2016-11-25 / Neighbors
Young women step toward leadership
Rebekah Harding, the Reagan Foundation’s education outreach manager, told the group of 12- to 20-year-olds that the Nov. 19 summit was about learning what they are capable of achieving for the future.
“The energy you bring into the room is going to be really important. . . . I want this (power pose) to be intentional, to fill the entire room with the girl power you all are bringing to the table,” she told the hundreds of future leaders. “You are all a force, and I can’t wait to see what you do.”
Inspired by the 35th anniversary of Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court by then-President Ronald Reagan, the summit drew young women from all over Southern California, said Rebecca Gallacher, the foundation’s education administrative coordinator.
“(The summit) is really about teaching girls to step out on their own leadership journeys, whether they’re in college and know what the next step is or they’re 12 years old and still figuring out what their identity is,” Gallacher told the Simi Valley Acorn.
“We wanted to provide a place for ladies to see what that’s like (to be the first in their field), know what leadership is and how to step out when it’s difficult,” she continued. “Justice O’Connor wasn’t able to get a job anywhere when she first started out, and then she became the first female Supreme Court justice. That’s something incredible to celebrate.”
During the event, attendees participated in a panel discussion with women change-makers and student-leader lightning talks. Keynote speaker Carol Isozaki, founder of Strategic Brand Intelligence, wrapped up the summit with a talk on “planning to be amazing.”
Tony Pennay, the Reagan Foundation’s chief learning officer, was tasked with interviewing O’Connor in 2011 at the Reagan Library.
“To be honest, I was scared out of my mind not because I was nervous being onstage . . . but because we only had an hour to sit down with someone who had changed history,” he said during the summit. “I was worried it wasn’t enough time to convey just how important she was to our country (and) young women who aspire to legal careers.”
In a video clip from the 2011 interview, O’Connor touched on what it was like to graduate from Stanford Law School in 1952 and the difficulty of finding a job.
“I called 40 law firms asking for an interview. Not a single one would even give me an interview. They wouldn’t even talk to me,” O’Connor said, adding one man even told her he could not see the day a woman lawyer would be hired.
Determined to find a job, O’Connor reached out to a district attorney in San Mateo, Calif., and asked for an interview. While he said he would be happy to have her, O’Connor said in the video, his funding came from the Board of Supervisors and it was not in the budget to hire anyone.
O’Connor said she was willing to forgo pay and her own office if she were hired. And she was.
“That was my first job as a lawyer: no pay and I put my desk in the secretary’s office. But you know what? I loved my job. In those days, a woman had to make some special efforts to get some work,” she said.
Reagan appointed O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice in 1981, something he considered one of his proudest moments, Pennay said.
“(O’Connor’s) confirmation symbolizes the richness of opportunity that still abides in America . . . that permits persons of any age or sex or race from every walk of life to aspire and achieve (anything) in a manner never before even dreamed about in human history,” Reagan said in a speech during O’Connor’s Supreme Court confirmation.
Since 2004, Forbes magazine has published a list of the world’s 100 most powerful women, and O’Connor was the very first one to top the list, Harding said at the summit.
“Today, we find women in the private and public sectors being recognized, (but) these women are framed as the exception rather than the example,” she said.
In 2015, women held 104 of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, or 19.4 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Harding said another study by Pew Research found the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has grown from zero in 1995 to about 5 percent in 2015.
“Instead of saying we’ve only grown so much, let’s acknowledge the situation and look at it with optimism moving forward,” Harding said. “Many women have fought to bring us to where we are today, and it’s up to us to continue paving the road for future women in leadership.”