This year, the National Women’s History Alliance’s theme for Women's History Month is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” To mark the occasion, our Women in Tech (WiT) Employee Resource Group will be hosting a panel event highlighting some of the women at Cengage Group who are responsible for telling our story, whether in internal/external communications, brand marketing or product marketing. On the panel, they’ll discuss their career journeys, how they view their role as Cengage Group ambassadors and how their work is influenced by their identities as women.
In advance of the panel, we spoke with participants Emily F., Megan P., Joanna C., Jen R. and Kristin M. to get their insight into the significance of Women’s History Month, their vision for the future and advice for women looking to follow in their footsteps.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
“I see Women’s History Month as an important moment of reflection. It’s a time to think about the women who have pushed forward progress in creating greater gender parity, but also the women who personally have influenced, inspired and mentored me throughout my life and career,” says Emily, Director of Corporate Communications.
“Women’s History Month is a time to give a boost to work we should be doing all year long – remembering the women who shaped our past, supporting the women who are creating today and advocating for the girls and women who will craft our future,” says Joanna, Senior Director of Brand, Content and Creative for Cengage Academic. She adds, “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need Women’s History Month, because our history would equally include the history of women. I see this is a time of celebration but also as a step in the progression of civilization such that if we do our job, in the future, we will no longer need it.”
“It’s a time when we can pause and reflect on the impact and accomplishments of many amazing women throughout our history,” says Jen, Sr. Director of Brand, Marketing Communications and Sales L&D at Gale. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on women who have made an impact and our path forward,” agrees Megan, Vice President of Corporate Communications.
Kristin, Sr. Director of GTM Strategy and Digital Marketing for National Geographic Learning, adds, “Women's History Month is a time to reflect on how far we have come and the work that still needs to be done. It’s about the struggles and achievements of the women who have come before us, and how we can enable and support the work that is happening today. It is an opportunity to celebrate our stories - those of our ancestors and those who have yet to have their stories told.”
Can you tell us about a woman from history that you find especially inspiring?
“I admire my mother, although I’m not sure she qualifies as a woman from history,” says Megan. “She modeled balancing a family, a career and giving back in areas where you’re passionate. I also find inspiration in women who show incredible courage in adverse circumstances, like Malala Yousafzai in her advocacy for women’s education rights, and Khalida Popal, who led the Afghan women’s soccer team’s evacuation in 2021.”
“There are many! One who stands out to me is Rosa Parks. I admire her for taking action, standing up and initiating change to end segregation in America. She taught me that one person’s actions can have a huge impact,” says Jen.
Joanna agrees that there are so many to choose from. But the one who will forever inspire her is her own late great-aunt, Gertrude Markell, or as she called her, ‘Aunt Gus.’ Joanna shared how her Aunt Gus grew up in immigrant conditions, helped run the family store and served as a translator for her mother who spoke little English. She “was highly skilled in the textile arts, went to school after her husband died and went on to have a career as the Conservator of Textiles for the Museum of Fine Arts.” Among other things, she restored ancient Egyptian textiles and was a co-author on scientific research on a new technique to preserve metallic yarns. She was even profiled in a Life magazine article in the late 1960s. When the museum required retirement at age 65, she went on to have a second career as an archivist at the JFK Presidential Library. “She embodied intelligence and resilience, with equal parts decorum and humor,” says Joanna.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) is one of my biggest inspirations,” says Emily. “She was an incredibly smart, driven, tenacious and passionate woman. RBG fought for what she believed in fiercely, but also understood the need for patience and that lasting progress takes time. She was also a loving wife and mother, and her relationship with her husband was a true example of partnership and support; they defied the gender stereotypes of the time in how they approached raising their family, and I think it is incredibly admirable and inspirational.”
Kristin agrees: “Because of her, the girls of my generation grew up knowing that we didn’t need a father and husband to cosign a loan to buy a house. We were the Title IX generation. Equal opportunities in education gave us the right to have the same access and facilities as the athletic programs for boys. And legally, we knew our work had equal value to a man’s. Thank you, RBG!”
What are the most significant barriers you’ve overcome to thrive in your career?
“As a girl who liked more traditional female activities like dance, cheerleading and flute, I was sometimes dismissed from more ‘male’ arenas,” says Joanna. “For example, on the first day of AP BC Calculus, I was wearing my cheerleading uniform because it was a pep rally day. The teacher looked at me and said, ‘Oh honey, I think you’re in the wrong class.’”
She adds, “I have also had the experience of male bosses taking credit for my work or expecting me to do things like organizing social activities or buying doughnuts for a birthday, presumably because I am a woman.” On the other hand, she says she’s also had incredible managers of all genders, adding “we are products of our culture, but we are also unique humans. I believe each of us is capable of making good choices every day.”
“One barrier I encountered happened when I decided to have children,” says Jen. “When I was pregnant, there was an incorrect assumption made by my leader that I wouldn’t want to come back to work after having kids. That was communicated to some of my team members. I had to correct that misconception and reassert that I was committed to returning to my position and continuing to lead after having children. That was different than what my male counterparts experienced when they elected to have children. After that, I felt like I had to ‘prove my worth’ and show that I could do both.”
Megan has also faced increased pressure since starting a family. “It can be challenging to find opportunities that enable women to both balance their desire to be present with their children and continue to nurture their careers in a meaningful way.”
Emily counts herself lucky. She says, “I have consistently had strong female role models. Most of my managers and mentors have been female and have always pushed me to grow, develop and expand in my career.” She adds, “I think the largest barrier overall in the industry, is that while communications, especially public relations, is an overwhelmingly female dominated field, oftentimes communications leadership is still male. There is still work to be done to create more parity in the field at the leadership level.”
How can allies (including employers) better support women?
Jen shares some things employers can do to help support women. She suggests companies “provide flexibility as well as opportunities for leadership and networking.” “Flexibility is key,” agrees Megan. “Women can be highly committed but often have different demands on their time.” She also stresses the importance of “creating opportunities for women to be at the table and involved in decisions.”
Emily suggests listening and learning. “This isn’t just advice for allies on the topic of gender equality. We can all do better at listening and learning from others who have different experiences, circumstances and understandings.” She adds, “Provide opportunities when you can. I am where I am today because a few important people took a chance on me.” She adds, “They opened a door and gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. I encourage everyone to think about the ways they can provide an opportunity for someone else, even if it’s as simple as just having a conversation.”
“Create space for women to be heard if you see them being sidelined,” says Joanna. “For organizations, have policies and benefits that make it easier for women to participate fully in their careers. To hiring managers, don’t discount women who stepped back from full-time work to raise children or care for family members. And to all, celebrate the achievements of women, not just because they are women – but because they are worthy.”
“Allies and organizations can better support women by taking an active role in creating an inclusive environment,” says Kristin. “This includes recognizing and addressing unconscious bias, offering flexible work arrangements, and fostering an environment of support and understanding.”
What advice would you give to women looking to follow in your footsteps?
Our panel has great advice for future marketing and communication leaders (and all women!). They advise you to:
- Invest in building relationships
- Engage and ask questions, rather than waiting to be invited into the conversation
- Be open to what life brings your way
- Keep your priorities in focus
- Always support, encourage and inspire those around you to be their best
- Believe in yourself and your abilities
- Do what scares you and don’t be afraid of failure
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Be your own best advocate. No one is ever going to care as much about your career and your future as you, so have the difficult conversations like pushing for that raise or promotion.
- Be aware of the culture in any job you consider. Find one that treats women with respect – like Cengage Group!
As we recognize Women’s History Month, what is your vision for the future?
“My hope is that everyone is treated equally in the workplace and has the same opportunities,” says Jen. “My vision for the future is one in which women are respected and valued for their contributions, their skills and their unique perspectives,” adds Kristin.
Emily would like a world where “we see the glass ceiling fully crash down and have gender parity at the highest levels of leadership.”
Megan adds, “My vision is that all women and girls throughout the world have the freedom of choice and access to opportunity that women in the US (and many other places) have.” Joanna envisions a future where “we no longer need a Women’s History Month because women’s history is a meaningful part of history.”
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