Advocating for Professional Women in California & Looking Towards the Future
Picture yourself in a room full of 5,500 professional women and men, all pulling in the same direction for equal access to opportunity—equal performance assessment criteria, equal pay and pay raises, and equal promotions. Imagine the power, the energy and the possibilities. In fact, that room, that space and that energy existed for one action-packed day at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco on March 22, 2016 when the Professional BusinessWomen of California hosted their annual conference. This year’s theme was “Changing the Game.” And the stage hosted one game-changer after another.
Venus Williams, a consistent advocate for pay equity at Wimbledon and across women’s tennis, stayed in the fight—one that others had waged before her—for more than a decade before she got what she was after. Her battle off the court took the same tenacity that she has shown on the court — and in a life that has taken her from difficult circumstances all too common in Compton, California, to a life full of extraordinary achievements. By prevailing, Williams elevated the conversation about pay equity for women in sports to a whole new level—changing the game for thousands on the field of play today.
Ann Wojcicki, co-founder and chief executive officer of the personal genomics company 23andMe, set out to change the game in healthcare. When the FDA claimed jurisdiction over 23andMe’s saliva-based test designed to reveal ancestry and proclivities for certain conditions–calling the reports “medical devices”—Wojicki enlisted the FDA in her vision for the future. She swiftly moved the conversation from problem to solution with the FDA as partner.
Even as she works to change the game for an entire industry, Wojcicki is changing the game one person at a time for individuals whose health outcomes are improved by 23andMe’s products, and for young women coming up behind her who are inspired when they hear her say that she wasn’t the best scientist in the room — she was simply the most passionate and persistent one.
Judy Smith, founder, president and CEO of the crisis management firm Smith & Company, told a rapt audience tales of phone calls from sovereign rulers-in-crisis that she put on hold as she figured out how to wrangle cookies and juice as the designated “snack mom” for her son’s basketball team. Smith’s words from the stage painted a picture of a woman who is simultaneously an effective and engaged mother, and a professional at the highest level.
Dolores Huerta, a living legend, compatriot of Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American civil rights hero, and tireless advocate for the under-served, rallied the crowd with stories of hard-won successes in the face of tremendous odds. She inspired the room with the enduring power of her personal commitment to make the world a better place, and motivated all who heard her to get involved and give back. Huerta led the room in a rallying cry that linked today’s struggle for gender equity to the causes that defined the American civil rights era.
Looking Towards the Future with Tomorrow’s Leaders & Goals in Mind
Perhaps the day’s most inspiring speakers were this year’s recipients of PBWC’s annual scholarships: five phenomenal young women spoke of their accomplishments and ambitions, demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that the future ranks of this nation’s leaders will include women who stand tall and strong.
In thinking about the young scholarship recipients, one cannot help but be inspired to change the game so that they have the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field. And how can we use one day devoted to “Changing the Game” to drive the change we need to see? Here are three practical actions that each of us can take to help to change the game:
- Support a Woman. When a female colleague excels, be the wind at her back. When she flounders, give her the feedback she needs to ground her feet firmly on the path to success. No one of us can change the game single-handedly, but together walls will crumble and barriers will yield.
- Recruit a Man. Why let this play out as “us against them”? Businesses need top talent, and (judging on college graduation rates) more than half of the top talent in the U.S. is female. Bring a man along with you to a conference or a seminar. Engage men in your company’s women’s initiative. Ask them how to level the playing field.
- In Every Situation, Stop to Ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” If your meeting, your team, your executive ranks or your board doesn’t mirror the complexion of your customers or the constituents of your community, then say so. Have the conversation. Your company and your country need you to do exactly this.
Written by: Alexandra Roddy, PBWC Board Vice Chair & Global Head of Marketing for Prologis8