Women As Leaders Event

A Night for Women As Leaders 

It’s now more critically important than ever to deeply understand the actual issues facing leaders in the San Diego region, particularly those faced by STEM leaders who happen to be women.

Athena gathered data on the workplace experiences of women in leadership in its Women As Leaders Survey in partnership with UCSD Sociologist Dr. Mary Blair-Loy. Professional women in San Diego took the survey, the majority of whom work in STEM professions, are from Generation X, with a master's or bachelor's degree and have already met professional goals but are still interested in career advancement.

On Thursday, June 29, Athena hosted a panel of star business women in San Diego to discuss the results of the survey. On the panel were Debra Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the North San Diego Business Chamber, Judy Thompson, President and Founder of Thompson Financial Search, and Annette Winn, Senior Consultant of Compensia. The panel was moderated by Sarah de Crescenzo of the San Diego Business Journal.

Some survey statistics were telling of how much work needs to be done to resolve major issues for women leaders in the San Diego region. However, the panel began by discussing positive changes the panelists had seen in the San Diego market throughout their careers.

Judy Thompson has over 35 years' experience as a recruiter. She says that when she began she was told by men in the field that she would not be taken seriously. Thompson says that this was fact, not simply discrimination, because the field of accounting and finance was male-dominated at the time. Thompson believes that in San Diego she has seen a "dramatic change for the better." There were almost no women CFOs or partners in firms in the San Diego county of the 1970s, she says. [STAT]. The survey found that 29% of its participants have a professional goal to reach a C-suite position.

Annette Winn says she fell into her role as a compensation consultant when she came out of school. "A lot of people have shifted how they think about what they want to do by getting more educated, more aware, more passion, more purpose at a much younger age," she says.

The survey asked what the most influential factor in your success has been. Results were varying, but 22% said "Hard work," another 16% said "Constantly exceeding expectations," and 14% said "A willingness to take risks." Winn believes this reflects a positive change in the market, that women can pick a career they want and go get it.

Debra Rosen remembers being ambitious in her career from the start. "I never thought about being a woman or a man," she shared. "I just went after what I wanted."

Nine years ago, Rosen proposed the idea for a San Diego Women's Week to the North San Diego Business Chamber. The idea was incomprehensible and irrelevant to the board initially, she reflects. In the Week's first years, Rosen was reaching out mostly to males in the departments of major companies for sponsors. Now, she says, 90% of the people she works with for sponsorship for the Week are women–-in companies such as SHARP, Oracle, Scripps, Sony or Mercedes-Benz.

There are tangible examples of change in how women have become more prominent as leaders in business in recent years, yet survey-takers believed that fear and an unconscious bias in the work-place were holding them back. However, 71% were interested in career advancement.

That being said, each person has a different vision of career advancement or success; some value being the best where they are while maintaining a balanced life, others value linear advancement in their field. Panelists agreed that each lifestyle requires a good company culture, being indispensable to your company, and the support of a mentor to get you there.

The survey asked participants, "Where do you feel you need help with your career?" Results showed that 23% believe they need help with negotiation skills and 18% with management skills.

Athena's powerful network of STEM women is the perfect asset. Winn urged the attendees to join Athena's FEW mentorship groups. "Find someone you want to emulate," Thompson advised.

When it comes to equal pay, 38% of survey-takers believe they are making an equal amount to their male counterparts. Interestingly, another 37% said they didn't know. Thompson believes that even employers often don't know what they should be paying; discrepancies may not be intentional. "Become educated and know your worth," said Thompson.

She suggests finding a recruiter that specializes in your position, and to simply ask the Human Resources department in a company how they came up with the figure for your compensation. Both Thompson and Winn agreed that using the resources of Athena, such as job postings, will make a huge difference in this process of understanding your market worth.

"I think what's missing to close the pay gap is the discussion that's coming" from studies being done on the issue, Winn said. Thirteen major tech companies--such as Adobe, Amazon, Google and Apple--have pledged to study the issue of pay-gap. Winn shared that these companies are finding the discrepancies and closing the gap. Companies can lead by taking action, with tangible results toward change.

Discussions such as these will pave the way for future successful exploration of issues faced by women leaders in the work place. Key takeaways from the Women as Leaders Panel are to know your worth as a professional, to understand pay laws, and to become a member of Athena's network of professional women in STEM.

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