As a historian, here are some of the questions I would normally ask if you and I were to have a conversation.
• Was your founder a woman? If so, what motivated her (or you) to start the business or organization? Was she the first woman to start that kind of business? What obstacles did she encounter and how did she overcome them? What kinds of “firsts” did she achieve in her business? What key decisions did she make to get from Point A to today? Did she also play a role in her community (or family) as a mentor to other women? How would you describe her impact on her industry? (I think it goes without saying the impact Oprah has had in all of these areas.)
• If your founder wasn’t a woman, what can you find out about his wife, mother, or daughters? Did any of them play a role in the business? How were they affected by the business? Did a daughter inherit the business? (In the case of one of my clients, his grandmother led the family business through the Great Depression after inheriting the company from her father because her brothers weren’t interested. What a terrific story! And we had her picture.)
• When were women first involved in your business or organization? For example, who was the first woman lawyer to join your law firm? The first woman banker at your bank? The first woman accountant at your accounting firm? Or, when were women allowed to become members? Who was the first woman donor and why? What other kinds of “firsts” for women occurred in your business or organization? (My great aunt was the first woman lawyer to work for what is now Greater Boston Legal Services, and I’m awfully proud of that!)
• Did your business provide services to women when it was founded, or did that evolve? In what way has having women customers evolved? (We all remember the days when car salesmen treated women like idiots!)
• How has the treatment of women employees evolved over time? (I assume your business no longer fires women for being pregnant, and I hope you pay them equally!)
• In what ways has your business marketed itself to women over time, and how has that changed? (Women were really talked down to in the early days of advertising, which we now know was a bit misguided!)
Why should you spend the time to do this work?
• You will show your respect for women and for women’s history – and we do pay attention to these things!
• You will expand your unique story, which is essential in marketing. You can post your new information on your website, create a display, and issue a press release.
• You will have legitimate reasons for publishing stories in your local newspaper, in your blog, and on your website during National Women’s History Month (March).
• For March or for Mother’s Day you will have an excuse to make a special offer in the name of one of “your women,” or host a special event for women customers and staff.
• You will provide your community and “the world” with new roles models for young people.
All of these opportunities await you, but it starts with knowing your history.
I hope you will dig in and find the stories to tell – and then share them!!!
2011 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
History Smiths works with service-oriented businesses to use history — their own and their community's — to achieve customer loyalty, referrals, and high status. Subscribe (above, right) to our free Ezine, Connections, where we share ideas and examples of businesses embracing history to achieve business goals.