Ellevate San Diego Event: Workplace Equity with Barbara Bry

Ellevate Network’s San Diego chapter hosted An Evening with City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry: Creating Diverse, Inclusive and Equitable Workplaces at Jewish Family Service of San Diego. Barbara recently started the Workplace Equity Initiative, gathering leaders from across San Diego to raise awareness of sexual harassment and pay inequity, equipping people with tools to address the issues, and developing a code of conduct for San Diego employers. Many of the initiative’s members were in the audience. Barbara’s many past accomplishments include creating Run Women Run, which encourages women to run for political office, and Athena, the leading organization for women in the San Diego tech and life sciences community. Chapter Co-Leader Christina Halkias led a discussion with Barbara about fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace in San Diego.

barbara bry ellevate workplace equity

Barbara started the talk by describing her background, growing up in the 1960s with a mom ahead of her time. During WWII Barbara’s mom had been employed, Rosie-the-Riveter style at a radio talk show, but then the men came home from war and these jobs weren’t an option for women anymore. In essence, Barabara grew up with a very frustrated mother, who taught her three big lessons: to persevere, to continue reinventing yourself, and empowering others. Her mom divorced in her 40’s then went to work at an ad agency during the Mad Men era, and also went back to school for her Master’s degree.

For the empowering others lesson, Barbara’s mom volunteered in democratic politics. Relating to the present day, five women were recently elected to the San Diego City Council, meaning women are the majority of the council and will focus their agenda on equity. “It’s going to be a very dynamic time for San Diego with five Democratic women (and one Democratic man) on City Council.”

How do you approach conversations when you feel your voice isn’t equal to others?

Barbara said she is constantly reinventing herself. She got an MBA from Harvard in the ’70s when the school was mostly men, she was a journalist working with men, she worked with UCSD’s CONNECT program, and she has been an entrepreneur. Barbara talked about situations where she was sitting behind a table and her suggestions were ignored but the same suggestions where celebrated when men said them. In this situation, she reminds people that she said it first. Women are uncomfortable taking credit, she said, but it’s important to give credit to each other. Chime in when this happens, such as saying, “Suzanne has an idea.” Work together with other women because your voices are more powerful together than a single voice.

Speaking of using your voice…

Barbara said her voice has ebbed and flowed over the years. In her 20’s, she felt uncomfortable at male-dominated Harvard, and she said it took 20 years for her voice to come back, when she became an entrepreneur.

There’s no belief that diversity exists at companies though companies are saying they are doing diversity… but they aren’t implementing it. How can they take action?

As #MeToo unfolded, Barbara was thinking of what to do here in San Diego and talked about workplace equity, pay equity, sexual harassment, and creating a code of conduct for businesses in San Diego. She held three workshops where she created a microcosm of the San Diego economy, with people from each industry, to draft a code of conduct. The next step is to get this code out into the community. That’s how she’s implementing and taking action.

For companies to take action, men have to be in the conversation, because they are a little less than half the population. It’s also important to have a professional facilitator when having sensitive conversations. Salesforce’s male CEO did a good job of taking action, by remedying the gender pay gap found at his company, so if a large organization can show they care about workplace equity then smaller companies should be able to as well.

Christina said the intent is there, for companies to want diversity and pay equity, but most companies haven’t put pay equity into their budget yet. (The action steps of studying where the gaps exist, how to remedy them, and increasing salaries to remedy the gaps need a budget of time and money.)

This drives the importance of women owning businesses. Women receive a low percentage of venture capital money, meaning women-owned businesses have a hard time accessing capital, which is not good for anyone. In San Diego, there is a lot of support for women through Ad Astra, Hera Labs, Hera Angels, Athena, and more, but it’s still an uphill battle. Barbara has been on the founding team of several companies, such as ProFlowers. She said creating a company is a team effort where you build a team with different skills sets around you. She said she’s built companies on others’ ideas, too.  “You don’t always have to be the one with the idea, you can take the idea and run with it.”

Negotiation help and coaching is also needed in order to reach pay equity. There are a lot of studies that show that negotiators earn more over time. “Since only a third of people negotiate job offers (mostly men), I was afraid to negotiate early in my career,” Barbara said. AAUW developed a workshop on how to negotiate for a higher salary which will be online soon, she said.

In California, employers can no longer ask about your previous salaries, which is helpful for negotiating and pay equity. Pay inequity has happened to both Barbara’s daughters, she said they were paid less than a man doing the same job. Christina (an HR professional) said to ask the HR person what the salary range is for the job. You can always ask.

On a related note, women only apply for jobs they are overqualified for, while men apply for jobs they are only 60-80% qualified for … and they still ask for a higher salary. “It’s about confidence,” Barbara said.

Dr. Kim, an audience member dealing with a lot of men lately while she’s asking for funding money, says the go-to advice says “be bold,” but Dr. Kim is afraid people will recoil. Barbara answered that she has to do a lot of fundraising in politics and you need to develop a relationship with the person first before asking for money. Find connection first to see what means something to them. When she was raising money for herself for city council, she heard to “touch” people a few times before you can make the ask.

On building relationships, Christina said she has to build relationships so the men around her will listen to what she says and then her words can be influential. Barbara said when she was a journalist she had to develop relationships just using the phone.

Christina asked why don’t women talk about how much money they are making. “We would feel comfortable talking about it when negotiating if we talked about it more in general.” Barbara gave a good example of how in 1998, the ProFlowers VP of Marketing job offered her 1% equity in the company, then she found out that role usually received 3.5% equity, so she didn’t sign an employment contract until they offered 3.5%.

When did you decide to run for office?

“I’m late to public office,” Barbara said. There have been studies of how women have to be asked about 7 times, which was true in her case, though she was involved in politics in other ways. She was involved in Hillary’s first campaign and her daughter was a field organizer. She was also on the board of Planned Parenthood and started Run Women Run in 2008. Around 2014, a woman lost in San Diego politics and told Barbara there’d be a seat available in 2016 and Barbara should run. “I’m glad I didn’t do [politics] as a career, I’m glad I’m doing it now.” She liked the campaign, knocking on 6000 doors herself, and loves her job at city hall learning new things every day. “I love it and I hope it’s something you all will consider at some point of your lives, or join a board.”

Thank you, Barbara! See Ellevate Network San Diego’s upcoming events here.

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