Women’s Equality Day Program Emphasizes Empowerment

By Stefanie Hauck

The Defense Federal Community and Federal Women’s Program celebrated Women’s Equality Day with a virtual observance on Aug. 17 at the Defense Supply Center Columbus featuring keynote speaker Rebecca Beck, director of Accounting Standards and Reporting for Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Beck, a longtime member of the Senior Executive Service and former DFAS-Columbus deputy director, spoke on the day’s theme “Women Empowering Women.”

Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Director Penny Copp delivered opening remarks thanking all involved in the planning of this year’s observance.

DLA Land and Maritime Resolution Specialist Lisa Griffin rendered the National Anthem and DLA Land and Maritime Acquisition Specialist Amy Rich served as the event’s Mistress of Ceremonies.

Beck’s presentation highlighted the accomplishments of several women who made lasting contributions despite challenges and adversity due to their gender and place in a male-dominated society.

“They fought political, economic, social, cultural, and civil inequities to give us the right to develop into our fullest potential and made significant impacts on the world as we know it today,” she said.

The women profiled included Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, and Madam C.J. Walker among others. Tubman was credited with freeing dozens of slaves and guiding them through the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. During the war, Tubman was a scout and spy for the Union Army. She was the first woman to lead a military expedition that freed 700 slaves. Tubman later became an outspoken activist for women’s suffrage. Anthony was a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage movement and Madam Walker launched a beauty products business for African American women, becoming the first self-made millionaire and paving the way for others to pursue entrepreneurship.

Beck emphasized women have also been responsible for several firsts in addition to lifelong achievements.

“These are women who crushed barriers, who broke the proverbial glass and paved the way for us.”

Women such as:

Noted physicist and scientist Marie Curie, the first woman to win two Nobel Peace Prizes in two different science disciplines: one jointly with two others for physics and the other by herself for chemistry in the early 1900s;
Amelia Earhart, became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932;
Althea Gibson, in 1956 became the first African-American woman to win the French Open;
Margaret Thatcher served as the first woman prime minister of Great Britain from 1979-1990;
Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981;
Madeleine Albright was appointed the first female Secretary of State in 1997; and
Kamala Harris, the first woman elected vice president of the United States
Other women pioneers mentioned included Maya Angelou for her role in raising women’s voices in poetry; Dolores Huerta who helped found the United Farmworkers of America and raised the bar in advocating for farmworker rights; Rosa Parks who challenged racial segregation by not giving up her seat on a bus to a white person; Julia Child who became television’s first celebrity chef and Mother Teresa for her lifelong humanitarian efforts in Calcutta.

All these women shared a common bond, they stood up and told their stories to empower other women to carry the torch and step up behind them.

“This is an impressive list of women and it just barely scratches the surface of what women can do to achieve with the right attitude, the drive, and the network,” she said.

Beck challenged the program’s virtual audience to empower women in their lives.

“A strong community of women empower each other because together we are stronger,” she said.

“You do not have to be on the list of women’s firsts to be a leader and empower other women. But you do need to make it a dedicated and conscious effort,” she added.

She said it is important for all women to tell their stories, especially if they are successful career women.

“You need to understand that people look up to you and admire you, hold you in high esteem and sometimes it feels you are unreachable as though you were born successful. Of course, you weren’t. You worked hard to get where you are today. So, tell your story, with its ups and downs, talk about your wins but share your losses and share your mistakes,” she said. “When they see the road, you have traveled is very much like the road they are on, they’ll start believing that they have the power to set goals and reach their goals.”

Beck said that everyone has the responsibility to stand up for women and report injustices when they see them.

“When you see discrimination or an unequal playing field call it out,” she said. “Sometimes a shakeup is needed and sometimes it takes someone to open their eyes before they can see the unconscious bias they are creating.”

She wrapped up her remarks with a little advice to the virtual audience about sharing opportunities and building their network.

“We need to work together to promote ourselves,” she said. “Encourage other women to put their hand up for new opportunities, to apply for promotions, ask for training, seek mentors and take on new challenges. Give them a push when it’s time to step outside the nest.”

Beck herself is an example of being empowered and then empowering others. She grew up in Whitehall on the outskirts of the Defense Supply Center Columbus and attended Whitehall Yearling High School and The Ohio State University.

Beck said a friend referred her to her first position within DLA as a GS-4 accounting technician in the then DLA Finance Center which later became DFAS. Ever since she had many opportunities to seek out mentors who helped her get where she is today by looking at her potential and letting her know of opportunities that they thought would be a perfect fit for her.

“I wasn’t the one who raised my hand,” she said. “I was the one where someone came to me and said, ‘Hey we have this opportunity, and we think you are the right person for the job. You need to consider this.’”

Beck said another key to empowerment is to have a strong network.

“There is strength in numbers, especially emotional strength,” she said. “The more we work together and support each other, the more we’ll be heard. Your age, your role, your experience, none of it matters, we need to support each other.”

Land and Maritime Division Chief of Research Review and Analysis Natasha Porter offered advice on the difference between coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship in her closing remarks.

According to the National Constitution Center, Women’s Equality Day is officially observed annually on Aug. 26 to mark the day the 19th Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote was certified by then U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby in 1920.

The ratification process of the amendment by the required 36 states took over a year. By the middle of 1920, 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment, four refused to even consider the resolution and the rest had rejected the amendment altogether except for Tennessee. On Aug. 18 Tennessee legislator Harry T. Burn cast the deciding vote assuring the 19th amendment’s ratification.

In 1971, Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), championed a bill in the U.S. Congress to designate Aug. 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” That bill was passed in 1973.


Photo Source: Michael Rowland