Women in business have more opportunities than ever before and are excelling in leadership roles across a variety of industries in the Silver State while paving the way for future generations. Recently, female executives met at the Las Vegas offices of City National Bank to share their insight on the struggles facing women in business and the opportunities still ahead.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
What changes have you seen for women in business?
AVIVA GORDON: We are beneficiaries of some very strong women who came before us. When I first started practicing law here, it was most certainly a “boy’s club” in terms of litigators and on the bench. There were some women judges that were in family court or in bankruptcy court, but none in general jurisdiction. I think that has changed significantly.
DANA BENNETT: The Nevada Mining Association represents the mining industry in the state and has been in existence since 1913. I am the first woman in the role [of president] in over 100 years, so that’s a big deal. It’s a great time to be a woman in mining. These are global companies, international companies. Now mining is more brains that brawn. It used to be more about brawn not brains and brains come in all kinds of packages. You shouldn’t look at the package, it’s the brain that’s important. It’s really an exciting time to represent this industry and to talk about it as a high-tech, twenty-first century modern industry.
DREANA RESLER: Using banking as an example, it was the same players in the same positions in this town. The market has changed drastically since 2008. I am excited to see how it’s a totally different group of people taking over the community. It’s not just the old school good old boys. There’s a lot of different groups and ages and races. It’s just a different feel than it was 25 years ago when I first started.
CANDY SCHNEIDER: I’ve been in this community since I was six months old and the changes are phenomenal. From a very small town, it’s still a small community, but it has grown to be a very large town. I see absolutely no limit in the opportunities for women. The opportunity is in following their passion. Women need to find that passion and follow that and it will take them anywhere. The opportunities to open a performing arts center in this community was a dream for decades for many people, myself included.
What challenges do female professionals face?
GORDON: I would say we, as women, don’t necessarily understand what our strengths are. Not just in terms of our abilities and skills, but also in our numbers. If you look at the demographics of small businesses and of emerging businesses, women are really at the forefront. Most of my clients are small business owners and I think that is a tremendous circumstance for them to have the position of taking something from a dream to fruition on an entrepreneurial level.
TISHA BLACK: Our biggest problem as women is our own perceptions and our own self-imposed limitations. I know for myself, something happens after you’re an attorney for 15 years. You remember attorneys who were 15 years in practice when you just started and you think they know everything. So a couple years ago, I took some self inventory and I thought… this is really not that difficult. Everybody’s really not that much smarter than me. There’s no magic dust that they use. I realized at that point in time that my biggest enemy and my biggest impediment was myself. We are our own biggest problem in some respects.
MARY WINK: Women and men are still raised a little differently. I think women have a very different confidence level than men. In the mentorship roles that I’ve had, I feel like I have to push women that I’ve worked with to go for that opportunity or to ask for the money that they deserve. Although the world is changing and the culture is changing, I still think that’s a little bit of an issue. I would really like to see more women getting into the STEM fields. We have an opportunity to encourage women to do those types of things.
DANA DWIGGINS: I still think the biggest challenge for women in my field is lack of confidence and assertiveness. I think that is critical, especially if you’re going to be a litigation attorney. Clients obviously want someone who is strong and confident in their position and being able to advocate on their behalf. A holdback for women is they’re scared to speak up and speak their mind, afraid to correct people.
BENNETT: We need to know how to negotiate and that’s not something that we’re trained to do. I was talking earlier today about the job I did negotiating the terms of my own contract.
BLACK: You should have hired a female attorney.
BENNETT: The funny thing is that it never dawned on me to ask. I should have. I should have picked up the phone and called women that I knew and ask how they did the same thing. There’s a sense of plowing through the business world on my own for 20 years and I know how to do this, but I should have asked.
BJ NORTH: One of the biggest challenges for women is that they’re not realizing their full potential. There’s so much going on in Nevada with all the different corporations coming into town and creating a different culture. It’s an opportunity for women coming up and for all of us to really realize our full potential. I think it’s part of our job to make sure that we keep pushing that, opening those doors wider and mentoring women. I don’t think women do a really good job of mentoring each other and making sure that we’re pulling people up and giving them that confidence and ability.
How important is mentoring for professionals?
DWIGGINS: I could give you an example as far as mentoring. We do have one particular attorney. She works part-time and has three children. We’ve agreed to accommodate her schedule as far as allowing her to work part-time. She only works certain days a week and my firm does predominantly trust and estate litigation. Unfortunately, probate court is only held on Friday. So I have had numerous conversations with her about whether or not she wants courtroom experience to be a litigator and potentially changing her schedule so she can have some of these opportunities. Just exploring different options as far as where she wanted to take her legal career and whether or not we could help her get there by trying to accommodate her schedule so she could be exposed to different things.
SANDRA ROCHE: I’ve spent so much time at my desk working away then finally got out there with being part of the NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) organization here. We hold a lot of educational seminars and things, but we [also] have a lot of one-on-ones with people. I’m a true believer in servant leadership where you see the picture of the boss watering the plant. I feel like that’s what our organization does. That’s what I try to do, whether it’s a male or female, anyone working for me. Teaching them how to do it and what to do and they can do whatever they set their sights on, that’s most important. When people look at me and say they want to be just like me, some of it’s just me standing up and really saying what I feel and what I believe.
GORDON: We’re visible in what we do. Even if I’m not sitting across the table from somebody one-on-one mentoring them, the knowledge that there are people who have come before them, who are there, who have the resources and availability to help bring them up, being visible is enormous for both younger men and women. This is what a powerful business leader looks like.
BLACK: I’ve had younger associates that are both male and female. I don’t necessarily think mentoring changes based on their sex. It changes based on their skill set. So whatever their intellectual or social [niche] is, that’s what I try to seize upon and build up.
HELEN LIDHOLM: Mentorship, a lot of times, has to do with providing a sense of security for the person you’re mentoring. Saint Mary’s is a pretty large network. We have over 2,500 employees. I see my job as giving people the tools they need and then getting out of their way but having their backs. For example, we have created something that I’ve done for years in other hospitals too. It’s a no fault, no foul [program]. If you are an up and coming leader or are already a leader and want to try another position, we write a contract for six months, no fault, no foul, so they can go and try this new world. When you go from one clinical area to another, it’s very different. If it doesn’t work on either side, they can go back. I have about 15 of those in my career and not one of them went back. They had the sense of security so they dared to take that step. It’s worked great.
SCHNEIDER: Women in leadership positions provide that balance and help young women to understand that you care about who they are as human beings. That human being aspect of it is both what your family life is as well as your work. I’m not sure I see as much of that in our male counterparts in leadership. As a group, as a department, we all know each other. We care about each other. We share lunch together. We have conversations together. We know each other more than some of the other departments who just do their jobs and really don’t have that humanistic aspect. That is something that we have as women. That’s just who we are.
Is it possible to find a work/life balance?
VALERIE CLARK: I just made a conscious decision that I was not going to be able to do everything that I wanted to do. The thing I wanted to do that I had control over was my schedule. The one thing I did was, I got my kids off to school every morning by myself, fed them a good breakfast and packed them a good lunch. Then the rest of the day my hair’s on fire. That was the one thing that we had consistently. I was a single mom so there was that issue as well.
DR. EVA LITTMAN: For the most part, we’ve been adjusting to a system that was created by men and for men who have wives that keep their kids. I haven’t been able to take my kids to school or make their lunches. Maybe we can adjust [the work week] hours from 10 to six. Then look at the school system. School lets out at 3 o’clock. Who gets off at that time? Nobody gets off at 3 o’clock. Everything is made for these old traditional families where the man works and the woman is able to pick the kids up. These things need to be addressed and adjusted. I have all female staff so that’s one of the things I try to look at. I want them to be able to drop their kids off. I can control that part of the schedule as to when I see most of my patients. Over time, as we get to be on more powerful roundtables and more things where we can actually have influence, I think some of these things need to be taken into account and adjusted to our schedule.
WINK: I was lucky because during part of my career, I had a husband who did the “dad stay at home” thing. It did lead to guilt because I always felt I needed to be the person who was there, but I felt better knowing they, at least, had a dad who was home for a while. I think my kids benefitted from me being in the workforce and being able to teach them some things that I wouldn’t be able to teach them otherwise.
GORDON: My husband is a stay-at-home dad so he gets to hear all sorts of horrible things about him being a kept man or that I’m a “sugar mama”. There is most certainly that happening. I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me if my husband is also a lawyer, like I couldn’t have been the only one that went to law school. Either we met there or we went through it together and it couldn’t possibly be that there was something else.
NORTH: The one thing I’ve emphasized to both men and women is that they’re a spoke in the wheel that is critical to the success of the entire team. I always say to them, the first responsibility you have as a leader and a good citizen is to your family. If you have a child that needs you, I don’t want you here. I think that goes back to the whole mentoring mindset of really what is our role in this community? Our goal is to raise good children, corporate citizens, that are going to create a thriving community. I try to instill that in my team. First of all, if my child is sick, where’s my head? My head is with my child or at the hospital. I really don’t want them to create a mistake that’s going to put them in a stress situation. I want them to be honest. When I was growing up in the business world, that did not happen.
What does the future of women in business look like?
LIDHOLM: It’s an awesome time to be a woman in leadership, but I still am challenged sometimes by the “suits and cigar” club. I don’t know if that will ever change, but I do think it’s a little bit better. We have strong female leadership in various positions, both elected and others. I am positive about the future of women in leadership.
CLARK: I am in a position that I never really dreamed was possible when I was younger, so I’m very positive about the leadership roles that women play right now. It’s a different environment for women than it is for men in the business world. However, I’ve always looked at those challenges and tried to embrace them rather than be upset about them. I’ve developed such a vast network of strong, powerful, amazing women and several of them are in this room. I’m very positive about where women stand in this workplace and where we’re headed. I have a daughter who is 20. I look at where she is right now at 20 and I don’t think I was where she is until I was probably in my 40s. So I’m very positive and I think Nevada has a great environment for people like us.