Cultivate a Sisterhood

Before Women's History Month comes to a close, I want to give thanks to the network of women who have helped me along the way (and give a shout out to one of the founding mothers of social justice). This is not to dismiss the amazing men who support women, and those who don't identify one way or the other. It is simply to recognize how important having a sisterhood has been to me.

I spoke recently at a sociology conference. As a Master's graduate working outside of academia, I was asked to speak about how I use my degree in the professional workforce. The theme of the conference was "Invisible Sociology," suggesting that a lot of what sociologists do is not necessarily labeled as sociology. For me, this has certainly been the case. In preparing for the panel , I reviewed some notes from my courses and I realized how foundational that time was in shaping much of my professional career. This wasn't the only factor that mattered, though. My career was undoubtedly influenced, and positively so, by my M.A., but it was further cultivated by additional professional development and by having a network of women on which I could rely. These two additional pieces largely came from a great group here in D.C. called the Women's Information Network (WIN). It was started back in 1989 by a group of women who came off the Dukakis campaign and saw that they were not getting the same job opportunities as their male counterparts. So they reached out to women in the area who were successful and asked for help. WIN was their solution, and it's been helping women, especially women who are young, new to D.C. or seeking a career change, ever since.

If you don't live in D.C., don't worry. WIN is just one in a long line of women helping other women. While reviewing my notes from grad school, I spent a lot of time on the feminist theory section. Jane Addams, the sociologist and social reformer who started -- with other women -- Hull-House in Chicago, drew great confidence from her fellow women organizers. (Addams is also considered the founding mother of social work.) She wrote of the importance of women finding their voice and speaking with authority, what she called auctoritas, borrowing from the ancient Roman use, which is "the right of the speaker to make themselves heard." Addams achieved this in part because of the support she received from the people she worked with, many of whom where women. Indeed, she relied on her sisters not just for social reform, but for emotional support. We all need someone who believes in us, and Addams got that from some of her closest women peers. Considering that she was advocating and speaking publicly at a time when almost no other women were, this was undoubtedly vital.

We've come a long way since Addams' time, but great disparities remain. There is still a need for groups like WIN, and the many online listervs, Twitter conversations and other areas where women are coming together. The reason that I have this writing space, and the confidence to believe that I deserve it, is because of women who have helped me. It was a woman colleague who told me about WIN. Then WIN told me about The OpEd Project, which is a truly wonderful organization that encourages and trains women to write op-eds. (If you haven't noticed, there is a serious gender disparity in opinion writing.) From there I got my first op-ed published, which then led to other pieces in other publications, including this one. WIN does a lot to offer networking opportunities and mentorships for many of the same reasons that Addams and other women needed them. Women helping other women is a powerful and necessary piece of achieving parity. Fellow WINners connected me to other women who sat down with me and helped with my resume, additional professional development, and even jobs. It's not hyperbole to say that I would not be where I am without women helping me along the way. As such, I am committed to helping other women, not just to pay it back and help my karma, but because the best work is done with the best minds at the table, and some of those are going belong to women. We help no one by keeping half the population out of the conversation.

Don't worry if you read this and it's already April. Take some time to thank the women in your life who are supportive and who believe in you. And remember, it's not just about surrounding yourself with lots of women. It's about having a sisterhood. Madeleine Albright was more pithy when she said it, but the sentiment rings true, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

Thank you to all my sisters. You've been an invaluable resource, and I am eternally grateful.