Women’s Equality Day: The Struggle for Equality Continues
By Kelly Fleming, Vice President of Customer Success, Global Marketing, Crop Science Division
The issue of women’s equality is as relevant today as it was in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution acknowledged that women were entitled to the right to vote in this country, as property-owning or tax-paying white men had been doing since its founding. The right to vote for women was an important milestone but it was not without a huge gap. Even though African American women were among the first suffragists, many faced barriers to voting for decades, especially those residing in southern states. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended voter suppression tactics throughout the United States. Despite signage of this important legislation, today women and many others in our country are still fighting for equality — equal treatment, equal representation in business leadership, political office and scientific fields, and equal pay for their work.
Throughout my own career, I have witnessed and benefited from the progress that has been made towards equality in the workplace when like-minded people are determined to make a difference. In 1992, I began my career as a chemical engineer at Monsanto’s John F. Queeny Plant in St. Louis, Missouri. At that time, there were not a lot of women in my industry or field. At 21 years old, I was not only the youngest person by many years in the facility, but I was also virtually the only woman in the room–even when that room held 80 people. I will never forget what it felt like to be “other.” I made every effort to fit in by getting to know and finding common ground with my coworkers. Trudging around in my hardhat and steel-toed boots, there were times when I was whistled at or told I had “nice legs,” but there were many more instances of colleagues who made the extra effort to welcome me and recognize my energy and fresh perspective.
I was excited to learn and develop in my role. Several members of my production unit patiently spent time teaching me the details of producing L-aspartic acid. I eagerly listened to their advice and expertise. Plant management offered me the opportunity to co-lead the plant’s United Way campaign, which allowed me to get to know and connect with everyone at the site on topics we all were passionate about. I also completed my MBA while working at the plant and my manager connected me to Consuelo Madere, another female chemical engineer working in Monsanto’s emerging plant biotechnology business. Consuelo was the first of many mentors — men and women — throughout my career who took a chance on me, invested time and energy in my success and taught me to pay it forward.
As I advanced in my career, my passion grew for helping others succeed and I sought out formal and informal opportunities including speaking on panels, volunteering at our annual St. Louis Speed Mentoring event and coaching emerging talent. In 2016, I joined the Women’s Network leadership team and in 2019, I became a national co-lead for GROW (Growing Representation and Opportunities for Women), Bayer’s Business Resource Group for gender equity.
Business Resources Groups (BRGs) are a vital part of Bayer’s Inclusion and Diversity strategy. BRGs are voluntary, company sponsored and employee led groups who work together to promote inclusion within Bayer and provide a multicultural lens to Bayer’s engagement of our customers and the communities in which we have operations.
My passion for promoting opportunities for women in the workplace remains strong because there is so much work left to do! It is easy to keep my energy high when I am surrounded by GROW leaders from our 13 U.S. chapters, all of whom are as motivated as I am to make a difference for women at Bayer. And outside work, I channel that energy into my three brilliant, strong teenage daughters — each with their own ideas about equality and social progress. And we do our best to turn some of those ideas into action as we volunteer together at local organizations like the St. Louis Diaper Bank, The Little Bit Foundation and Safe Connections.
Earlier this month, I voted in my state’s primary election, but this time my eldest daughter joined me at the polls for her very first vote. It reminded me about how we are both the beneficiaries of the suffragettes and their allies who struggled for this right and how important it is to continue striving for equality in our country — for women and for other underrepresented groups who continue to face injustice in our society. Women’s Equality Day is a reminder that equality for all is still a goal, and each of us is responsible for driving progress.
If you would like to learn more about organizations that work daily to promote women’s equality, check out the following: