draw increased interest this year due to #MeToo, Time’s Up, and other women’s empowerment movements that have been in the news. Recognizing the occasion at workplaces is a great way to celebrate women in the workplace, promote staff bonding, and contribute to making the world a better place.
Here are some ways to bring the spirit of Women’s Equality Day into the office:
Develop a mentoring program
Despite great strides by women in the workplace, men still tend to hold more top-level positions. As of May 2018, only 24 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were women – just under 5 percent of the total list.
Guidance can make a huge difference in the aspirations of female employees. Consider setting up a mentorship program at your company in which participants pair with higher-level staff members regularly to discuss career goals, networking, continuing education, and other factors critical for climbing the ladder. Involvement from women in leadership roles is ideal, but anyone willing to truly make the effort to listen and support can boost confidence and aid in decision-making.
Encourage girl power
Think about how your company might be able to enrich the lives of young women in the community. Perhaps you could hire a summer intern, invite middle schoolers to the office for job shadowing, speak about STEM careers to a Girl Scout troop, or set up a college scholarship.
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Hold a collection drive~root~>
In recognition that many women still live in unsuitable situations, sponsor a collection drive at the office. Contact a local women’s shelter to learn its pressing needs, which often include toiletries, underwear, diapers, socks, and old cell phones. Consider helping to restock a food pantry. More than one in eight women in the United States lived in poverty in 2016, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and they depend on supplemental sources to feed their families. Or give employees an hour off on Friday to go home and clean out their closets so they can return on Monday with business attire and accessories they no longer need but that could be a lifesaver for someone trying to look presentable for an interview or new job.
Aid a cause
Women’s suffrage may no longer be a hot-button topic, but plenty of modern causes need passionate supporters. Consider spending Women’s Equality Day volunteering as a group. Coming up with a project and how to execute it promotes bonding and teamwork among the staff. Promote literacy by reading to grade school students. Work to combat homelessness by building a Habitat for Humanity house. Donate blood together during the lunch hour.
Listen to women
Want to know how to improve the work environment for women at your company? Ask! Whether through a suggestion box or a survey, solicit input on ways to improve job satisfaction, safety, and office life. You may find a strong cry for flexible arrangements that would help with work-life balance or pick up on frustration that men aren’t doing their part to keep the break area clean.
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Announce the occasion~root~>
Finally, a great way to mark Women’s Equality Day is to simply spread the word that it exists. Open a staff meeting by having everyone guess secretly on a piece of paper or index card the year that women got the right to vote, and report the range of responses (don’t be surprised if the answers are way off) before explaining the holiday. Or consider creating a bulletin board that salutes the suffragettes or presents a timeline that shows when passage of the 19th Amendment occurred in relation to other notable events. This mini-history lesson is bound to get employees talking!