Throughout the world, on March 8, women celebrated International Women’s Day, rallying behind this year’s theme of #ChooseToChallenge. In my role supporting NTT DATA’s law enforcement clients, I frequently meet with clients in our nation’s capital. With the pandemic and teleworking, zoom calls have replaced in-person meetings. Like many Americans, I have been virtually watching the news coverage of the recent storming of the Capitol. Since then, I have seen the city that I love transformed into a battleground, both literally and figuratively. Having worked in the public sector for 20+ years, I generally avoid political discussions, as I see my role as supporting United States citizens rather than supporting any given political party. Still, as I watch the continuing political theatre and division, I am reminded of a similar time in history where one impassioned politician stood her ground and became the conscience for a troubled country. She epitomized #ChooseToChallenge at a time when women did not have a strong voice in our country.
The woman I am referring to is Margaret Chase Smith. You might be wondering, Margaret Chase, who? To provide some context and a short history lesson, Mrs. Smith was the first woman to serve in both houses of the United States Congress as a U.S Representative and a U.S. Senator — and as the first woman to represent the people of Maine in both houses. She paved the way for women in government, charting a course for future women leaders. Now young women everywhere can dare to dream of becoming a senator, congresswoman, vice president, supreme court judge or president — anything is possible.
In early 1950, when Senator Joe McCarthy was conducting his unfounded witch hunt to unmask alleged communists, a moderate Republican senator from Maine chose to challenge. At the time, McCarthy was a well-respected, established lawyer and senator, while Chase Smith was new to the position and politics. The easy thing to do would have been to keep quiet, build consensus, and focus on re-election. Instead, she found her voice. In her now-famous 1950 speech, named a Declaration of Conscience, Mrs. Smith spoke out against McCarthyism’s irrational and dangerous behavior. She called upon a divided country to remember their Americanism. She reminded Americans of our constitutional rights, the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, and the right to independent thought. Mrs. Smith made the brave decision to choose to challenge. There was no immediate nor majority agreement to her declaration. It took time, patience, courage, conviction, and perseverance to change perceptions of those in power eventually, but she did.
I can’t help but wonder, on this International Women’s Day, what would Mrs. Smith fight for in today’s political environment to invoke change to better the country? There are so many issues that are dividing our nation — climate change, gender identity, racial tensions, immigration, education, party politics, police brutality — a seemingly endless list of differences that make many lose sight of those things that bring us together. Those fundamental tenants of Americanism that Margaret Chase Smith so vehemently stood before her colleagues in the same capital that was so recently stormed. Each of us has opportunities to make a difference.
To impact change, we must work to understand. Examine views or actions that challenge your beliefs. Educate yourself — learn about the issues that most affect your life. Have difficult conversations, be curious, ask questions, listen to others’ views and opinions, try not to move toward judgment. It may be uncomfortable. You may not like or agree with what you hear. This starts your journey to #choosetochallenge. We all have the power of influence, the power to help people see other viewpoints through thoughtful, respectful discussions — to invoke thought and bring about lasting change.
Doing nothing may be more comfortable when considering the potential negative impact on family, friendships, or career. But doing what is right always wins.
As women leaders we can make change — like Margaret Chase Smith more than 70 years ago, I #ChoosetoChallenge.
Read more from the NTT DATA International Women’s Day 2021 blog series:
- Mona Charif shares how her early experiences with those whose examples encouraged her on her career path, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris
- Margo Cooke shares the wisdom of her young niece about her natural perception of female professionals
- Kiran Ballal shares her thoughts about India’s first and only female prime minister, Indira Gandhi
- Ellen Daley discusses NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson
- Eddie Woods discusses the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize – Wangari Maathai
- Amy Oster shares her thoughts on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Terri Hatcher with comments on entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker and the multi-faceted Annie Tumbo
Post Date: 3/9/2021