Fort Belvoir’s Equal Opportunity Office observed Women’s Equality Day during a lunchtime gathering at the Community Center, Aug. 21.

After a series of contentious votes in Congress, the 19th Amendment became part of our Constitution, Aug. 18, 1920, which clarified “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Despite the amendment’s existence for nearly a century, there is work to be done, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, U.S. Army Cyber Command, the observance’s guest speaker.  Lyon said when she walks into a room of people, she does a head count to see how many leaders there are women.

“I look to see what the demographics look like. I will tell you, it’s not anywhere near half,” said Lyon. “If you think about it, America’s population is 51% women, yet women only make up 23% of Congress.

“The presence and importance of women in the workforce became prominent during World War I, with women taking on work roles, while men were overseas serving their country,” Lyon said. “ They replaced men in the workforce; volunteered in relief organizations and even served in some positions in the military. They proved their patriotism, making it harder after the war for anyone to say, ‘“You don’t deserve to vote.’”

Lyon also said that if women do not routinely occupy leadership roles, that lack of opportunity can bolster false assumptions about how qualified women are to fill a position.  

After the Army opened all branches to women, those opportunities became learning moments for leadership. In artillery, Lyon contended, women make the best fire-support officers out there.

Lyon said this is no time for complacency, as participation rates are actually declining in some areas.

“What I am seeing is that not as many young girls are getting involved in STEM as we would like. I’m hoping it’s because they don’t feel like they have to. But it concerns me.

“Equality is truly the unfinished business of the 21st Century,” said Lyon. “Abolishing all kinds of discrimination in our societies is the responsibility of everyone, regardless of gender, economic, political or social status. The best way of ensuring equality is to start living it, and asking ourselves what each one of us can do to contribute to an equal society where all individuals, regardless of any external attributes, can live and thrive without any discrimination.

“I’m often asked, ‘what do you hope your legacy is from your time in the Army?” said Lyon. “I hope I’ve made it easier, in some small way, to be judged on your capabilities – not your gender, sexual preference or age – but your capabilities.”