Perspectives on the World
“In Power for a Change: Women Leading Social Change”
July 25, 2009
Jonathan Kaplan: I’m Jonathan Kaplan, president of Walden University, and very pleased to welcome all of you to our panel this morning, “In Power for a Change: Women Leading Social Change.”
This is an issue of women and leadership that’s very important and certainly personal to me. As a father with a 6-year-old daughter, I really look at Ruby every day and have every bit of as much ambition for her as I do for my son. And I think that’s the case, really, for two reasons: one is personal and the other is cultural. From a personal standpoint, I come from a family where the women were always encouraged to pursue education and to go on and build careers of their own. My mother was, in fact, the first woman graduate of the [John F.] Kennedy School of Government [at Harvard University] some 45 years ago and is still practicing law today at the age of 69. And I think from that personal background, it certainly has given me a sense that the world is really very much open to my daughter.
The other is cultural, and I think what you see with the panel before you this morning, and certainly will hear from them, women have been assuming greater and greater leadership roles and effecting positive social change, not only at Walden, but [in] the world around us for decades now, and it’s becoming more and more a part of our culture in a very meaningful way. And I think of our panelists, none more so than the facilitator and leader of our panel discussion this morning, [is] a woman who is a leader of a major company and organization, a chair of the Walden Board of Directors, someone who personally is a mentor to me and many others, male and female alike, and someone who effects positive social change in what she does every day, Paula Singer. Thank you.
Paula Singer: I’ve met the women in Jon’s life; he doesn’t have any other choice. [Laughter] It starts with his mom and his wife—who by the way, is expecting right now and Jon is here and she’s due any second. So, if we see him get up and leave, we’ll know what’s happening. And I’m sure Ruby is going to be exactly the same.
Like all of you, I have been really looking forward to this panel discussion and I love the title and I was trying to figure out what emphasis to use as I was reading it: “In Power for a Change. For a Change in Power.” I don’t know. “Women Leading Social Change.” And I think what’s interesting is we’ve seen a lot of those figures up front over the last several months, and I think it’s interesting that our plenary speaker was [former New Jersey] Gov. Christine Todd Whitman earlier this week and [she] did such a lovely job. The three women with whom I have the honor of sharing the stage can also certainly speak to these issues with lots of experience in being advocates for social change in their own areas, and I know we’re all looking forward to hearing from them. Today, they’ll share their personal stories and answer a number of our questions.
Let me introduce them to you. Let me start with Gloria Lewis, as president and CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities. Gloria Lewis leads the strategic direction of one of the largest Big Brothers/Sisters affiliations in the nation. Before joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, Miss Lewis had a 25-year career in public and nonprofit administration serving with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Chicago Department of Public Health. She is a past director with the Philadelphia school district and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, and the Charities Review Council, and of the Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable.
Sitting right next to her is Dr. Anita McDonald, who is chancellor of the DuBois campus of Pennsylvania State University. Under her leadership, the DuBois campus has experienced an increase in enrollments, expanded its academic offerings, and created international travel opportunities for its students. I know some of your students are in South Korea right now.
Anita McDonald: That’s correct.
Paula Singer: Dr. McDonald has held senior academic administration positions at the University of Arizona and the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She’s an American Council on Education fellow and is also a member of Walden University’s Board of Directors—the most important thing that she does. [Laughter] As an active leader in her community, as well, Dr. McDonald serves on the Board of Directors of the DuBois Regional Medical Center, the Executive Committee of the Tri-County Keystone Innovation Zone, and the Executive Committee of the North Central Workforce Investment Board. And she has been recognized as one of the Top 100 People in Pennsylvania. I don’t know how you have time for all that. [Laughter] Another female secret.
And with us, too, today, Lilly Ledbetter. We’re very fortunate to have her joining us today. Miss Ledbetter has been described by first lady Michelle Obama as a, quote, “special lady, a working-class lady and a fighter.” And we are truly indebted to her for having the courage to embark on this fight, a fight for equal pay in the workforce. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her story, Miss Ledbetter served as manager of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in [Gadsden,] Alabama, for almost about 20 years. Near the end of her career, she received an anonymous note that compared her salary to three other male counterparts, a comparison that really left her shortchanged. I have a real affinity for that story because I had the same anonymous note left on my desk one time—maybe we’ll get to that a little later. Ultimately, she would learn that she had been earning less than nearly all of her male co-workers during her tenure—not just at the end—during the entire tenure.
She sued Goodyear and her case went all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court in 2007. And, although Miss Ledbetter saw no monetary awards for her fight against pay discrimination, her case prompted a campaign to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was the first bill actually signed into law by President Barack Obama. And I will tell you that [U.S.] Sen. [Barbara] Mikulski, who was one of the sponsors of the Fair Pay Act, had hoped to be with us today, and Lilly, she does send her regards, and she sees you as a fighter, too. And those of you — do you know Sen. Mikulski? She’s from Maryland. She’s about 4-foot-2 [Laughter] and acts like she’s 7-foot-9. Very scary woman. She carries that box with her [and] when she stands on it, she’s always in fighting position. But she does send her regards and wishes that she could be here. Maybe we’ll ask her to come back another time. So, would you please give me a round of applause for this… [Applause]
I’d like to begin with a question for you, Lilly. Miss Ledbetter, when you began your effort of advocating for pursuing fair pay, did you have any idea where the cause would lead?
Lilly Ledbetter: I had no idea. None whatsoever. I knew in the beginning—as I explained to my husband when I went home with the news—how much less I was being paid than my male counterparts. I said, “I need to go to EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and file a charge [on] my first day off, if you have no objections. And you do realize that this will take a minimum of eight years of our life?” He said, “Well, what time do you want to leave?” [Laughter] So, needless to say, on the first day off, we went to Birmingham, Ala., and I filed a charge. I was very fortunate. I got a good … that took plenty of time, and she dug every embarrassing moment of my career at Goodyear out of me. And I didn’t want to share. It was embarrassing to me to go in and say, “I’m a manager, but they don’t pay me right, they don’t treat me right,” when the laws were basically on my side.
But what I learned in that discovery, looking at that scrap piece of paper that evening when I worked the night shift, saw that paper showing how much less—basically the [salaries of the] three men and myself were 40 percent different. Now, at Goodyear, first-line managers are paid time-and-a-half, double-time, and triple-time depending on the holiday, [the] number of hours you work, and the circumstance. But in my case, my mind immediately started calculating how many dollars that my family, my children and me—we as a family—had lost through the years and how hard the struggle had been. No wonder my counterparts could be buying the swimming pools and bigger cars and bigger houses, and I was staying down at the bottom. It all flashed before my eyes. But then, later on, I realized, “Hey, my retirement is based on what I’m earning—it’s based on my salary.” My contributory pension was also based on my salary: It was a percent of what I earned, plus [what] Goodyear matched. My 401(k) was 10 percent of what I earned, plus it’s matched by 7 percent stock. And then, the Social Security—when I signed up at age 62, that was also based on what I had earned.
Now, in my case, I filed my charge immediately when I learned [about the salary discrepancies]. Up until then, when I hired in with Goodyear, we were told, “You never discuss your pay or you won’t work at this company. You never discuss what you make with a co-worker or anywhere else.” So no one ever did. I had no way of knowing whether my raises were substantial, or equal, or even comparable to the others. And as the cost of living went up through the years, I never knew if I was on the bottom, below the bottom, in the middle, or at the top. I would ask, but I never was told. And then, in the early ’90s, Goodyear Gadsden started up light-truck radial [production], and they hand-picked four area managers to start that up, and I happened to be one of them, which was quite an honor in that plant at the time. But I got no monetary gain; I was still below the minimum. And then, in 1996, I got a Top Performance Award.
I filed my claim in 1998, I got an attorney in 1999 because of the Equal Employment [Opportunity Commission] people recommended I do so, because they said I had one of the best cases they had ever seen and they were understaffed at the time. I got into federal court in January of 2003. The jury came back with a verdict: $3.8 million. That was just super; that was fantastic. Needless to say, though, there was a cap [on the amount that could be awarded]. I was only entitled to 300,000 [dollars], because in 1991, Congress put a cap on the amount of awards that you could get from Title VII [of the Civil rights Act of 1964]. And then, back pay—I had worked then for 19 years, but you’re only entitled to two years [of back pay]. Two years is far as you can go back, and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, in the law that will allow an individual to recoup lost retirement, lost Social Security, or lost 401(k), or any of those other assets that you should have been accumulating, or those lost overtime hours that you were cheated out of. There’s nothing. Congress basically changed the law back to where it was prior to the Supreme Court changing the law. Actually, when the Supreme Court ruled 5–to–4 in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear case, they changed the law because in the past, it had always, always been interpreted to read [you must make a pay-discrimination claim within] 180 days from the time you find out. In fact, in some places—and Goodyear, where I worked at the time, was one of them—in the first six months, I didn’t even know where all the restrooms were, much less that I was being paid unfairly.
And when your pay is first set, is what the Supreme Court was trying to say, that you only have 180 days [after you discover unfair pay practices to file a claim], even though you don’t know it, even though you have no way to find out, and even though you can’t prove it. You have to have some proof. You can’t just show up at EEOC and say, “I think I’m being shortchanged.” You have to have some proof—you have to know that—and you really need some witnesses to back you up, and that’s hard to get. And I’ll certainly not have to tell you, too, that it is a very hard thing to prove in court, because everybody comes out of the woodwork, trying to fight you and go against you. And, in fact, in the hallway for witnesses the day of the trial, when it started, my side was very scarce of people, and on the other side it was quite packed. But we persevered and I couldn’t let it go.
And I had no idea that when I started, that I would end up in the Supreme Court, and have a bill named for me, and speak at the  Democratic Convention in prime time, and campaign for the president, and to travel the train trip with the president and his entourage, and be at the inauguration, and be the second person to dance with him at the Neighborhood [Inaugural] Ball. [Laughter and applause] But the important thing is, it’s like the president said when he signed the bill—and that’s what I toured the country last year talking about it—equal pay is a family affair; it’s no longer mine, hers or hers. It belongs to these men, because if we’re not paid fairly, our families suffer. And then, if our families suffer, the community suffers, and the state suffers, and the nation does.
Equal pay is an American right, it’s a civil right, and [the] equal-pay law went on the books in 1963, Title VII in 1964. Why, in 2008, are we still campaigning for equal pay? And I was under the assumption that because I worked for a corporation that had government contracts, and we were filling them as hard as we could, that we would have to adhere—as a company—to every federal guideline. No, you don’t. But I have learned in my travels that most states now are passing a law where the states require all contractors in that state that the companies who fill those, that they do adhere to federal laws and guidelines. And that must, it must pass, and it must be that way, because it’s only fair. And today, in middle America, it takes two people in a family to earn a living.
And I will have to tell you, I am from the Deep South, never lived anywhere else but Alabama. And I thought in the beginning this was a good-old-white-boys’ control in Alabama. I can assure you, it’s not; this is a national epidemic, and it’s not just with first-line supervisors like myself. I’ve met a doctor in New York that sued the state of New York because she was being paid half at the medical school what the white males were paid. She sued the hospital where she was taking her patients and work, and she had quite a large settlement from both. I’ve got letters at my home from ladies who hold doctorates throughout the United States and various universities—they’re not compensated equally, either. So, this is not just a Southern problem; it’s a national problem. And I also have had the opportunity this year to learn it’s international. I interviewed with the Japanese, the French, Chile. I’ve done a radio program for London, and I’ve been to Rome, Italy, as the guest of the Italian Ministries for six days to speak to their unions and to their people and their women’s groups. Because, ladies and gentlemen, this is a worldwide situation, and it’s time that the atmosphere and the horizon changes, because it is time that women and minorities are paid fairly. [Applause]
Paula Singer: I also, in talking to Lilly earlier this morning, the other thing that I think changed for her is that her grandchildren had to look at their grandmother a little bit differently. They were used to calling her “Grandma,” and there she is, dancing as the second person dancing with the president. [Laughter]
I’m just curious, Anita, Gloria, have you had any of the similar situations that Lilly has experienced?
Gloria Lewis: Well, I would say that I’ve certainly experienced them in terms of looking at promotions, moving up the ladder, as a woman, as a black woman. The questions about your experience, the questions of whether you can do the job, the question of, “Well, is it your turn?” It’s not about “Is it my turn.” It’s about, “Do I have the ability to do this?” I love the agency I work for, I’ll tell you that now. I live and breathe and sleep Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities. But I will tell you, we are a 90-year-old organization, and I am the first woman, first person of color—male or female—to lead that organization. And I cannot tell you some of the shock that people say, “You’re the CEO?” Well, yeah, and I like it. [Laughter, applause] It doesn’t matter—what I have to bring to the table is what’s most important. So we experience it [discrimination] at every single level, whether you’re in the nonprofit world, the for-profit world. I have friends who are bumping their heads against the glass ceiling and they’re getting tired of it, because it’s a hard thing to do.
Paula Singer: Anita?
Anita McDonald: Well, I certainly can speak to the same kinds of experiences. But the one I will share with you that was most interesting was when I was not selected for a dean position at a university. And, I knew, of the three candidates that I was the best-qualified for the position, and I challenged it and challenged the fact that, “Oh, gee, I thought we were about opportunities here and equal consideration.” And the person took offense with it, and I decided I would just leave it alone—don’t burn the bridge just yet.
And, skip 18 months ahead. The person they selected and hired discovered that the job wasn’t as cushy as they thought it was. They were going to have to work. It was a white male. [Laughter] And the key part was—talking about patience here a little bit—is that he followed a woman. And if I had stepped in at that point in time [and had been hired over the male], my [annuals] salary would have been some $40,000 less. Because a male stepped in, and he was the second [dean], and they raised the salary level—by the time that I came in, then they were not able to back up [to the lower salary]. So, sometimes timing is important in situations. [Laughter]
But I can tell you in my role also as the chancellor, that just very recently, I had a staff member—talk about different levels that this impacts—come to me and say, “You know, I just discovered that we’ve hired a student intern in the department being paid the same hourly rate that I’m getting, and I’ve been here six years, I have my bachelor’s degree.” And so I let her speak it on out, and then I said, “Well, you know,” and I got up out of my chair as the chancellor’s chair, and I moved to the other side, sat at a table with her and said, “Now, I’m over here as your mentor and your friend. And what I would suggest that you do is you contact the university’s affirmative action office, and you begin there and take whatever necessary steps you have to take. Don’t worry about, you know, any repercussions on me—you know, we’ll be fine. But you need to do this for yourself. And it’s important that you send the message to your supervisor.” I mean, I could’ve stepped in and spoke with the supervisor, but the impact of it coming from a different office was going to be much more important. And so that’s what she did. And it is—we had the conversation, and her supervisors had the conversation, and we’ll be doing something about it. [Applause]
Paula Singer: We could probably talk about this one all day. And I will just add, I’ve had some very similar experiences. What’s interesting about what Anita said, to me, is that there’s mentoring going on now with women and others who’ve not had opportunity about what your pay should be. I have to tell you, from my point of view, I was just—I was—had kind of a “female” approach to this, which was I was grateful to have a good job; I was grateful to be working at a good company. It never occurred to me that somebody was making more—that I should be making more, or that I should be asking. So, I didn’t know how to ask for what was rightfully mine. And I think one of the things that I’m encouraged about is when you see leadership like this that has now gone through that, that there’s an ability for women in leadership roles to come on the other side of the table and to advise in the way that others who had had more chance to know what was going on, to know what you’re really worth. And I think sometimes what I see when I’m dealing with even female employees now, that they don’t understand what their worth is, and so you have to look at that.
I will tell you that I one time was told—because this is just too good a story—I was one time told that I couldn’t have a promotion to a very big job because the other candidate—who by the way was not qualified for the role at all and I had watched this very carefully—because the other person was older than I was, male, [and] in this case, African-American. It was an issue that we were—because of the kind of work we were doing—and then, he was also a veteran of Vietnam—and at that time I had no—I thought, “Well, wow, that’s a hard one!” because I couldn’t have even joined if I’d wanted to! I’m not sure how I would do that. And the end of the story was—because of a little bit of patience—and that’s a question, too, when do you use patience and when do you push? And that’s a very difficult, sensitive thing. So, interesting, interesting issue that we’ll need to all follow.
Gloria, your work affects young people and our future. What do you see as the main challenges facing children, women, and families today?
Gloria Lewis: We have a myriad of challenges and, I just, sometimes, I wonder where to begin with the challenges that our families face and our children face. For one thing, the first thing that any family faces is being able to have a livable, sustainable wage coming into that household. Seventy percent of the children we serve through Big Brothers Big Sisters are eligible for free or reduced lunch, which means that you are definitely at that level of being described as “poverty-stricken,” the kids don’t have— Ninety percent of our kids come from families that are headed by a single head of household and that person is a woman. So the challenges that face our children—and this is nationwide, I can only—I look at my little mini-scope here, but that women need to have wages that they can sustain their families with, and men need to be able to enter into the workforce and find jobs that they can work to sustain our families.
Our families are fractured right now. I look at some of the families that we serve—and I don’t blame them—there’re issues that are beyond our wildest dream. Do you know that we mentor children of prisoners? Because we have so many children who have a parent who is incarcerated. And do you know what that carries, what that gives to that child? Here’s a child: “Not only am I getting free and reduced lunch—and that also gives me a label; not only do I come from a household where it’s only my mom there—and that gives me a label; not only do I—now I have to carry the burden of, and sometimes shame, that I have one of—that my dad or my mom is incarcerated.” And I don’t know how many people can understand what that does to a child, but it is an incredible thing. It takes away from them.
I think the other thing—and I’ve fought, not fought, but I’ve discussed this with Big Brothers Big Sisters a number of times—is how we label our children. I think labeling is one of the things that tears you apart. ’Cause you’ve already been defined before you can show what you have; you’ve been labeled. So, if you’re already labeled as weak, bad, poor, you don’t know who your father is, so [that] makes you really messed up, and you’ve got somebody—so you’re just not going to be anything. So the equation says nothing.
That’s not how we look at our children. Every single one of our children has a spark. When they walk in that door, there’s this little spark in them, and it is our job to keep that spark going. Our families in American need to spark. They’re not all that bad; they have issues, and they have issues that have to do with what Lilly just talked about. They’re gonna have issues that have to do with, “Where can I live?” They’re gonna have issues that have to do with, “Do we eat a healthy meal or do we join the band of obesity?”
So all of these things affect our families today, it affects our children. But the one thing, the one thing that each of you in this room have experienced is a mentor. Somebody along the way told you you could do something, right? Somebody, I don’t care whether it was a teacher, the lady down the street, whether it was a doctor, whether it was somebody that you ran into and said, “You know, you’re pretty good and, you know, you’re gonna make it.” Somebody in Walden told you that you could make it, or you wouldn’t be here today. So, it’s—that’s what we need more and more for our families and children, especially our children right now. Our children are in peril, they really, really are. And we seem to want to fix them, put them in a program, “If you do X, Y, and Z, you’re gonna come out at the other end with the equation that says, ‘Ta-da! I am the perfect child and I am now ready to go on!’ ” That’s not how we—that’s not how children survive; that’s not how our families will survive. I love the fact that one person can change a person’s life, and that’s why I do mentoring. I just—I love it. It’s something I often cannot believe some of the things that take place.
And I’m gonna give you a story about a family that’s making it, if you will allow me to. Those of you who live in Minneapolis and across the country know that we have many immigrant families in our community. I think that the greater Twin Cities has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country. We have, particularly, our Somali families, our Asian families are here, our Cambodian families, and Mung families. But I’ll tell you a story of a little boy—he’s a young man now—he started in our program at the age of 8. And he had a mentor; he had school and he was—at his school, his mentor would come to see him once a week. And he was kind of hard to relate to at first, because we didn’t know what had happened in his prior life before coming to this country. But his mentor stuck with him. [The young man] lives with his grandmother and to this day continues to live with his grandmother, who speaks no English. But the mentor and our little boy got separated because he went to junior high school and he went to a charter school and our school-based program only allows you to go to the school, yada, yada, a bunch of stuff we had to fix. But anyway, they became—his grandmother was really upset. She had a picture of Mohammad’s mentor that she walked all over Allina Hospital looking for this one man. She couldn’t speak English—she still can’t speak English. She had his picture, and she kept showing, “Know man? Know man?” And so people said, “Oh, yeah, we know him,” and ended up writing for her on a piece of paper where she should go. She found his mentor. His mentor called us and said, “I don’t know how this happened, but his grandmother found me. Can we get matched again?” We rematched them. Today, the story ends with a high school graduate, who is on his way to the University of Minnesota to become a doctor, who’s on full scholarship. [Applause]
So, that is to say, language isn’t a barrier. It’s to say that our families can survive. Can you imagine—and it’s so funny—I love him, he’s such a great kid. He will not live on campus; he’s living with his grandmother because she needs him. So, he has to get the cabs for her to go to the doctor, help her get to—help her navigate—and she trusts him immensely. And so, he is going to be the doctor that, one day, you’re gonna walk in a room, and his name is going to be there, and you will not know his story because he will be Dr. Hassan. And he will not tell you of the days he spent in the refugee camp, and the days that they didn’t eat, and the days that they came to a country that they’d never seen before. And the days that he’d lived only with his grandmother, because they’ll be living in a different house, in a different time, and the grandmother’s well in their lives, she’s going to be there, too.
So, all of that is saying our families are capable of surviving and we just have to look at them as being able to do so. We have to take what Lilly has done and ensure that they have a livable, sustainable wage in that household. We have to make sure that our women get everything they’re supposed to have. And I know many of you in this room today are single moms who are working and getting that degree and going on to the next level. And never let anybody take anything from you that you deserve. Even if they don’t like what you say, because a lot of times people really don’t like what I say, but that’s too bad. [Laughter] But I’m still there and I’m saying it on behalf of—not myself because I like to make noise—but because sometimes we really have to stand up for others. And even when our families are labeled—and I hate labeling, I fuss with the thing. Take the data, I always tell them—this is wonderful, folks, OK. We know that our kids come from [families headed by a single] … head of household—take that and get me the money so I can make this child become a family leader, a community leader, someone who stands up and someone who is just a person who says, “You know what, I can make it.” That’s all we all want to say, don’t we? Is that we can make it. And then we want our families to do that.
So, as my 3,000-some kids that I look at every day, our 73 kids who are going off to college who never thought that they would see the—they didn’t even know that you could take a bus and get over to the University of Minnesota, or to Augsburg [College], or go around the corner to the … . They clearly didn’t know about being online. We’ve opened a whole new world to them. And those are our families of the future. And what they have to bring to the table is gonna be so different, because they can say, “This is where I came from and this is where I am now. ” And there’s no reason that any one of you can’t do that without someone who believes in you. And that is why, to this day, I carry this message: I think that families can be mentored. I think that children can be mentored. I see the changes in our families of the children that we mentor. There’re just hundreds of thousands of stories that I look at, and people say, “I didn’t know that could happen,” and it changes the entire family. It’s pretty interesting to know that you’re the first one to go to college and everybody gets excited, because there’s going to be a next one to go after that.
These are the kinds of things—our families are in peril because of health care. I am just over—I’ve been in public health, I’ve been in health care, I’ve done minority health work for the state of Minnesota, I’ve seen money go out. We have got to deal with this health care issue. It really is an important thing. Families are entrapped in that. They’re entrapped in it. So, we’ve gotta make sure that that happens, too.
So, when I kind of wrap up and tell you, I believe that mentoring can do a lot of things for people. I believe that our families can make it. Our families—we’ve gotta do something, and I’ll tell ya, our men are in peril as well. They really are. We gotta do something; I don’t know what to do. I’ve been in—I’ve done gang-violence prevention. I’ve worked with Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples [street gangs]. I’ve worked with Crips and Bloods. I have been in a room with them, where people have guns that you couldn’t even imagine. But do you know what I found out? They were like little boys when you started to talk to them about where they needed to go and the pain that they had and how they really wanted to have a real family, too. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s really so, and to witness it is an amazing, life-changing experience for many people.
So, what I’m saying today is, oh, our families are great, they just need the help to make it to the next level. And our moms are amazing. Our single moms who go out here, work a job, go to school, make dinner, find out what’s going on in somebody’s life, and try to take a breather—and even a bubble bath would be an amazing thing in your life. [Laughter] Take me away! That’s right, oh, Calgon. [Applause]
Paula Singer: Gloria, I know mentoring really rings a bell with all of the folks that are sitting in this room—at least from the Walden community. It also sounds like you need some fighting people who love you on your side, too; that story was just amazing. Thank you.
Anita, different kind of question: Knowing your background, and where you’ve been focusing and so forth, why is social service so important and how can people make an impact and drive change at the local, state, or even national level? We’re giving you this broad, big question.
Anita McDonald: My, that’s a good question. Wow, we need more Glorias. [Laughter] Speaking of the mentoring, I’ll jump off there. I loved mathematics and that was my undergraduate degree and I loved teaching it. And when I moved from Detroit to Missouri, it never occurred to me to pursue a doctorate degree—I had my master’s. And it was someone and it was my supervisor who walked in and said, “Well, you need to go and you need to think about this,” and sent me down to find out information about a doctorate program. And I said, “Ooh, I don’t think I can do that.” And then I went on and applied, was accepted, came time for registration, and I was busy in my office, doing stuff. And she came in and said, “Isn’t today the day that you’re supposed to register?” And I said, “Oh, yes, but I’m trying to get your report done.” “Oh, my report will wait and you need to go.” And then, so, I went, I registered and that, I followed through the program. And then she stayed with me throughout that program, reminding me that I was a mother and that I was a wife, I had a family to kind of keep involved as I was going through school. And that’s when I learned that pancakes was really OK for dinner [Laughter] and, you know, those kinds of things.
But when I think about in my—as I’ve gone through life and with my current role and the importance of social service, you know, the reason you do some of the things you do is because it means something to you. It’s a passion that you have, it’s something you care about, and you want to try and create an environment, a world, a space that you want your family and the families after that, and the people around you, to grow up in. And so you find that which is important and you try to go out and you make a difference. And I will tell you that that’s a big, big—I’m always bragging about my students and the number of volunteer hours, you know, over—I’ve got close to a thousand students, but we do over 1,200 hours of volunteer service. The students raised $14,000 last year just for agencies in our community, in our small community. And so, you encourage them and that’s a great thing. But the reason you do that is because they can—it’s important for them to begin to work with others and to understand the issues that are in the lives of others and help to create better understanding and respect for people in different situations. And so, you can’t get that just staying in your own world. You have to kind of venture out and take a risk.
And so, I think one of the first risks I ever took was running for school board. Now, I’ve made sure that when my kids were going through school, I was at everything. I was there, you know. I was cooking the cookies and I was wearing the little ghost, ’cause that was the only thing—I was not very creative, so I could only make a ghost outfit, you know, the sheet with the—you know, whatever, and put the little stuff on me. But I was always there. And when my first child got through high school or was approaching the 12th grade, I said, “I can run for school board.” And, so, I stepped into that role. And I wasn’t sure what I was stepping into, but I knew that, or at least felt that, I needed a presence there in order to speak for some of the concerns that the students were having. In St. Louis, at the time, we were busing youngsters in from the city into the county schools, and those kids who were coming in from the city didn’t exactly feel at home. And what was the school board going to be doing and what kind of policies were we putting in place to make that different?
And my very first meeting, I was sitting there and they were discussing a policy that had been developed before I got on the board about how to address difficult black students. And I sort of was, like, mind-boggled. So I sat there, and I listened, and then I said, “Well, where’s the policy for the difficult white students, then?” And you know, I mean, these were very sincere people who really cared about what they were doing, but they just didn’t understand what it was they were saying and how they were going about it. And so, I felt that part of my role on that board at that time was to help with understanding and to catch them on those kinds of activities. And it was an important role. Now, on the other side, of course, I was getting it from the black parents who were saying I wasn’t doing enough. You can’t, you know, sometimes you get into these situations where you can’t win and you have to know what you’re about and do the best that you can to make that difference. And so, you know, I say, you know, you can step off into that role of public service in terms of school boards, you can run for council, you can become involved in other kinds of activities. But you have to know what’s going on and be part of that political process.
It’s interesting the way that things that you become involved in can impact others down the road. You may only be having an impact on the one person, but that one person may be the one who goes out and makes the huge difference. I want to make sure to emphasize, you know, I am just overwhelmed by the accomplishments and the efforts of Lilly, here, and of Gloria, and what they’ve done. But when I’ve gone through, I looked at people as one at a time and tried to do the best that I could with each individual that I interact with. And my satisfaction comes back when they’ve gone on and achieved more than I possibly could’ve ever expected and doing great things. And so, it accumulates, and the next thing you know, you’ve made that difference. And so, you know, we have a legislator, who’s currently the lieutenant governor, as a matter of fact, he’s kind of holding two roles in Pennsylvania—he graduated from our campus. And we have the opportunity to have an impact on him continually. And so, you can get to people in important places.
The other group that I’m concerned about as we move forward is in the area of the veterans. And those of you that are in fields of mental health and other support areas, this is important. They are coming back to these families, they are coming back, they’re going to our schools, they’re going to be working in your—in various positions in your companies, and having some sense of understanding and support for that population is really going to be very important. And, so, I would certainly encourage people to, wherever they can, to become involved in support of veterans in any aspect. So I will end with that because I am curious as to what questions they [the audience] may have for us, Paula.
Paula Singer: Lilly, the first question here is for you. It says, “What advice do you have for young women entering the job market today?”
Lilly Ledbetter: I tell young women today in the groups that I speak with to be sure that you start out and negotiate your salary and that you’re in line—do your homework on the job to make sure that you’re being paid fairly, and as the men and your counterparts, based on your education and qualifications and—to pick up where Gloria talked about—you need a mentor anywhere you are. But if you start out behind [making less than a co-worker], there is a formula that has been worked out, I believe by Harvard University, that if the woman starts out at only $1,000 less than a man, and after 25 years of working, like in the way the government does raises, they will retire, she will have [earned] $1 million less [than her male counterpart]. So it is very important to understand that your retirement actually begins the first day you go to work. Because most of the time, it follows through on that.
Paula Singer: Very interesting. And back to being well-educated before you get started about this and actually knowing the information, or knowing where to go get that, or having someone to mentor you with that. Anita, this one is for you. “What is the role of higher education in creating positive social change in our society?”
Anita McDonald: You know, you have a captive audience for two, four years, six or eight, and I think the role of higher education is to provide students [with] the kind of experiences and classroom activity that engages them, and teaches them responsibility and integrity and ethics in what they do, and encourages them to become involved in the life and the world around them. I think on the broader issues, higher education needs to be bringing up the issues, such as Gloria brought up, that, you know, yes, it can come from Big Brothers Big Sisters, but why isn’t higher education speaking out on behalf of the future of higher education in this country, and how important it is to start those young people and interact with them from the very beginning? So, higher education can be a real—should be helping to identify and set policy regarding a lot of the social issues that we have. Because we have the mechanism to do the research, we have the expertise to identify problems and propose solutions. I saw a lot of those solutions last night as we walked around through the poster sessions, as each of the students in Walden are looking at various issues, and that’s the role of higher education.
Paula Singer: Thank you. This is an interesting question; it’s just directed to any of you who want to answer. The question is, “Any advice for working within and through the channels often administered by the same individuals who are charged with setting the pay, setting the policy, doing all that, and finding a way to kind of work through that?” Gloria, do you want to start, or Lilly? It doesn’t matter.
Gloria Lewis: I don’t, you know, it’s funny—and please take this as a “it doesn’t have to be what you have to do,” but it’s sort of an interesting phenomenon. Wherever you work, have you ever noticed that you probably need to get to know the administrative or executive assistant [Laughter] to the person in HR [human resources department] or in finance, because sometimes they have more information than you would ever think of getting? And that’s just about “networking.” When you’re in a position, you really do need to know: Where is the information kept? And it’s not always at the very top. It’s somebody—the person who sent that note [to Lilly] had access to something that you didn’t have—you may never—it could have been the administrative to the administrative assistant to the assistant of—because they have a way of getting to that and people notice that. So I’m just saying, that’s one way: networking.
And don’t always lock yourself in the corner because “I am this, and therefore I need not know what they do, 'cause that’s not me.” You’ll be surprised how much people do know, and they want to open up to you, and sometimes that’s how you find out things. Personally, I’ve used that method. Literally, I know everybody where I work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the janitor, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the guy who’s wonderful—he cleans my office to this day. I’m not very good with keeping plants and he saw that my plants were dying—nobody else helped save my plants! So, now, he waters my plant, because we speak and sometimes I have books for his children, I get—my plant is so healthy! [Laughter] But it’s just getting to know people and they will let you know sometimes what you need to know.
Paula Singer: Lilly, Anita, do you have any additional—?
Anita McDonald: I guess I was going to comment. It depends on whether that person is holding the information and controls your salary and whatever, and it depends on what kind of a person they are and if they’re open to listening, then setting up that appointment, and going in and having a conversation. I’m not sure how some of you will take my next comment in that sometimes you get a signal that this is not where you’re supposed to be. And if the individuals you’re interacting with are such that they don’t respect you, your comments are not valued, your work there is not valued, then you may be in the wrong place to accomplish what you want to do. So, sometimes you have to walk away.
Paula Singer: Lilly, anything to add to that?
Lilly Ledbetter: Networking, I believe, is the key, is to know everybody from the janitor all the way to the top and learn as much as you can about each person: their background, their likes, their dislikes—and really listen. You know, sometimes we listen, but we don’t hear. But you really need to hear what the people contribute. And, probably, the person who gave me the tip at Goodyear, probably, was the janitor, more than likely. It’s a possibility, I don’t know. I have no idea. But my two mentors that I had had were gone, so it wasn’t them. So, I don’t know who did it.
Paula Singer: It’s amazing where that assistance can come from. I will tell you, I believe that executive assistants know everything in the entire company and I’ve always made it a point to be very good friends [with them], because that’s where you would get some good information. I would bet that the paper that I got laying on my desk that showed me the [salary] comparison was not someone who worked for me, or not someone that I was probably close to, but probably someone who you never know. If you’re taking—we’re having a conversation here about one-on-one relationships that end up mushrooming and being much—if you are very respectful in your own work environment, and you are interested in what other folks do, and you carry yourself that way, it’s amazing how many people want to help you. So I’m sure it was someone who wanted to help me that did that—and probably not someone very far up the chain—and yet, someone who had a lot of power. So, that networking is important.
Question, “What competencies, skills, do you see that female managers need to have in order to move up the leadership ranks?”
Anita McDonald: I guess I’d start with confidence first and some level of determination. Know what you’re about. Get to know people. I think some of these things have been said before. And you really do have to build your support and your relationships one at a time. So, I guess that’s where I would start—with being confident and stepping out there.
Paula Singer: Gloria, anything to add to that?
Gloria Lewis: I would say, certainly, being confident. Know your area of expertise. I would also say, do not be afraid to step out from the status quo. If you know something and it’s different, say it, but be able to back it up with what you have and stand firm.
The other thing I think is very important for women in the workplace and moving up—it’s always good to have counsel. I had to counsel a young woman on my staff—just gorgeous—and we had a situation that one of the staff was saying—a male—was saying something out of order. And I said, “The first thing, you nip it—here’s what you do: You got two options. Nip it in the bud. Tell him, “Next time you say that to me, it’s gonna be a lot different than you thought from the first time, and it’s not about my filing anything on you, so don’t say it.” You say it again, then you file. But I think sometimes, we really have to, as women, stand up and just say exactly what we have to say. Whether it’s the boss, whether it’s the guy who told me I was the sexiest bald-headed woman he ever worked with—I had my hair a lot shorter—or some other kind of strange, bizarre things that, as women, you have to stand up and not swallow your tongue, and not go back and say, “Oh, well, he was the boss.” Well, I’m the boss of me! Of me—not him! I’m the boss of me. So having that confidence, having the expertise in your area, and not being afraid to want to get ahead.
Paula Singer: You know, I would actually add one other thing. And that is, I think you have to do—and again, some of the women in the room might not agree with me about this—but I think you have to do exactly what the men have to do, in all fairness. And that is, you have to perform. And so, if you get in an area where you have the expertise and the confidence—and this may not even be fair—if you’re non-traditional, I’ve always found, let’s find where the performance mark is, aim 10, 20 percent higher. Get out there; perform that way. And then, you don’t have to have a big fight, because what happens in the end, particularly in corporate world—and I’m talking more in corporate world—is your bosses are gonna wanna put the person in charge who’s gonna bring the best efficiency and best quality and best—and if you keep doing it, it’s very hard to ignore success. But you still sometimes have to do that with a loud voice, ready to—you know.
One last thing, since we’re on this, the last question is, “Are there differences in the way women and men lead us, and how do you see those differences?”
Anita McDonald: My experience has indicated that women tend to be much more collaborative in their approach to leadership. They seek the input and participation of others and just kind of have more of the social concerns of what is happening [in the world], as well as what’s happening there in the workplace. I came into my position, I had six men working and reporting to me, and the conversation was always very short, very stifled, and they’d look at me very strangely when I’d propose something. I can tell you now, I’ve got three men and four women, and it’s a very different dynamic that occurs. And that’s not true of all men, but I think that we [women] tend to really be much more inclusive in the work that we do.
Paula Singer: Lilly, I know that you had a number of challenges in the workforce that you had…
Lilly Ledbetter: Yes, I did. When I started at Goodyear, I’d been one of the first females that had lasted any length of time. A lot of the comments from my people who reported to me said, “I can tell you now, I just took orders from a woman at home, I won’t take orders from a woman here. You know, you just shouldn’t be here.” So, I had to sort of change my approach and game, so to speak. So I finally decided, you know, men get sports, so I related it like I was the Little League coach and we were out there to win. Because the name of the game at the end of the shift was: Did we meet our production quotas? Did we do good quality? Did we stay safe? And did we earn the respect of our superiors, whether they be union guys and gals or myself? So we were in it together. I told them I was there to make sure they had their water and their bats and their balls, and we were going to run this game, and at the end, we would be the winner. And that’s the way I sort of approached it.
And once they saw that I would work, I would work hard, because when I hired in with Goodyear, I took a pay cut to leave the job I had. So I needed to work some overtime to sort of compensate for those college tuitions I was trying to pay. So when the union was cleared, on the weekends, I could accept overtime, and the guys saw me working. And they saw the like of the expertise knowledge that I might need. I could do the production, I could keep up on certain jobs that I could do, but they came down to offer suggestions and help and give me some electrician’s tape and so forth to help. So, I earned my respect right there, with them. And from that day on, I was known as “Miss Lilly.” It didn’t matter if the guy was older or what, I was always Miss Lilly to all the people who worked for me. But in the end, that was the kind of testimonies I had at trial.
Paula Singer: That’s great. Well, we’ve come to the end of the session, and I think they are a terrific inspiration, would you please give them applause. [Applause]