March is Women's History Month, but one local company celebrates its female employees all year long

A line forms behind Melanie Cedargren’s sample table, which houses a variety of olive oil and balsamic vinegar flavors from her store, the Spicy Olive. Most people sample her brownies, which taste made-from-scratch but are actually baked using store-bought mix and her blood orange olive oil in place of vegetable oil.

She explains that she started her business after a family trip to Italy, where she fell in love with the fresh oils with unique flavors unlike anything she’s had in this country.

Seven years and three locations later, Cedargren — who is certified as both a wine and an olive oil sommelier — confidently explains her wares to the crowd at the March 8 International Women’s Day event held at 84.51’s downtown headquarters.

“If you’re getting the stuff from the grocery store, you’re missing out,” she says, explaining that oils in the U.S. often sit in warehouses and lack the nutritional value that makes them famous for their health benefits.

The event welcomed a group of female business owners — and the men who support them — to recognize and share the successes of local women.

“Last year was the first year,” says Terron Wilson, talent manager, diversity and inclusion at 84.51. “Last year it was kind of last minute — we didn’t have a lot of time — but we pulled it off.”

The women-owned businesses that signed up for this year’s event included Brewhaus Bakery Dog Treats, The Spicy Olive, Tablespoon Cooking Company, Grateful Grahams, and Lauren Pax, a yoga instructor with Define Body & Mind, along with Girls With Pearls and the Black Career Women’s Network.

The "creative thinking space" allowed attendees to explain their "why" on International Women's Day.

It’s designed to celebrate the achievements of women, and to discuss what actions can be taken moving forward for a more balanced world, which is why there were also interactive groups highlighting diversity and inclusion, along with a “creative thinking space,” where attendees could scribble their “why” on a card using a Sharpie.

Answers included: “For the amazing women in my life and the sons I am raising to support and honor women,” “So my girls know they are strong and they have value,” and to “Inspire a path for others.”

“We signed on to be a global sponsor of the International Women’s Day organization,” says 84.51’s Kim Wiethorn, chief marketing director, external comms, PR. “So we’re putting our money where our mouth is and really supporting [women] financially as well as in spirit.”

And this means taking steps beyond the event to support and encourage women in the workforce.

“We’re big on inclusion,” says Terron Wilson, talent manager, diversity and inclusion at 84.51. “So if you think about diversity, we want that mix of talent, that goes anywhere from gender, race, diverse in thought, your experience, the background that you bring … we want to take care of those who are here now and make them feel like they’re included, they’re respected, they’re valued.”

This translates into a variety of workplace amenities, including five weeks of vacation — so that you don’t have to choose between taking a trip or just spending time with your family at home, Wilson explains — along with a fitness center and exercise classes (Zumba, Yoga, and strengthening, to name a few), relaxation rooms, mothers’ rooms and an on-site masseuse and physical therapist.

There’s also a Women’s EDGE employee resource group — the very people, actually, who passionately helped start this event — that focuses on networking, career management, becoming an influencer, and, in general, providing employees with the resources they need to be successful.

“They pay it forward,” says Wiethorn. “As we attract more women talent, they can be mentors, they can help to guide our new employees as well.”

The group now has two new subcommittees — women of color and women in technology.

84.51 also co-founded a program, Power Squad, which focuses on groups of diverse women within the same company, identified as high achievers and the types of people organizations want to retain. Members of the squad take classes that help grow their leadership skills and give them additional workforce expertise.

“We want to make sure they see people that look like them in those roles, and that we are committed to that sense of belonging once they’re here,” says Wilson. “So we want to take care of our people. We want you to feel like not only you have a seat at the table, but also a voice as well.”

As a data science company, they saw also a need to empower women in STEM — specifically technology — and sought to find a way to better support women in these roles. In order to do this, two scientists at 84.51, Jyotsna Sharma and Meehee Kosmala, ran focus groups and learned about the various challenges surrounding women in tech, ranging from the need to receive encouragement and mentorship to common issues like feeling alone, unheard, and under-appreciated.

As part of the solution, they started a people-led “Women in Tech” program that will engage community members from early childhood through their careers, publish research, and provide coaching and workshops.

Additionally, during the event, 84.51 announced plans to launch a STEM Scholars Program in 2019. Initially, says Wiethorn, the scholarship will go to a high school female in the tri-state, and there are plans to expand it to African-Americans and Hispanics as well.

“We thought today would be a good day to roll that out,” says Wiethorn during the event.

They also have a new social media strategy. “We’re doing ‘A Day in the Life’ and we’re focusing on a lot of women — our engineers, our technical women — following them through a week in their career at 84.51 and amplifying that and letting them just share what their experience is here both as a woman with the company and then also with the technology field.”

The event — and the day — isn’t just about women, though. “You’ll see men here as well,” says Wilson. “We always say that we need men to advocate.”

The more than 60 members of the company’s MARC group (Men Advocating Real Change) are empowered to engage in workplace inclusion through research-based programming and an online community.

Everybody talks diversity, everybody talks about inclusion,” says Wiethorn. “It’s about really making our employees really proud to work here and also to the outside world, sending the signal that you are welcome here, we want you to bring your authentic best self to work, and so we are a place where you can do that.”

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.