Day job: CEO and president, Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce
Hometown: Ottawa, Kan.
You wrote recently about wanting to build a “regional environment that allows everyone the opportunity for success.” What work needs to be done to achieve that goal?
Let me offer some context first: I grew up in Kansas before I moved out to California. It was eye-opening for me to be exposed to the possibilities that are out there. Had I stayed in my town of 25,000 people, I might have been able to choose from just four or five careers or been a homemaker because that’s all that there was. When I moved to California, I saw that you could do anything: You could hold elected office; you could be an architect; you could be a CEO. So one of the important things that the chamber can do is communicate to all of our students what we are hearing from the business community about what the future workforce needs will be.
You recently went on the chamber’s Cap-to-Cap trip to Washington, D.C. What are the challenges of advocating for business in a polarized political climate?
Even though there are a lot of political challenges in our environment right now, there are many issues where we have common ground. We have to create conversations based on data and evidence and stakeholder feedback and reality. Regardless of the political climate, we have to come from a place of reason and logic.
You are the first woman to hold your position in a full-time, permanent capacity. Is that significant?
It’s interesting the feedback I’ve gotten, particularly from women entrepreneurs and young women in the region. They’re very excited that there’s someone who understands where they’re coming from, and they’re getting engaged in ways that they hadn’t in the past. I really want to encourage that and for folks to know that the chamber is here to help you be successful.
Have you had to prove to others that a woman is capable of doing this job?
I’m still proving myself and will continue to do so. One of the reasons I was so excited about this opportunity is because it’s meaningful for people to see folks in leadership roles who look like them, who come from their experience. I want the women business owners and leaders in our community to know that I get it. We did not wave a magic wand and somehow all prejudice and bias went away. It’s still very real. Women still don’t make as much as men in the same job.
With regard to economic prosperity, those are real challenges. When nobody at the table looks like you, it can be very overwhelming. It can be the same way for our communities of color: When there’s no one at the table who is living your reality, maybe it doesn’t feel like that’s a place that is OK for you to be. I want folks to know that the chamber is here for you, regardless of any of that. We cannot unlock the economic prosperity of our region when there are swaths of people who are left behind.