Laura Washington on the Inspiring Legacy of Title IX
The CCO and VP for Strategic Partnerships of the New-York Historical Society discusses the #LegacyTitleIX campaign to inspire the next generation of women leaders.
June 23 marks 50 years since the passage of Title IX, the first federal education legislation that specifically addressed gender and prohibited discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. The New-York Historical Society is celebrating the anniversary with the exhibition Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field, organized by a team of curators from its Center for Women's History. The exhibition tells the story of activism that led to the addition of the Education Amendments Act, which has fundamentally reshaped American society.
"We are encouraging people to share their stories about Title IX on social media using the hashtag #LegacyTitleIX," said Laura Washington, CCO and VP for Strategic Partnerships, who has launched the #LegacyTitleIX campaign, amplifying the exhibition with first-hand accounts of how Title IX has impacted women leaders from across a wide variety of fields. "It is important for girls to hear that the women they look up to attribute their success to Title IX and lessons learned from playing sports when they were younger. We hope to inspire another generation."
The power of playing sports in women's lives
Washington started her career as a journalist, writing for a variety of publications, including Black Enterprise, Fortune Small Business, Money, and Vogue. She could have never predicted organizing this campaign would tie so well into her work as a journalist when she had previously interviewed dozens of female finance executives.
She found the women c-suite leaders all had one thing in common — they played sports. "Those interviews took place years ago before I had children. But I remember thinking back then, if I ever have daughters, I hope they play sports," recalls Washington, who is now the mother of two daughters who each fenced competitively. When she heard about Title IX and conceived the idea of the social media campaign, the first person she asked to participate was Nzingha Prescod, a two-time Olympian who belonged to the same fencers' club as her daughters.
Passion for social justice
As an executive in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, Washington has guided organizations to greater visibility and impact for more than 15 years. Her passion for the potential of narratives to empower communities and support social justice made her eager to share stories of how Title IX affected women and to enhance New-York Historical Society's latest exhibit immersing visitors in spaces shaped by the legislation.
Washington was the architect and leader of the $8 billion Mellon Foundation's first-ever communications department. Under her leadership, her team deployed campaigns around initiatives supporting the diversification of leadership at cultural organizations; which helped generate more than $10 million in support from other funders.
Having returned to the New-York Historical Society last fall after a six-year stint at Mellon, Washington was eager to be once more part of an organization executing this work. In doing research for the #LegacyTitleIX campaign, she found an EY survey of high-level executives that showed 90 percent of women sampled played sports. Among women currently holding a C-suite position, this proportion rose to 94 percent. Many also had a preference for hiring employees who also played team sports. As she read through the treasure trove of EY material, she came across an article about Prescod–the young woman who fenced with Washington's kids years ago. Prescod is part of EY's Athlete Program, which supports athletes as they transition from the sporting field. She works at EY while also running a fencing nonprofit. Washington reached out to Prescod and asked if she would tell her story.
Title IX's lasting legacy
"This campaign is the perfect opportunity to highlight the women's accomplishments made possible by Title IX," Washington said. "Though many people are not aware of it, in the years since Title IX's passage, more women now earn university degrees than ever before." The number of girls participating in high school sports has exploded, from 300,000 in 1971 to more than 2.6 million today. Women in high-level professional careers are much more commonplace than ever before, as are professional women athletes.
Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field illustrates how the understanding of gender has changed throughout the years, including the definition of sex discrimination. Title IX is widely recognized in sports, as this legislation has paved the way for many female athletes.
Other high-profile women who contributed videos to the campaign about the impact Title IX had on their lives include Carli Lloyd, Nancy Lieberman, Jen Welter, and Alice Merryweather. Washington hopes others will tell their stories by posting their own videos with #LegacyTitleIX @nyhistory.
Advocating for social justice causes and celebrating the hard work of women to instill change is just what Laura Washington has done for over a decade, and she continues to do so through the #LegacyTitleIX campaign.
The exhibit will run until September 4, 2022, please visit the site for more information.
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