Women seek equal status

Speakers at the third annual Gulf Coast Women in Leadership Symposium said women still face difficulties in breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling.

The Texas Diversity Council led the event on Wednesday, which aimed to break barriers in the business world.

"How do we get over the stereotypes (when) we don’t like to admit there is a barrier," Trish Winebrenner, vice president of marketing for Express Jet Airlines, said. "We have to speak up and demand more."

Winebrenner said she was often mistaken for a stewardess when she first started at the airline. She said she recognizes that things have improved for women, but women must continue to work to ensure that trend continues.

The panel, comprised of some of Houston’s top women in business, stressed that an important way for women to advance in business is through mentoring.

"People typically gravitate to people who are similar to them, limiting diversity," Winell Herron, Group Vice-President of Public Affairs and Diversity for H.E. Butt Grocery Company, said. "It is important for women to reach out and build relationships with people across ethnic and gender boundaries."

H-E-B, a billion dollar grocery chain started by a woman, had only one female business captain in 1990, Herron said. Today it has twelve.

"There has been progress in making the workplace more diverse," Herron said.

Women must take charge of their careers in order to break through the glass, said Janet Clark, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Marathon Oil Corporation.

"Define your success. It is up to you," Clark said. "You will (often) be a minority and you will stand out and be treated differently, but don’t focus on it."

She also said in order to be successful women should make career goals and look ahead.

"Women shy away from saying ‘I am ambitious.’ That word attached to men is OK," Clark said. "I think that is changing with young people though. Think about your career and objectives. Also, lead by doing."

Women should let their work and accomplishments speak for themselves when confronted with gender bias, the panel said.

"For the most part I ignore those things," said Doris Rodriguez, a partner at the Andrews Kurth Law Firm. "It isn’t that I don’t know that it is happening. Diffuse it when you see it happening."

Winebrenner said that no bias should prevent a woman from demanding fair treatment and equal pay.

"When you approach the issue, and maybe this is because I am female and want to avoid confrontation, you have to remember it is not whining. Women are getting better about demanding more," Winebrenner said.

Women are making strides in the business and many other fields, moderator of the event, Paula McHam said. She also said women are taking the differences and using them to their advantage.

She compared the idea of embracing differences with the Democratic presidential campaign.

"We are living in an age where differences can be a positive. Look at the (presidential) race," McHam said.

She asked why women should just want to stop at Speaker of the House and why a person of color shouldn’t think they could run for president.

"Diversity should be seen as positive," she said.

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