Part One: Pink Wave or Passing Ripple?
Part One: The Status of Gender Equality in Pasadena - Interviews with women
PASADENA, Calif. — Soon after a spate of 1960s assassinations, riots and redlining housing policies had simmered, 22-year-old Loretta Thompson-Glickman decided to liberate her savory singing voice through a circuit of small Los Angeles-adjacent jazz clubs.
Her melodic moxie eventually led to a touring gig beside The New Christy Minstrels, a Grammy-winning folk group that sold millions of records worldwide.
By the early ‘70s, however, Thompson-Glickman longed to start a family and tap a new voice – a spirited political voice – that would portend a profound moment in U.S. history.
In 1977, she became the first black woman elected to the Pasadena City Council. Roughly six years later, she became the first black female mayor in a city with a population of 100,000+.
A powerhouse realtor named Josephine Heckman helped pave the way for Thomson-Glickman’s arrival. Heckman was Pasadena’s first female chair of the planning commission, first female councilmember and first female mayor.
Heckman and Thomson-Glickman served side-by-side for a decade. Their venerable march into the city’s hallowed halls signaled a potential swing toward long-overdue gender equivalencies.
But as author Henry James said, “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.”
Four decades removed from Thomson-Glickman’s triumphs, egalitarianism remains a Sisyphean enterprise in the City of Roses, let alone zip codes coast-to-coast.
Other than Kathyrn Nack who was automatically rotated from vice mayor to mayor in 1994, Pasadenans have not seen a woman occupy the mayoral seat since. And of 55 Pasadena mayors in sum, three have been women.
A mere seven women have sat on the council to date – no more than two concurrently.
Margaret McAustin is presently Pasadena’s sole female councilmember. She is a former asset manager and city planning commissioner — among a variety of other community engagements — who is now serving out her third term on council.
“Women are constantly trying to navigate a system designed by and for men,” she said. “In my experience, women tend to run for office more out of exasperation for the status quo. That’s what happened to me.”
McAustin said that wealthy white men have traditionally dominated political infrastructure because they have greater access to big money. She said men also seem to be the louder voices in the room.
“Men will call each other by councilmember so-and-so and call my by my first name, and they don’t even notice. You state your opinion over and over, then a man adopts your opinion as his own, and it’s not a valid opinion until a man confirms it. There are plenty of times when I must say, ‘I am not finished yet – I got this.’”
McAustin said women political candidates largely invoke “we and us,” while men tend to summon “I and me.” There are two very different skill sets at play, she said; one gender is a constant campaigner while the other is policy-centric. “The challenge for women is trying to straddle both personas to get to where we need to go.”
Seasoned political operative and activist Lena Kennedy is relentless in her pursuit of a more inclusive community of leaders. As President/CEO of L.L. Kennedy & Associates, a consensus-building strategic and fundraising operation for political candidates and civic coalitions, Kennedy has earned the ear of some of the nation’s most notable statespeople, including President Obama, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).
“I do a lot of soul-searching in order to remain authentic and true to myself,” she said. “Sadly, we put elected officials on pedestals and treat them like rock stars. You will not soon see a massive influx of women changing Washington, D.C., or Pasadena from the inside. Look at history. I blame voters.”
Kennedy said that constituents must “always follow the money,” because money reflects personal agendas. “When women speak up for injustice, there’s always a price to pay. I want to be in a position to speak truth to power and not owe anything to anyone for doing it.”
She said that women in the community, especially those of color, must harness emotion, impose themselves on the process and proclaim it to be their world too.
“Let’s take everybody’s name off the application and see who actually rises to the top.”
Phlunte Riddle worked as a Pasadena police officer for nearly three decades. She was the first black female lieutenant and adjutant to the chief.
Riddle said two male police training officers provided invaluable encouragement, but her experience was not pervasive.
“So many women were actually well-rounded with a strong foundation to get through police academy field training, but they left in droves,” said Riddle. “The majority of the time this was due to double-standards. You have to be that much better and work that much harder.”
Riddle recently threw her name in the ring as a candidate for Pasadena’s next police chief. She was not granted an interview. Though Interim Pasadena Police Chief John Perez is a finalist, City Manager Steve Mermell has withheld the names of other contenders – a process challenged by local activists.
Protecting those who could not protect themselves, Riddle said, is what helped her understand and continue to serve people across a wide spectrum throughout and beyond her public safety career.
Riddle also served as district director for Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Calif.) and ran for state senate in 2015. She holds a master’s in organizational leadership and a doctorate in psychology.
“Women lead differently. We use all of our tools. I am the collective of a range of experiences. What is the fear? Do men think they are taking a risk putting a well-rounded, qualified woman in a place of leadership, especially when she has community support?”
That same Pasadena community voted roughly 70 percent Democrat in the last presidential election. Yet, despite this ostensibly progressive social climate, and the fact that females comprise roughly 52 percent of the city’s population, top government offices and chief executive suites are occupied by a trivial amount of local women.
Pasadena at a glance:
Women hold 33.4 percent of Pasadena government workforce jobs (according to the Pasadena Human Resources Department) and four of the 18 top paying city jobs (according to Transparent California and city records).
Women nationwide hold 34 percent of all assistant positions, 30 percent of department head positions, and 53 percent of all assistant to the chief administrative officer positions in city government nationwide (according to the International City/County Management Association).
Of 55 Pasadena mayors throughout 130 years, three have been women (according to a city-provided elected officers list).
Women represent roughly 22 percent of U.S. mayors with populations topping 30,000 (according to the Center for American Women and Politics).
Of all councilmembers in Pasadena history, seven have been women, no more that two have served concurrently and only one currently serves on the seven-member body (according to a city-provided elected officers list).
Women represent 25-36 percent of city council seats in medium-size (100,000-300,000) cities (according to the National League of Cities).
Women earn $0.79 to every Pasadena male dollar (according to the most recent report from the Commission on the Status of Women, Pasadena).
Women earn $0.82 to every male dollar nationwide (according to a Pew Research Center analysis).
California Institute of Technology and ArtCenter College of Design have never employed a woman president in roughly a century. Of the 72 Caltech trustees, 15 are women. Of the nine trustees at Pasadena City College (PCC), four are women. Of 15 PCC presidents over nearly 90 years, two women have served as president/superintendent, though a third has been announced and one interim briefly served. Of the 26 ArtCenter College of Design trustees, six are women. ArtCenter hired its first female provost this year.
More women currently attend college than men and earn more college degrees. Approximately 30 percent of college presidents are women (according to the 2017 American College President Study). Incidentally, of America’s 25 most heralded art schools, women helm the presidency on 12 of those campuses (according to staff records at each school).
Women represent 35 percent of CEOs and 25 percent of board chairs (according to a review of 20 high-profile Pasadena nonprofits).
Women occupy 73 percent of nonprofit jobs but less than 45 percent of chief executive roles (according to a Nonprofit HR study).
Approximately 17 percent of tech startups nationwide are founded and run by women.
One woman, Vera J. Vignes, has served as Superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District (according to city records and personal accounts).
Women occupy approximately 14 percent of school superintendent jobs (according to The School Superintendents Association).
Of 117 presidents of Pasadena’s renowned Tournament of Roses, two have been women; a third will serve next term.
And then there is the wage gap.
“I pulled the most recent full-time wage figures for Pasadena which show that men earn on average $58,069 and women earn $50,696,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) whose 27th Congressional District includes Pasadena.
Chu was the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, although she said she frequently reminds constituents that Chinese have been in California since the 1850s.
Asked whether gender parity is a civil rights issue, Chu said, “Of course, yes. Women still earning 80 cents to a man’s dollar – it is outrageous. The Paycheck Fairness Act is extremely important. It would require employers to prove that unequal pay is based on something other than gender.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced roughly a decade ago – and reintroduced in April of 2017 – to garner equal pay for equal work nationwide and to allow workers to share wage information without penalty. Republicans, including female Sens. Collins, Ayotte, Fischer and Murkowski, have voted down the bill three times.
In addition to unequal pay and unequal representation in elected offices, Pasadena women occupy only four of the top 18 paid city government positions.
Chu said that if women of Pasadena are to get a fair chance to occupy prominent positions in public and private sectors, an important first step is for the city to align with CEDAW.
President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) treaty in 1979. The U.S. Senate has yet to ratify the measure, which aims to close the wage gap and “release women’s full potential at all levels.”
Charlotte Bland is a former Vice President of the Association of California Commissions for Women and longtime community advocate in Pasadena. Bland said, “We need to be a CEDAW city.”
She said that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti not only initiated a gender study for the city but actively encouraged promotion of women-related challenges by aligning with CEDAW early on.
“All we need to do is have a meeting with [Pasadena] Mayor Tornek to convince him to join Garcetti and sign on to CEDAW.”
Incidentally, Tornek said that he had not been approached about CEDAW and “generally does not sign on to [fill-in-the-] blank city campaigns.”
Bland is also former Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women - Pasadena whose mission includes “recommending programs and legislation to promote and ensure equal rights and opportunities for all women in Pasadena.”
Bland said, “We are not necessarily losing our power, but we are not able to use our power. I was in a meeting with a councilmember last week discussing the fact that the commission no longer had financial support to produce our Survival Guide that helps residents access health and social services as well as identify employment statistics and opportunities.”
According to the Pasadena City Commissions web page, funding is not earmarked for any initiatives related to the Commission on the Status of Women.
Mayor Tornek said that the commission might be “casting about” for what they need to focus on, including wage parity.
He said he was “irritated” after the city got “dinged” last year by the League of Women’s Voters Pasadena (LWVP), because of the small percentage of women on commissions. Councilmembers who select such commissioners are not devoted enough to selecting diverse pools that adequately represent the views of the city, he said.
Dorothy Keane is President of LWVP. Keane said that Pasadena stakeholders must shine a brighter light on women who do occupy positions of influence.
She said it is even more critical that increasing numbers of capable women are encouraged to pursue leadership roles while greater pressure must be placed on gatekeepers to accommodate such women once they come knocking.
“Civic engagement needs to be taught earlier and better. We need young women – even younger than high school age – to make a real commitment to get their voices heard for the good of the public.”
Past LWVP president Marna Cornell said, “Women that belong to the league are a good representation of what women should be – out there making their voices heard for the good of the public. We are building a transformation roadmap that encouraged diversity, equity, youth and inclusion reflective of the community in which we serve.”
Anne Miskey knows about civic engagement for public good. As Chief Executive Officer of Union Station Homeless Services (USHS) and former CEO of the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, Miskey said the nonprofit space afforded more opportunities for women to make a difference than the corporate arena.
“The statistics are shocking and shameful,” she said. “There must be an intentionality of all local institutions to ensure parity. Union Station strives to augment strategic partnerships that ensure a trickle-up effect for women, not only homeless women but for our board and staff.”
Miskey said that Pasadena should identify the reasons why more women do not attain roles on council or commissions and also in the private sector. She said such entities, including nonprofit boards, are populated by people of wealth, largely male, and there should be a system wherein passion, commitment and acumen become primary drivers for acceptance into the fold.
Miskey’s board at USHS is 40 percent female. The organization has created a survey to review demographics, identify gaps and establish objectives that lead to parity.
Debora Unruh said she too is “intentional” about improving her board makeup – currently five of 12 directors are women. Unruh is Executive Director and founder of Elizabeth House, a 25-year-old nonprofit that provides resources and housing to homeless pregnant women and their children.
“Women face so many internal obstacles that are significantly compounded by external gender-related bias and challenges, including domestic violence, abandonment and financial abuse.
Unruh said that women have been on the frontlines of history for ages — including leading the abolitionist movement — yet they attract considerably less fervor and acclaim than men. She said she surrounds herself with women and men who advocate for fairness, while especially identifying means for young women to have greater community impact.
Board and executive leadership at Pasadena’s colleges also evidence a history of imbalance.
“It’s a challenge, and it’s something we’re fully aware of,” said Lisa Sanchez, vice president of human resources at ArtCenter College of Design. Sanchez juggles employee relations, training, policy development, and diversity and inclusion efforts, among other duties.
“A number of issues related to parity and diversity are always running through how we do our programming, how we recruit, how we promote. We must make sure there is a diverse search committee and that we cast a wide enough net.”
Sanchez said the school recently hired Chief Diversity Officer Aaron Bruce who will shepherd the forthcoming Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Art and Design. The center is expected to “break new ground through practice, scholarship and pedagogy.”
She said that personal mentors — both men and women — helped her realize lofty goals. In fact, Sanchez stressed how mentors are quintessential resources for personal and professional success.
Junior League of Pasadena President Charlotte Miles agreed. “We strongly believe in mentorship, and in fact, one of our priorities is to focus on collaborative relationships with women whose understanding of particular landscapes will enable other women to join them.”
Miles said priorities have shifted for her organization, which is one of 291 Junior Leagues dedicated to developing the potential of women through community service.
“This is no longer your grandmother’s Junior League,” she said. “We formed a diversity and inclusion task force over the last two years to reach older women, queer women and those from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Miles said the organization participated in Innovate Pasadena — a tech networking conference — at which an all-female panel discussed barriers for entry and how even recruitment advertising language skews male. Miles is driving more women’s career workshops into the Junior League programming portfolio, including computer training.
Tracy Heverly is chief people officer at Bluebeam, an award-winning tech company headquartered in Pasadena. She said that, while more women have been interviewing for positions as the business expands, the actual number of women new-hires is not exactly where she would like it to be.
“The biggest change is the drumbeat and passion of our HR team and employee population in caring about making gender parity a priority.” Heverly said the sad reality is that nobody in tech is doing it very well just yet.
Although she is the sole female listed as a member of Bluebeam’s executive team, she said the company’s general counsel – a woman – should be included in the tally.
“I feel like Bluebeam has come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Bolstered by our CEO, our entire talent team is focused on this topic. There’s truly a belief that we’re better if we’re more diverse, but not because somebody is holding our feet to the fire.”
As CEO of parity-focused 50/50 Leadership, Pasadena resident Pauline Field does, in fact, hold feet to the fire regarding issues of inequity.
“You don’t have to be a born leader, but when women do lead, it’s good for both sexes. Any man who says women are not as competitive or capable or competent is not paying close attention. When women are in the executive suite, the bottom line is that it’s good for business.”
And as Women’s City Club of Pasadena Executive Director Rae Magnuson said, “The fact that women do not hold many leadership positions in Pasadena is a product of what has been ingrained in our culture. Men learn to be dominant at an early age. We believe courageous curiosity and diverging opinions create a strong sisterhood for growth.”
The City Club is a professional networking organization where women from more than 30 organizations gather to “impact each other and our community in a meaningful way.”
Such a sisterhood has largely gone missing from the preeminent leadership position at Pasadena’s most celebrated institution, the renowned Tournament of Roses. This is because only two of its 117 presidents have been women, the first emerging a mere 13 years ago.
In 1890, a small group of well-heeled Pasadena players fashioned a festive celebration of local flora to attract similar ilk to their resplendent enclave. Today, the organization’s seminal New Year’s Day Rose Parade is known the world over as the pinnacle of perennial holiday processions, viewed by tens of millions worldwide.
Laura Farber will become the nonprofit’s third woman president in 2019-2020.
“I have experienced gender bias since the day I was born, but I have never used that bias as an excuse.”
Part of the challenge, Farber said, is that organizations need to involve women in “meaningful participation.” She said the Tournament is loading a pipeline with women who, via various committee leadership roles, will be better prepared for high-level opportunities.
Farber, a law firm partner at Hahn & Hahn LLP, said that in order to pursue the presidency, it takes at least an eight-year commitment to rise through the ranks of more than 900 constituents. She said she has been the beneficiary of highly skilled and devoted men and women mentors throughout that process.
Some critics have scrutinized the Tournament as sexist if not sullied by traditions steeped in depictions of dutiful ladies trimmed in crowns and gowns.
The “Queen” and her “Royal Court” of “Princesses” – a seven-member body of largely high school women – are judged among thousands of applicants. Each Royal Court member receives $1,750 – in the form of “scholarship” funding – along with a full wardrobe and professional development assistance, which has included proper etiquette training.
In exchange, the young women attend 100-150 promotional and community service events during their reign, including hospital visits and other local health and human services outreach efforts. Were each event to require a nominal one or two-hour commitment, compensation would be roughly $5 - $11 per hour, based on their $1,750 stipend.
According to a January 2018 version of the Tournament site accessed through Google’s Wayback Machine, the organization disallowed any young woman to apply for the Royal Court if she were married or had children. The current site has eliminated such criteria. Farber confirmed that the organization no longer applies such restrictions – a monumental change in a longstanding tradition.
This year’s queen, Louise Siskel, a Sequoyah High School senior, possesses an exceptional résumé, including Sequoyah High School student council co-president, debate team and judicial committee, not to mention her engagement in university-level breast cancer research and an internship with NASA.
After donning her $100,000 tiara Siskel said, ”I couldn’t believe it would be me.”