By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
To get ahead, women must advocate for themselves, negotiate for equal pay, surround themselves with a supportive team and learn from mentors.
Those are a few of the tips gleaned from a panel of five executive women who have accomplished a great deal during their careers in corporate America during the Women Empowerment Through Entrepreneurship event Thursday night at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.
Ingrid Vanderveldt, former Entrepreneur in Residence at Dell and now founder & CEO of EBW2020, moderated the panel. Preston James, entrepreneur in residence with the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, Growth and Renewal, put on the event.
The glass ceiling still exists in the corporate world for women and even though they have cracked the surface, it has not yet been shattered, according to the panelists.
There’s a conference in New York called the Three Percent, because just three percent of creative directors in advertising are women, said Leslie Wingo, president and CEO of Sanders\Wingo, an advertising agency of 90 people. She said that has grown recently to 11 percent, but that’s still a fraction of where it needs to be, she said.
“That’s just cracking the surface,” Wingo said.
The glass ceiling is alive and well, said Christann M. Vasquez, president of Dell Seton Medical Center.
“I strongly believe we have a long way to go,” she said. “The demographics of the C-Suite clearly point that out.”
Women can shatter the glass ceiling by moving through their barriers and facing their fears, said Colette Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University. She moved from the corporate world into higher education and hit the glass ceiling when she didn’t have her doctorate. So at 55, she went back to school to get her PhD.
Women also must reach pay equality, said Wendy Smith, executive director of Seton Health Plan. There’s a 21 percent gap in female to male pay.
“That’s a huge focus for me,” Smith said. “That’s something that we have to have a voice on. It’s not acceptable that that gap exists.”
It’s difficult to find information on pay scales, Smith said.
“It’s hard to know even within your own corporation whether you are getting fair and equitable pay,” she said. But some online sites like Glassdoor can provide insight into industry salaries.
Don’t be shy and do your research about your salary, said Vasquez, president of Dell Seton Medical Center.
She learned a lot by reading Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean-In. In that book, Sandberg illustrates how men are more aggressive in the workplace in negotiating what they want. Women need to do the same thing, Vasquez said.
And when it came time to negotiate her salary, Vasquez said she was “very clear about what I deserved to be paid and compensated unless they only wanted me to use 75 percent of my brain.”
“Don’t be shy, it holds us back and it doesn’t give us the right seat at the table,” she said.
The book Lean In empowered Burnette to not take the first offer when negotiating her salary with Huston-Tillotson, Burnette said.
“In the workplace, you have to be upfront and advocate for yourself,” Burnette said.
Don’t apologize for being a female, she said.
“I’m a black female. I like being a black female. I’m good at being a black female. So don’t apologize for that,” Burnette said.
Vanderveldt asked the panelists to talk about a moment of self-doubt in their careers and how they overcame it.
“I have self doubt all of the time,” Wingo said. “You have two options when it comes to self doubt. You can drink a lot of wine – which works momentarily.”
“The second option, sounds a little bit like Oprah, but it worked for me,” Wingo said.
First, acknowledge the self doubt exists, then take note of when it happens and lastly write it down on a board. Then look at the list when you feel the self-doubt creeping in and it erases the self doubt because they are just meaningless words, Wingo said.
“If someone told all the means things to you that you tell yourself you would not be friends with that person,” she said. “So you need to tell yourself to shut up.”
Lynelle McKay, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Texas, said she was filled with self doubt as an engineer in the tech world. To overcome that, she created a network of people around her that could pump her back up again. A native of Hawaii, McKay ended up working in Phoenix, Arizona for Motorola in the 1980s. Her male coworkers told her the only reason she got her job was because she was a double minority. Having her kids and working full time grounded her and she realized she just had to do what was best for her family. She said she just had to focus on not letting other people bring her down.
“They are reacting to you because of the issues they have not because of you,” she said. “I realized I just needed to let it go.”
Burnette began her career as an engineer with a degree from Ohio State University. At her first job at a power plant she was hazed. Her co-workers, older white men, asked if her engineering school was accredited and took out a book to look it up. On her first day, they put her in the basement of a coal fired powered power plant.
“My first inclination was to quit,” Burnette said. But she persevered. She did tell her boss that if put her in the basement again she would tell her dad and then she would beat her boss up. After that, they gave her a different level of respect.
“I learned to have a sense of confidence in myself and not to be pushed around,” she said. “That was to discourage me. That’s what I call dream thieves and I wasn’t going to let anyone steal my dreams.”