Celebrating Women’s Herstory Month at the USC Career Center: An Opportunity to Demand for Change in the Workplace

What is Women’s Herstory Month? 

Women’s Herstory Month (a feminist take on “Women’s History Month”) is dedicated to celebrate all the achievements and impacts that women have made in our society. Starting off solely as a week-long celebration, Congress expanded the celebration to dedicate the entire month of March to highlighting women’s accomplishments and contributions. As vital as this month is, we must continue to honor and commemorate women for their expertise and achievements all year long. 

How does this relate to the current workplace? 

Women’s experiences in the workplace remain a large area of study due to the gender disparities that continue to exist in the workforce. This past January, the Graduate Interns at the USC Career Center had the opportunity to create a workshop for Career Fest. I hosted a workshop called “Navigating Corporate Spaces/Leadership Roles as a Woman of Color”, where I used quantitative and qualitative data to shed light on how women are disproportionately underrepresented and underpaid compared to their male counterparts. 

  • 42% of women and 35% of men in Corporate America have felt burned out in the last few months (Burns et. al, 2021).
  • For every 100 men who advance in their careers, only 86 women do (Alexis Krivkovich).
  • As of June 2022, women held fewer than 45% of manager positions (Catalyst, 2021).

According to the Pew Research Center, an online resource which conducts studies to inform the public on current trends, the gender pay gap remains prominent within the workplace. One of their latest studies that pulled  data from demographic surveys such as the U.S. Census Bureau, found:

  • Full-time, year-round working women earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned. 
  • Women ages 25 to 34 earned an average of 92 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same age group – an 8-cent gap.
  • Men are more likely than women to be a boss or a top manager where they work (28% vs. 21%). 

Their article about the gender pay gap is available to read here.

A photo from the USC Women’s Conference of the main stage at Bovard Auditorium. A large screen in the center showcases the Conference’s 2023  logo.

USC Women’s Conference 2023

On March 3rd, the USC Alumni Association hosted their 15th annual USC Women’s Conference. As a current Graduate Intern at the USC Career Center, I had the honor and pleasure of attending the conference with my colleagues. There was an abundance of women of diverse backgrounds gathered in Alumni Park to empower and celebrate the achievements of Trojans from various industries. I was most excited to hear from Trojan Alumni who were willing to share how they have combated their own challenges and hope to inspire long-lasting change within different institutions (i.e. employment, housing, healthcare, justice system, etc.) to reduce equity gaps for marginalized groups.

At the opening ceremony, Nadine Watt, the USC Alumni Association President, set the stage by highlighting the ways in which women have continued to rise above adversity in male-dominated spaces. “For the first time ever”, she quoted, “over 10% of Fortune 500 companies are now led by women.” Additionally, 28% of those serving in Congress are women, and the first woman to ever become mayor of Los Angeles County, Karen Bass, is a proud Trojan Alumni.

The conference invited our very own President, Dr. Carol Folt, and Dr. Carmen Nava, member of USC’s Board of Trustees, to have a conversation about the ways that women can continue to “Knock Down Barriers and Empower Our Futures.”

A piece of advice I took away from the talk, especially as I transition beyond my role as a graduate student to an entry-level professional this Spring, is to take every obstacle as an opportunity to help others. Dr. Folt shared how she was the only woman in her 12-member PhD cohort, and she turned that obstacle into an opportunity by creating the inaugural Women in Science Program at Dartmouth University, a mentorship program that allowed her to help other women going through similar challenges. 

Additionally, both Dr. Folt and Dr. Nava highlighted how a company’s reinvention is a chance to reinvent yourself. Whether through making personal sacrifices and/or advocating for myself, it’s important to decide for myself what personal sacrifices I am willing to make to get ahead.

A graphic displayed on the main screen titled: “Knocking Down Barriers & Empowering Our Future,” which showcases hand-drawn images that summarize the talking points from the panel with Dr. Nava and Dr. Folt. 

I attended “Cracking the Code on Professional Growth,” which was facilitated by the Career Center’s own Senior Director of Career Engagement, Lori Shreve Blake.  The panel included Ingrid, Shriin, and Ashima, who are all CEOs of their own companies that aim to dismantle the disparities we see in the experiences of women in the workplace. They shared the following statistics:

  • Women are 30% less likely to have a strong network in comparison to men. 
  • 63% of women don’t have access to a mentor.
  • 80% of jobs require a strong network.
  • A study conducted by the World Economy Report showed that it would take 132 years for the gender pay-gap to be dismantled due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Shirin Nikaein, who co-founded  Upful.ai to create inclusive employee performance feedback, recalled asking a former supervisor for a long-overdue promotion, to which he responded: “What more do you need? You already make more than my wife.” His astounding statement  pushed Nikaein to leave the organization. She shared, “80% of your mental health consists of the relationship you have with your manager.” 

The panelists described the interview process as being a dialogue where the interviewee has the right to ask questions as well (i.e. “What should someone in this role be expected to do within the first 6 months to exceed expectations?”). Shreve Blake states that women should also mimic the language used in their resume and cover letter during an interview. Women instinctively try to appear humble by diminishing their achievements in the interview process. In a resume, one should use action verbs, quantify impact, and highlight specific skills. Why does that language only have to remain on paper? 

The USC Women’s Conference shed light on the impacts of climate change, how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into an organization’s culture, holistic mentorship, and how to prepare for retirement. Anyone interested in learning more about the annual conference and the panelists can find more information here.

A selfie of the USC Career Center team (from left to right: Lori Shreve Blake, Carmen Gomez, Jingjing Long, Mia Kirsten Santos, and Ariadne “Addie” Cheng). 

Ways to Get Involved 

Celebrating women and dismantling barriers in the workplace isn’t a one-time conversation nor an issue to be brought up once a year for one month. USC and the USC Career Center are committed to celebrating Women’s History Month and creating an environment to uplift and empower the voices of students as they continue through their career development journey. USC is putting together campus-wide events to celebrate Women’s History Month, about which you can find details on the USC Event Calendar. If you are interested in keeping up to date with news related to Women’s History Month at USC, you can find more information here.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” —Maya Angelou

By Mia Kirsten Santos
Mia Kirsten Santos