Industry Focus: Power Women

A group of Nevada’s power women recently met at the offices of Gordon Silver to discuss the trends and obstacles facing their industry.
STANDING: Jennifer Ko Craft, Gordon Silver; Whitney Thier, CG Technologies; Tina Quigley, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern NevadaConnie Brennan, Nevada Business Magazine; Patricia Farley, Southwest Specialties, Inc; Cathy Jones, Sun Commercial Real EstateRenee Coffman, Roseman University; Marily Mora, Reno-Tahoe International Airport; Katie Lever, Bally Technologies; Jackie Delaney, Atalyst Commercial Mortgage; SITTING: Tracy Larkin-Thomason, Nevada Department of Transportation; Jan Jones Blackhurst, Caesars Entertainment Corporation; Teri Brenkus, Keller Williams Realty - The Brenkus Team; Julie Murray, Moonridge Group Philanthropy Builders; Carole Fisher, Nathan Adelson Hospice

Women executives are no longer a novelty in board rooms. They represent a growing percentage of businesses across the state. Nevertheless, women face a unique set of challenges and many believe the glass ceiling has not yet shattered. Recently, a group of successful female executives met at the Las Vegas offices of Gordon Silver to discuss issues facing women in business.

Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. Theses monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.

Is the Good Ol’ Boy network still in place?

Julie Murray: If we look at corporate america, the percentage is still heavy with men. Even here at 2014, there’s still a strong Good Ol’ Boy network and a lot of that in existence. But, all it takes is that one woman being at the top and bringing in another.

Tracy Larkin-Thomason: The Good Ol’ Boy network exists, but I noted that, when I had left a position, I had five different women come up and say, “Thank you so much for helping me.” I had subconsciously started a Good Ol’ Girl network by reaching out and bringing them in.

Marily Mora: In Reno, there are many more women’s networks. In the airport industry [for example], we have a growing number of women that run airports; we have an informal network of about 35 women that have a monthly conference call and meet at industry events. What has changed is women now have their own groups that they belong to.

Jan Jones Blackhurst: If you can drive your own outcomes it is much easier to move up than it is in a corporate environment. It’s concerning to me at times when I hear young women say, “There is no more glass ceiling. It’s an even playing field.” Well, they should walk into most of the meetings that I sit in.

Murray: It’s about providing opportunities for women to play an active role on boards. The International Women’s Forum has a program where they want to understand which women are interested in serving on boards so there can be an active movement to have more women at the table.

Carole Fisher: In healthcare, we’re being more intentional and making sure women are aligned and have seats on boards. Women just have to be more intentional, it seems, than men in their efforts.

Are there advantages to being a certified woman-owned business?

Patricia Farley: It hasn’t done a tremendous amount for me. My relationships within the construction industry do more for me, though that’s more in Nevada and less a national phenomenon. The construction here in the state doesn’t necessarily look for small businesses or women-owned businesses to partner with. To be quite honest, contractors think that people who use the designation actually make it more complicated for the transaction.

How important is mentoring and advocating for other women?

Cathy Jones: By personality, women don’t tend to self-promote well. I’ve been fortunate to work with companies where I feel like I’ve had men sponsoring me and promoting who I am, and it’s given me confidence. The thing that I can do is to mentor and sponsor women when it’s appropriate and make that change by being a part of the solution. Having an awareness of our general nature and then trying to change that is how we’re going to make a difference.

Murray: Right now I have two young women from UNLV that are interning and I take them to every meeting no matter what level it is to expose them to some exciting projects. Mentoring the college students is also helpful.

Katie Lever: Women advocate both for themselves and others differently than men do. I run a mentoring program for global gaming women and it’s hugely important, but equally important is advocacy. Women do it very differently and it’s a different voice. It goes to pay inequity and it goes to rising up in our roles. Advocacy is something women really specialize in. We all can look at that as voices that we have that are so different from men and use that in order to push other women forward.

What progress has been made for women since the 1980’s?

Connie Brennan: Many of you, myself included, started your career in the 80’s. Julie and I worked together straight out of college. Things have definitely changed since the 80’s when we had to wake up every morning and put on pantyhose and three-inch heels.

Mora: You’ve got regulations and policies that you didn’t have back in the early 80’s.

Jones Blackhurst: When I was first elected mayor, white women earned 78 cents on the dollar, African-American women earned 68 cents and Hispanic women earned 58 cents on the dollar. Twenty years later, the pay disparity hasn’t moved. It’s due to a combination of things, including not being our own advocates, or becoming comfortable with the title because at least you have a seat. There are less than five women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies; the number has gone backwards, not forwards. There is something we should be doing as a group that begins to change both the perception and the treatment [of women] across the board.

Teri Brenkus: In residential real estate, the more successful individuals are women. However, when the economy changed and shifted towards real estate owned properties (REOs), banks were representing banks. Then it was about who was representing these banks and it shifted to predominately men and now it’s shifting back again.

Jennifer Ko Craft: It really depends on the business that you’re in and the company that you work with. For me, at Gordon Silver, it’s a very transparent system. I know what each of my partners make and I don’t think I’m discriminated against or pushed down in terms of compensation or respect because I’m a female. It does depend on the industry.

Larkin-Thomason: I worked on a construction crew in the early 80’s. I was flat out told I was the only woman on the job and I would be the decision maker for whether there would be another woman on the job. They had said they had had enough and I was the last chance. I was not talked to until four to five weeks later when they finally decided I could pull my own weight. Thirty years later, I’m still in construction. By the way, they did bring on more women. A lot of that attitude is still out there and has not disappeared. You can force someone on a team but you can’t always make them play.

How does family influence the careers of women?

Renee Coffman: For those of us that have daughters that see us going out and doing what we’re doing, that’s the best mentorship we can do. I went to college and was a pharmacist, then went back and got a Ph.D. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do that because nobody ever told me I couldn’t do that.

Murray: A lot of us take our kids to events. We just incorporate our children into the work that we’re doing and then they grow up and become these really active members of their community. You wonder where they got that from.

Mora: The daughters are more self-sufficient. They know they have to have a career and earn their own way.

Is it possible to maintain a work-life balance?

Farley: We select ourselves out of the career track because women opt to have families and choose other paths. We don’t do enough to make sure there are opportunities. The smartest thing I ever did was ask for part-time or consulting work so that I could achieve life balance and continue to grow my career. Most women think it’s one choice or another. We don’t teach women to ask for special accommodations for work-life balance even though there are options for that. More women would stay in the professional world if they could balance more time at home.

Jones Blackhurst: I’m one of two women on our 10-member executive committee at Caesars Entertainment. Every single person, including the other woman, has a spouse who is a full-time CEO of the house. That’s why a lot of women opt out of the corporate workforce. They’ll start their own businesses, become entrepreneurs or they’ll go on a path that gives them the ability to rise to the top more easily and quickly.

Brennan: My husband and I have 10 children and I have had six teenage daughters at home at the same time. I was happy to go to work. What happens is your kids grow up to be these amazing people and they’re just really proud of you.

Tina Quigley: I work a lot of hours and I’m married to a pilot, so when he’s in town I have CEO dad but when he’s out of town I’m a single mom. My parents moved here to help me out and there is absolutely no way I would be able to do the job that I have without my parents. It takes a village. Even though it’s my parents helping to raise my kids and they love them as much as I do, guilt is constantly there.

Mora: A lot of men are successful because they have the women at home, but more men have picked up those responsibilities. Over the years I’ve seen much more of the sharing when both parents are working. There are men that need those accommodations as well.

How competitive are women?

Brennan: Women should be helping and mentoring each other. I notice, especially in younger women, how they’re almost fighting each other. Instead of trying to help each other up the ladder, they’re holding each other back.

Lever: I see it with men. They are at each other. It’s interesting because in our organization there are unique ways to rise up. Yet, the men are enormously competitive and the women are very, very supportive.

Craft: I don’t think there’s a lot of in-fighting. There are fewer of us and because of that we’re much more close-knit. We’re more inclined to network and help each other. I find that it’s more the men that are competitive.

Larkin-Thomason: In the public sector, I’ve seen both and it tends to be the personality of women. I’ve seen them at each other’s throats, yet others will go out of their way to help not just other females, but anyone who comes across their path. They’re just open enough and confident enough in themselves.

Jones: In commercial real estate, there’s a lot of camaraderie among women. I can’t think of any situation where there isn’t a lot of support for each other and encouraging people to grow their business.

What are the benefits of having women in executive roles?

Jones Blackhurst: Having women involved in the decision-making process at the highest levels is going to have a different and largely better outcome because we approach solutions from a different perspective.

Fisher: Women are also more inclusive in the decision-making.

Whitney Thier: There was a study that compared companies with more women on their boards versus those with fewer women on their boards. They were much more financially successful with more women.

What do women’s futures look like in the corporate world?

Quigley: We’re going to continue having this conversation until we’ve got a sense of equality and let go of the guilt that comes with raising kids, and we allow the dads to be responsible and expect them to be responsible.

Murray: I look at the difference between my mom’s generation and my daughter’s generation. I listen to the young women getting together who are very assertive and persistent in their careers, and this next generation that’s in college and graduating is pretty fierce. These women will be paving a way that was difficult for me and much more difficult for my mother’s generation, so I’m optimistic.