Leadership Issues for Women of Color

CAP-woc-panelI’ve known the statistic for a long time, but it never ceases to amaze me each time I see it in black and white: just 4.5 percent of members of Congress are women of color. Out of 535 people, there are 13 African American women, seven Latinas, and four Asian Pacific American women. That’s not a minority – it’s a minisculority (if such a word existed). The issue, of course, is that women of color make up 18.4 percent of the US population. It makes you wonder when the House of Representatives – and all of the other branches of government – will actually represent all of the American people.

The disparity in population and representation is evident outside of the world of politics, too. Latinas make up just five percent of Fortune 500 boards. According to Catalyst, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color on their boards (10 percent have no women at all!). And while the number of women of color who are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fluctuates year-to-year, there are never more than a handful.

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress brought together a diverse group of women to have a conversation about leadership, mentoring, executive presence and the changing face of female influence. At the heart of the discussion was a concern that in the media, academic and business worlds, the experiences of white women have become stand-ins for all women – a fact that further complicates the challenges posed by gender bias. When it comes to inclusion and diversity, the voices and experiences of women across racial and socioeconomic lines must be taken into consideration.

The conversation was engaging, wide-ranging and way too short! Here are my three favorite a-ha moments:

If you don’t see yourself in government, you won’t think you belong there. Diana Hwang, co-founder and executive director of the Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative, made this point after sharing the story of her father’s reaction to the news that she’d landed her first job as an aide to a state representative. “You’ll never be one of them,” he told her sadly.

There are currently just 43 Asian women currently serving in elective offices at state and national levels (this number includes Congress, state legislators, statewide elective executive offices, and mayors of the 100 largest cities). It’s no wonder Diana’s father was concerned she’d only have the opportunity to work for an elected official – not be one.

When it comes to leadership, we are still telling women to fit in. Ella Edmondson Bell, associate professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and founder and president of ASCENT, said that cookie cutter behaviors and expectations don’t work. Yes, women have to be aware of cultural norms and expectations (in her words, knowing when to put on the pearls and the pink St. John’s suit). But we should not and cannot be expected to act just like the white men who currently hold most leadership positions.

We will never succeed if we do not have the courage to try. Val Demings was the first woman to be appointed chief of police in Orlando. She described “growing up poor, black and female” and the courage it took to go to Florida State University, to join the police force and to become police chief. After retiring from the Orlando Police Department, she ran for Congress in 2012. But it was not an easy decision. She shared that women typically have to be asked seven times to run for office before they’ll begin to consider it – and she was no different. She didn’t win her congressional race, but remains undeterred. She’s currently a candidate for Orange County mayor. Demings says that the three keys to anyone’s success are: courage, preparation and opportunity. Click here to watch her speech.

I think that’s great advice that can be applied beyond the individual level. As voters, consumers, managers, the owners of companies, taxpayers, etc., we all have a stake in seeing more women of color in leadership positions and the power to make that happen – plus, diversity has been proven to be beneficial to companies, organizations and societies. We can create a truly representative community by ensuring that there are plenty of prepared women in the leadership pipelines, by giving them opportunities to move up ladders, and by having the courage to make long-term investments in people.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 24, 2014

Q: Which female Supreme Court Justice was the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court?

A: Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor earned a B.A. from Princeton University and her J.D. from Yale Law School. President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed this role August 8, 2009, making her the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice.

Transition at The Women’s Foundation – Message From the Board Chair

Nicky Goren, president of The Women’s Foundation, has announced her plan to leave the Foundation. Her departure completes a four year tenure highlighted by operational achievements, fundraising success and a commitment to serving economically vulnerable women and girls in our region. Beginning tomorrow, Vice President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat will serve as interim president at The Women’s Foundation.

Nicky has accepted a position as president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, effective July 1. We are grateful to her for the leadership and expertise she brought to The Women’s Foundation during an important period in its evolution. She leaves behind an organization that is operationally resilient and efficient, strengthened in the pursuit of its mission, and characterized by an exceptional team, tenacious in their purpose.

The rest of the board and I are confident that, under Jennifer’s leadership, the Foundation will continue to deliver innovative programs and services that ensure that economically vulnerable women and girls in our community are on a path to prosperity. Over the next 60 days, Jennifer and Nicky will work closely to ensure that the transition period runs smoothly.

Jennifer joined The Women’s Foundation in 2008, and has since provided strategic guidance and leadership across the Foundation, while heading up its programs, major gifts and development functions of the organization. With her at the helm, The Women’s Foundation will continue its long history of outstanding commitment to serving the needs of our community.

In the coming months, you will hear more about this transition from Jennifer, Nicky and me. The board will move quickly to select a permanent president, and we will update you on that process, as well. If you have any questions or concerns during this time period, please reach out to communications@wawf.org.

Finally, I want to say thank you. For more than 15 years, The Women’s Foundation has benefited from great leadership, community partnerships and support, and from our shared commitment to making our region a better, more equitable place for women and girls.Thank you for your continued support. By standing together, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of the hundreds-of-thousands of women and girls who live in poverty.

Click here to read the message we shared with the media today. And click here to learn more about Jennifer.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 19, 2014

Q: Who was the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman elected to Congress?

A: Patsy Mink, a third generation Japanese American, represented Hawaii in the U.S. House 12 times.  With her election in 1965, Mink became the first woman of color to join the ranks of Congress. In 1972, she became the first Asian American to seek the Democratic nomination for President, running as an anti-war candidate.  The Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act was named after Mink.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 18, 2014

Q: Which female athlete became the first to score more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon and still holds the women’s heptathlon world record?

A: Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Joyner-Kersee set the world record for heptathlon in 1986 and broke her own record three times after that, finally setting the current world record in 1988 that has remained unbroken since. She is a four time Olympian and has six Olympic medals – three gold, one silver, and two bronze. Sports Illustrated voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 17, 2014

Q: Who is the first female chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia?

A: Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. Chief Lanier hails from Tuxedo, Maryland in Prince George’s County and is a strong leader and inspiration to many. Lanier left school when she became a mother at the age of 15. She went on to pursue her GED at the University of the District of Columbia and continued her studies there and at Prince George’s Community College. Lanier has both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in management from Johns Hopkins University and holds a Master of Arts in national security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Lanier became Chief of Police in 2007 and during her tenure has seen a 53 percent reduction in homicides, ending the year of 2012 with a total not seen since 1961.

NASA Administrator Bolden: Women of NASA Inspire Girls to Dream

Charles_F._Bolden,_JrMaj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., (USMC-Ret.) is the 12th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

It’s appropriate for NASA that the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month celebration is “Women of Character.”  The women of our nation’s space program have made countless sacrifices to advance our nation, and their expertise and dedication have been crucial to our many successes in exploration.

I was fortunate to fly to space twice – STS-31 and STS-45 – with the distinguished Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, now the NOAA Administrator, and on my final Shuttle mission – STS-60, the historic first joint U.S.-Russian Shuttle mission – I had Mission Specialist Dr. Jan Davis on my crew.  From these flights, we formed strong bonds that we will share all our lives. The addition of women to our astronaut corps has only enhanced and strengthened what we can accomplish.

Our latest group of Astronaut Candidates is 50% women, the highest percentage ever, and we hope to maintain that level of representation well into the future.  It is no secret that the requirement that our earliest astronauts be military test pilots essentially precluded applications from women.  It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as part of a Space Shuttle Challenger mission, STS-7, to deploy communications satellites.

Since then, there have been 43 NASA women astronauts who have taken that leap and proven, as Amelia Earhart once said, that men and women were equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”

NASA is a major employer of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline.  The women of NASA to me represent character of the highest order.  From those who lost their lives in the cause of exploration, to those who are working on tomorrow’s missions and training to travel to new destinations where we’ve never been, our future in space depends on them.

There were a lot of female pioneers before the space age, and I like to think that the great aviator, Amelia Earhart, whom I quoted earlier, was alive today, there is a good chance she would be a NASA astronaut.  She was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean, in 1935, and disappeared in 1937 attempting to fly around the world.

I say that she would have been an astronaut, not only because of her passion for breaking barriers of possibility in flight, but also for her determination to break barriers of exclusion here on Earth.  At a time when women and minorities were rarely seen in the cockpit of an airplane, Amelia Earhart’s pioneering achievements broke the silence barrier, inspired a nation and paved the way for so many others who have followed in her path.

The spirit and curiosity of Amelia Earhart lives on through the women aeronautics researchers who continue to break new ground.  These are women, for instance, working to find solutions to lowering the level of sonic booms so that someday, commercial planes can fly at supersonic speeds over land.  They’re also working on technologies to improve air traffic flow and reduce delays and designing more aerodynamic aircraft to reduce fuel use and emissions.  These women of NASA are not only making valuable contributions to our aeronautics program, they are an inspiration to others and are helping close the gender gap in the STEM professions.

You can read about many more NASA women at women.nasa.gov.

I’m grateful that if you look through the biographies of all the astronauts who have ever been, you’ll find not only Sally Ride, but also Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space; Peggy Whitson, who has logged 377 days in space, the most of any woman, and became the first woman to become the Chief of the Astronaut Office; and Suni Williams, holding the record for spacewalks by a woman and most accumulated spacewalk time by a woman.  There you’ll also find Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnick, who lost their lives on space missions.  Among the newest entrants in those biographies, you’ll find our newest astronauts Serena Aunon, Jeanette Epps and Kate Rubins, who, along with the 4 women among the Astronaut Candidates of 2013, represent our future.  There are many others.

I hope that girls reading this – particularly my three beautiful and talented granddaughters, Mikaley, Kyra and Talia – will feel that they can join the conversation about space and science and technology just as much as the boys; that they can take the classes and dream about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics if that’s where their passion lies and that they know they too can fly in space.  If their dream is not fixed on flying, they can work on the design of future spacecraft; or turn the bolts on those spacecraft, or perhaps be the ones interpreting the scientific data that a spacecraft millions of miles away is sending back.

STEM, and space, are broad and inclusive.  We invite everyone with a passion to explore to follow our missions and know it is possible for them to be part of aeronautics and space exploration.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 14, 2014

Q: Who is the longest serving woman in the history of the United States Congress?

A: Maryland’s own, Senator Barbara Mikulski. Senator Mikulski has served in the Senate since 1987, and before that served in the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987.  It was her re-election in 2010 that allowed her to surpass one of our earlier Women’s History Month Q&A answers, Margaret Chase Smith, as the longest-serving female senator.


A Slice of STEM on 3.14

Pi_pie2There are a few labels I will wear proudly, and “nerd” is one of them.  Tonight I am headed to a local restaurant called Science Club for a Pi Day celebration – an activity that I would say lands pretty high on the list of “10 ways to tell you’re a nerd.” I’m going to this Pi Day celebration to meet up with my fellow high school alumni from the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS) that have found themselves living in the DC region.

TAMS is a residential math and science intensive school that is publicly funded and available to any Texas high school student for their junior and senior years.  The program is housed at the University of North Texas, where students complete college coursework taught by university faculty. I hold this program near and dear to my heart, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of such a great school.

I see programs like TAMS as a fantastic way to encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies. In 2012, women made up just 5.5% of mechanical engineers, 8.8% of electrical engineers, and 13% of civil engineers. The picture is slightly better in chemical engineering and environmental sciences, with women making up 22.3% and 28.9% of those occupations respectively, but still nowhere near equal representation[1]. The need for more women in STEM professions is huge.  Women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.  Programs like TAMS have the opportunity to spark a love for STEM from a young age.

That is not to say that all girls who attend a program like TAMS will choose to pursue engineering or careers as scientists.  I am a good example of such a person who chose a different path, but the experience was still invaluable to me. TAMS allowed me and other young girls like me a safe space to proudly proclaim, “I’m a nerd!” and hear it echoed by our peers. I was able to foster a love for math that has pushed me to teach a weekly math class to adult learners pursuing their GED (at Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner Academy of Hope), and more than anything, it has made me a strong advocate for greater access to STEM programs and jobs for girls and women, something I joyfully get to do in my current role with The Women’s Foundation.

Happy Pi Day to all my fellow nerds out there!

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, 2012