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.
Pasadena City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin helped kick off the first of five interactive discussion panels, which included keynote speakers, on honing skill sets about leadership, teamwork, confidence and character. Feeling the high of the United States’ recent win in the Women’s World Cup final, McAustin drew upon the moment the team cemented its second consecutive championship.
“We all felt that winning goal … This is a historic moment for women. This is our moment,” McAustin told an enthusiastic crowd of young women from the 50-yard line of the Rose Bowl Stadium’s iconic field. “The challenge for women today is not just to seize the moment but to leverage that moment into a new reality, when women are the majority on corporate boards in government, in science and even in sports. You, as the leaders of the next generation, will make that happen.”
She seemed to refer to controversy about the women’s soccer team and the constant criticism it faced during the World Cup, for celebrating too loudly, or politicizing its efforts to receive equal pay.
“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,” she said. “This is our moment and we cannot celebrate too loudly or fight too hard.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger shared 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.
She joined three other women panelists at a morning session to discuss leadership, challenges and fear of failure, and encouraged their young 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.
BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE
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, 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.”
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.”
Zhang also encouraged people to communicate and share experiences along the way, adding, “Not every business meeting is a deal or has an objective; sometimes it’s just to learn and share.”
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 and located near the Rose Bowl Stadium entrance.
The sheer number of symposium panelists, ranging from corporate CEOs to athletes to politicians to sports broadcasters and TV 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, 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.
TAKE CHANCES, SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES
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.
Speaking to The Outlook on the sidelines of the event, Stevens, whose three children include two daughters, said she believes strongly in the Rose Bowl’s leap to host the inspirational event, and its commitment to host more educational forums in the future.
“I couldn’t be more excited — we’re touching on ethics, equality, doing the right thing … we have an opportunity for the Rose Bowl to encapsulate everything that it is, which is leadership, celebrating the ethics of doing what’s right, making difficult decisions. … This is the next step with the Rose Bowl Institute, to bring all the gifts that the Rose Bowl has to a higher level, to make this place a better world, not just for some people but for all people,” Stevens said. “Starting with a group of young women and inspiring them to go out and evolve and make change, to me that is the perfect way to do it.”
ONCE UPON A TIME
Throughout the day, 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 rousing 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 was told she shouldn’t play basketball, especially, and that she could get breast cancer from getting hit in the chest. She faced a barrage of criticism throughout her life, 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 even the first woman to try out for the NBA, which ultimately, she did not achieve. But it opened other doors of opportunity for her.
“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.”
THE NEXT GENERATION
Looking toward the future of female leadership, IBM Apple Partnership Director Linda Rasmussen told the young women participants to be bold and embrace their youth and way of looking at the world.
While at the event, she announced her company’s $39 billion acquisition of Redhat that day, a deal that will help position IBM as an industry leader in the hybrid cloud and open systems.
“I expect this next generation of women to bring new ideas and not be afraid to change what they see. I want to learn from them,” Rasmussen said. “I talked to them this morning about disrupting markets. Don’t be content with how things have always been done or things that used to be traditional.”
Meanwhile, business entrepreneur Angela Miller, of Angela Miller Insurance and Financial Services, was there to share some of her early experiences, including moving — when she was a single mom with two children — from a small town in Arkansas to Los Angeles, where the job she’d agreed to take turned out not to be what was promised. She wanted to leave the young women with hope that they can succeed in business, in life, and even as mothers, if they wish.
“It’s an honor to be here and look at all these amazing women … it’s nice to share our experiences, our successes and our failures. I don’t think you’re ever too old to learn new things,” she said. “There’s a lot of pressure in today’s society to be the very best, but you don’t get to be the best until you’ve fallen a few times — and you’ve got to fall — your mistakes will help you evolve to be better. You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at the same time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”