Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business

March is Women’s History Month. For all of us involved in advancing gender parity across corporations, this year’s theme, “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business” is especially meaningful.

In line with the theme, “The National Women’s History Project” is honoring 13 women, past and present who have “defied the social mores of their times by demonstrating women’s ability to create organizations and establish their own businesses that paved the way for better working conditions for themselves and other women.” It’s a truly inspiring group of women. I urge you to take a look.

Some honorees of our own
As I read the criteria for honorees, I immediately thought of the founder and first CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, Jean M. Otte. She indeed defied the odds throughout her career, initially trailblazing on her own behalf and becoming the first female corporate vice president for National Car Rental.

Then, in 1994, deciding it was time to make that trail to the top more accessible for talented women, she founded WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. Jean went from big company to big company, sharing her vision for WOMEN Unlimited, making the case for gender parity and seeking organizational buy in for advancing women. She leveraged the networks she had forged throughout her career and would basically ask two questions: “Does this idea sound like something your organization could benefit from and support?” And secondly, “Can you recommend others I can talk to?” While she certainly met with some disappointments, she continued to garner support.

Now 23 years later, Jean can smile broadly at what she started: over 11,000 women alumnae across over 200 companies advancing their careers and making significant contributions to corporate success. Additionally, thousands of women, as a result of participation in our programs, have become leaders in major corporations, defying the glass ceiling themselves and committed to the development, mentoring and advancement of younger women both inside and outside their own organizations.

Our alumnae and the women that follow them are ensuring that “Women’s History Month” is as much about our future as our past.

Let’s not forget to say “thank you” to corporate male feminists
In a male-dominated corporate landscape, as ours still is, advancement for women does not happen without top male leaders supporting it. These leaders send out a loud and clear message that gender parity is a requirement and managers at all levels must be on board.

A recent article, Why I’m a Feminist, in JP Morgan Chase’s “#Leading Voices” by Ross Brown did a wonderful job of defining what a corporate male feminist looks like. Brown, a West Point graduate, a career officer in the military and currently head of military affairs at JP Morgan Chase, explains that, despite his choosing a profession that was “male centric” and “hyper masculine,” he always understood that “women were every bit as capable as men.”

He sums up his commitment to corporate feminism this way:”…We need to continue to encourage women to participate in STEM, financial services and other fields where men have traditionally dominated.” He goes on to say, “Women must have equal footing so that they don’t have to work twice as hard for half as much reward. As young women see more experienced women succeed…they will be encouraged that they too can succeed and companies will understand the need to recognize women in leadership positions.”

We at WOMEN Unlimited couldn’t agree more and whole-heartedly thank all male executives who are committed to gender parity. We are especially grateful to our corporate partners, who continue to be “best in class” in creating inclusive corporate environments. You are all trailblazers.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.