Women’s History Month: One Woman’s Perspective
By Hillary Kelbick, President & CEO
With Women’s History Month upon us, I took some time to reflect on my journey with MKP, the company I started more than 27 years ago. I had no clue at the time I started the firm what it would be like to enter a business primarily dominated by men and to do so at a time where being an executive was not necessarily compatible with being an ambitious working mother.
I literally started the business on a dare. (A male colleague I had known for years told me that I would never have the guts to step out on my own.) I ultimately did so because I needed to find a way to better balance my passion for work with the desire to spend time with my children: to see their soccer games, to participate in their school happenings and to have a seat at the dinner table with them at the end of the day. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, if a working woman took time out for her kids, it was invariably at the expense of her career. I didn’t want to have to make a choice that so many women before me had to make: I didn’t want to have to choose between work and family. I hoped that being the boss would enable me to create some flexibility in the workplace, not just for me, but for the staff who would ultimately join my team.
As the mother of two young boys, I learned early on how much they were watching me and my every move. My sons quickly learned that even though I was “with” them—at dinner, on vacation and at the ballpark—I was always on the phone or at the computer. The business was pretty much a 24/7 affair. They saw that I did my “homework” while they did theirs, and they grew up seeing their mom as a business leader and a working professional, as well as a parent. I had the opportunity through running my company to show these two young boys that a woman could both work and parent, and do justice to both roles.
So, as I muse about my business, I ask myself, what does all this have to do with Women’s History Month? My opportunity to create a thriving business is because of the work, persistence and ongoing battles that women have been engaged in for centuries. The first wave of modern feminism and the push to make women an equal part of society began back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with women like Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for women to gain equal rights under the law, including the right to vote. They were followed by some of the role models of my generation: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm. These women paved the way for me and my contemporaries through their relentless push to involve women in politics, their fight for equal rights in the workplace and their demands for personal freedoms in all aspects of life.
It was out of these efforts that Women’s History Month was born as an acknowledgement of the strength, power and ongoing commitment to ensuring that women play a part in society that is as powerful as the part that men play.
I stand on the shoulders of these activists. My business is woman-owned, and I underscore that point whenever I get the chance. The business could only have come to be because of the struggles and relentless persistence of those who came before me. Women’s History Month actively plays that back, with themes each year ranging from commitment, service, championing non-violence, labor and business to voting rights, government and, this year, providing healing and promoting hope.
While the days of dressing in power suits and shirts with bow-tied collars are gone (thank goodness), it is every woman’s responsibility to keep paying forward the significance of this important month. Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to ensure our gains continue, our value is recognized and the girls of today can be the women who own the future tomorrow.
MKP communications inc. is a New York City-based communications company specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communication.