Just over a week ago, my family and I road tripped down to Williamsburg, Virginia to cheer on my older sister Charlotte as she graduated from the College of William and Mary. Families and friends gathered, eagerly anticipating the day’s events, meticulously scanning for their loved ones amongst the basketball arena’s 8,600 person capacity. Kudos to my dad, who has the strongest glasses prescription out of all of us and was able to spot my sister from the twenty third row we sat in. As everyone settled down and the ceremony began, I watched Condoleezza Rice elegantly step up to the podium to address the class of 2015.
Although in Rice’s opening remarks she admitted to having forgotten the messages from her undergraduate commencement speaker, the words she shared in her own speech have resonated and stuck with me ever since. She advised “So as you leave, I ask you to bear a few things in mind: Be passionate about what you choose to do in life; use your powers of reason; cultivate humility; remain optimistic and always try to serve others and the goals of freedom and justice,”
So much of this statement reminds me of A Woman’s Place’s (AWP) mission as a community based organization that emphasizes equality and social justice. Hearing these values spoken about by the former Secretary of State, a woman who has risen through the ranks and is a pioneer for females in government, was a powerful and moving experience. Political views aside, her achievements are proof that women in the twenty first century are entitled to their own multifaceted success and must not be left out of any sector of society. It is because of female innovators such as Condoleezza Rice and AWP’s founding mothers who had a vision to broaden the spaces in which women were involved that the scope of female roles and contributions continue to expand.
The latter part of Rice’s statement – “serving others and the goals of freedom and justice” – aligns closely with the original principles of A Woman’s Place, founded in 1976 in the midst of the American Feminist Movement. During a time when many women were still expected to marry young and fulfill domestic roles, AWP’s founding mothers were advocating for broader spaces where women could be alternatively successful and ambitious. Pioneering these new environments was a vital component of the recovery process for victims of domestic abuse because it informed them about possibilities beyond the home, a liberal concept for women during this era. Through empowering these individuals, AWP’s founding mothers sought to expand their outreach into the realm of the professional world.
The spaces in which women are represented continue to expand. A recent example is the campaign to replace Andrew Jackson with a female leader on the twenty dollar bill. There are fifteen women currently being considered and the target is to have this completed by 2020, the hundred year anniversary of women’s suffrage. Some of the female candidates are: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.
On an international level, in Germany, a new law requires that by 2016 all corporate boards are comprised of at least 30% female members. In comparison, female seats on Fortune 500 companies in the United States have slowly risen from 16.4% in 2011 to 19% in 2014.
Improvements such as these show a positive trend toward the equal sharing of spaces among men and women where both opinions are represented, valued, and respected.
With this being said it is also important to note that right now, only three women serve as U.S. Supreme court justices, and congress is about eighty percent male. There is a direct need for more female voices in politics, and it is organizations like AWP that empower women as facilitators of positive change worldwide.
This deep-rooted commitment to harnessing the abilities of women into the public sphere has undoubtedly manifested in mainstream society as two female candidates, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, enter into the 2016 presidential race. No matter their differing views and backgrounds, it is a blessing to have two strong and intelligent women offer their skills on a national stage.
Of course there is more work to be done, more improvements to be made. However, no matter what phase you may be entering, be it post-college like my sister this past weekend, or perhaps in between jobs, this mission to expand the female voice into all sectors of the professional world is one you may bring with you through each chapter.
Student, James Madison University
and AWP 2015 Summer Intern