Facing fears, confronting naysayers and seizing opportunities, as well as harboring doubts and insecurities about self-worth and appearance, were just a few of the enlightening and intimate experiences nearly 40 top women industry leaders shared recently with about 100 young female students at the Rose Bowl Women’s Empowerment Symposium.
Hosted by the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation and its new educational arm, the Rose Bowl Institute, the inaugural event was created to help teach young women how they might take heart, dig deep and lean in to achieve goals and become future leaders.
La Cañada Flintridge resident and Western Asset Management Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Murphy took center stage at the Rose Bowl Stadium 50-yard line to help kick off a full day of five interactive discussion panels, which included keynote speakers, on honing skill sets about leadership, teamwork, confidence and character.
Murphy lent her encouragement to the crowd of college and high school students, noting that as an executive, she has seen the business panorama change to incorporate more young people with technology and social media savvy.
“When I started out, experience was the key thing; that’s not true anymore. What I need to know most right now is what you know — what you know without even knowing you know it,” she said. “Some of the most important projects we’re doing now at Western Asset are partnerships with young people.”
Together with a panel of three other leading women executives and two of the area’s women politicians, Murphy shared experiences to discuss leadership, challenges and fear of failure, and together the group encouraged their young listeners not to let fear deter them from following their dreams.
Pasadena City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin gave a rousing opening speech, drawing on the United States’ recent win in the Women’s World Cup final and its second consecutive championship.
“We all felt that winning goal … This is a historic moment for women. This is our moment,” McAustin told the enthusiastic crowd. “Imagine a world where decisions about women are made by women and a culture of violence is replaced with a culture of collaboration and cooperation. Imagine yourself in charge. This is our moment and we cannot celebrate too loudly or fight too hard.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was also on hand to share some poignant moments of her career struggles with the young women, including taking the leap to run for office.
“Men often wake up and say, ‘I’m going to run for office,’ whereas women, more often than not, have to be approached and told ‘You should consider running for office.’ I was no different,” said Barger, who was the only woman among eight candidates to run for the 5th Supervisorial District seat in the 2016 election. “The fear of failure is always there, but being a leader involves taking that leap of faith,” she continued, adding that she still bore scars from losing an election for secretary of her high school student council, a remark that garnered sympathetic laughs.
Throughout the day, another theme to which panelists returned repeatedly was: Know your own worth, and seek compensation for it. Barger related that after earning her first job in public service, it took her six years to ask her boss for a raise. When she finally did, he told her, “I was waiting for you to ask.”
“That’s the way it was 30 years ago. It’s important to advocate for yourself because nobody else is going to. Women oftentimes don’t know what their worth is.”
Alibaba Pictures President Wei Zhang recounted some of her hardships in coming alone from China to the U.S. to study and learn English, working her way through college by waiting tables, and even forgoing her initial dream of working in entertainment media to pursue a more practical path in business and finance. She encouraged the young women to never give up on a dream, even if they don’t get it right away.
“Have your big dreams. Sometimes you can start out with a practical path, and then take that leap later,” she said, adding that dealing with difficult people along the way taught her resilience. “For some time, I didn’t appreciate the people who gave me a hard time. But once you’ve been through that, you will be so much stronger.”
The symposium, held in collaboration with the L.A. Galaxy Foundation, was a precursor to the unveiling of the statue honoring the U.S.’ 1999 Women’s World Cup championship team. The memorial is located near the Rose Bowl Stadium entrance.
The impressive number of symposium panelists, ranging from high-level corporate executives to athletes to politicians to broadcasters and producers, shows the enormous capacity for giving back among women who achieve high levels of success, noted Dedan Brozino, the Rose Bowl’s chief development officer.
“Getting this group of tremendous women panelists together was actually one of the easier parts” of organizing the empowerment event, Brozino said, adding that he was also learning from listening to the women’s impactful stories. “There’s so much to be shared here. We want these young women to walk away today feeling inspired that they can confidently approach life with a different bounce in their step than when they walked in here this morning.”
The Rose Bowl will continue to explore opportunities to educate through the Rose Bowl Institute, as well as possibly make the women’s symposium an annual event, he added.
Aon Global Vice President Lisa Stevens advised audience members that even when they reach a mid-career moment, it’s important to take chances, make changes and seize opportunities to keep learning. Making mistakes along the way is all part of a bigger picture, she said.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn just as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes. … Sometimes you don’t get to decide or control what happens, but the one thing you can control is how you perceive things, how you respond, how you pick yourself up,” said Stevens, who also serves on the Rose Bowl Operating Co. board.
Together, the women addressed the fear of making big changes. But ultimately, making changes is how you learn and grow, Murphy said. She shared her experience of leaving a highly enviable investment job when she realized it just wasn’t right for her. Ultimately, she returned to college and found a specialty in entrepreneurship and technology that was better suited to her.
“I wasn’t the right person for that [earlier] role. … I learned after some time that it really didn’t suit my strengths. It was a difficult decision, because it was a valuable job that people were trying to get into, but leaving turned out to be the perfect decision for me,” she said, noting how important it is to know your own strengths early on.
Murphy praised the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation’s efforts to create the symposium for young women. As a mother of four children, with her youngest at Mayfield Senior School, she knows the importance of hearing life lessons outside of the classroom.
“I think having the Rose Bowl symposium is a wonderful effort to expand the educative impact, and it makes the Rose Bowl a part of our whole lives and not just athletics,” she said. “For young women to get out of the classroom and hear these experiences and advice in a different context is really helpful, especially here at the Rose Bowl field where a lot of women have never even been. So it’s putting you in a different mindset while reinforcing important issues that can add more layers to education.”
While many of the women panelists expressed their joy and admiration for this summer’s Women’s World Cup champions, they also harked back to those first women who made early advances in sports, making it possible for the “99ers” and 2019ers to follow.
One of those women, former Olympian and Basketball Hall of Fame member Ann Meyers Drysdale, gave a provoking lunchtime speech followed by a Q&A, sharing some of her most personal early struggles to the admiring audience. She recalled all the times when, growing up in the 1960s and early ’70s, she was told she shouldn’t play sports. She faced a barrage of criticism throughout her life as a woman athlete, from keeping her hair short (“It was just easier to take care of and play sports,” she noted) to acting too much like a boy.
Meyers Drysdale was also the first and only woman to sign a free-agent contract with an NBA team.
“People would say, ‘Don’t do it. You’re not good enough, you’re going to take a job away from a guy, you’re going to get hurt out there, you’re too slow, you’re too short.’ All these things I wasn’t supposed to do,” she said. Then she leaned in to emphasize: “But go ahead and try. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed and give yourself the opportunity to fail. At least if you go in and try, you’ll know what to be prepared for the next time. You have to be able to accept failure.”