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 that nearly 40 top women industry leaders shared this past week 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.
Los Angeles County Supervisor and San Marino resident Kathryn Barger helped kick off the first of five interactive discussion panels, which included keynote speakers, on honing skill sets regarding leadership, teamwork, confidence and character. Barger touched on some poignant moments of her career struggles, 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,’” she told the crowd. “I was no different. I’m glad I listened, because I got to continue doing what I love to do.”
Barger, who serves the 5th Supervisorial District — the county’s largest, spanning some 2,800 square miles — was the only woman to run for the seat in the 2016 election, in which she faced seven opponents. Barger and Janice Hahn, elected that year to the 4th District, would help form the first ever female-majority L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
She joined three other female panelists on the 50-yard line of the iconic Rose Bowl’s field to discuss fear of failure, and encouraged the eager listeners not to let that deter them from following their dreams.
“When I decided to run, fear was a real factor, because I knew that my life was going to change … no one likes to be criticized, especially in public. The fear of failure is always there, but being a leader involves taking that leap of faith,” she noted, adding that she still bore scars from losing a race for secretary of her high school student council, a remark that garnered sympathetic laughs.
At the morning session, the supervisor initiated a theme to which panelists returned throughout the day: Know your own worth, and seek compensation for it. Barger said 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, and the worst thing they can say is ‘No, but come back to us later.’ And then your response should be ‘What do I need to do in order to earn that raise?’” she continued. “Women oftentimes don’t know what their worth is.”
The event, held in collaboration with the L.A. Galaxy Foundation, was a precursor to the unveiling the next day of a statue honoring the U.S.’ 1999 Women’s World Cup championship team. The memorial is located near the Rose Bowl Stadium entrance and a grassy knoll where thousands come to stroll and children play soccer on the weekends.
The 1999 Cup final against China, said to be the most-watched women’s sporting event in history to date, was held before a sold-out Rose Bowl crowd reported at 90,000. The hard-fought game was won in a climactic shootout, and the crowd went wild as the U.S.’ Brandi Chastain shot the decisive goal and ripped off her shirt to celebrate, something she had seen her male counterparts do time and again.
That riveting moment was recalled vividly by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in an address that concluded the symposium. Wardlaw had attended the championship game to see the “99ers,” and even brought her then 4-year-old daughter. Now grown, Katie Wardlaw, who worked for a period at the FBI and is applying to law school, played soccer her entire life after witnessing the 99ers take that championship, serving as co-captain at Polytechnic School and going on to play for four years at Williams College, where her team won numerous awards. She introduced her mother with a sentimental tribute that represented an episode of family history coming full circle.
“When I asked my mom why she decided to bring me to the 1999 World Cup, she said it was because she wanted to give me role models of my own,” Katie Wardlaw recalled, then referred to her mother as a woman who “has never ceased to fight and advocate for justice … because of her, I grew up believing I could do anything as a strong woman in this world.”
When Kim Wardlaw took the podium, she acknowledged the powerful and accomplished women who came to lend their voices and support to the symposium.
“It is humbling to be among so many women of achievement in so many diverse fields, who’ve given so generously of their time to serve today as role models and mentors and to share their life lessons with all of us,” she noted.
The sheer number of those participants, ranging from corporate CEOs to professional athletes to politicians to sports broadcasters and producers, also shows the enormous capacity for giving back among the 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 symposium, he said, commenting that he was also learning how to be a better leader, family man and husband just 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.
“Sports entertainment is a unifier, a unifier of people and ideas and happiness, and we need to leverage that and package it in a way where we can give back and empower, excite and inspire the next generation, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Brozino said.
Barger added to that sentiment, noting how happy and proud she is to help boost the next generation of female leaders: “I’m just warming the chair for them,” she noted.
Throughout the day, while many of the panelists expressed their joy and admiration for the U.S.’ 2019 Women’s World Cup champions, they also harked back to the women who made early advances in sports, making it possible for the 99ers and this year’s squad to follow.
One of those women, Olympian and Basketball Hall of Fame member Ann Meyers Drysdale, gave a rousing lunchtime speech followed by a Q&A, sharing some of her most personal early struggles. She recalled all the times when, growing up in the 1960s and early ’70s, she was told she shouldn’t play sports. She was told she shouldn’t play basketball, especially, and even was told she could get breast cancer from getting hit in the chest.
“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.”
Kim Wardlaw also concluded her speech with words of encouragement, while recognizing the hardships some of the women may still encounter.
“Prepare yourself to be the best that you can be as you face the challenges and obstacles that you surely will face in this world in which we still must fight for equality,” she said. “Be resilient and determined to make your dream happen and seize all the opportunities that will come your way.”