Throughout history, the gender playing field has never been equal. Men on average still earn more than women for doing the same work. Women continue to be undervalued and under-represented in industry, arts, and sciences. At some steps of my personal journey I have had to confront the fact that people have underestimated my abilities, and at times it was difficult because I was not taken as seriously as a man might have been.
However, nothing is to be gained by simply bemoaning the state of affairs. True liberation begins with the spirit and in the mind. Mary Shelley spoke a profound truth 150 years ago when she wrote “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”
From childhood I’ve never been afraid to stand up for myself, or believe that being a woman should hold me back from doing anything I wanted to do or to be anybody I wanted to be. I entered the business world with the intention of reaching my personal best. #ere was nobody I wouldn’t learn from and no program I wouldn’t sign up for that offered a pathway to self-improvement. I became a successful entrepreneur, earned a good income with my own real estate business, and for the past 12 years have been owner and publisher of 110° Magazine. Even now, I continue honing my knowledge, talents, and abilities to reach the goals that I still have set for myself.
The fact is, nobody who ever made a success of their lives did so as a Lone Ranger. Behind every high-achieving person there are people — perhaps parents, teachers, relatives, or friends — who offer encouragement, guidance, and mentorship. In my case, my parents’ belief in me played a big role in building my confidence. From early childhood, both of them kept giving me the message that I could do whatever I chose to do, and to become the person I wanted to be.
One roadblock preventing some young women from ever reaching the potential awaiting them, is the lack of the role models that played such an important part in my life. In some cases, alcohol, drugs, ignorance, pregnancy and poverty have reduced their lives to survival levels, with no opportunity to even imagine, let alone embrace, a future in which they could have an education, earn a good living in a career, and travel the world. Even young women from relatively prosperous backgrounds can lack confidence and self-esteem and move towards womanhood without ever realizing that their future is a blank canvas upon which they can create a fine career of their choosing.
Some young women haven’t yet become acquainted with successful women who can provide an illustration of rising to success whatever the circumstances. #is is a shame because there are many powerful women who have satisfying and profitable careers in Medicine, Real Estate, Law, Government, et cetera. I know women who have found successful careers as Veterinarians, Musicians, Artists — the list goes on.
Fortunately, #e Empowerment Project has come along to help address that problem. Our December 2016 issue told the inspiring story of how Sal Sbranti and Milanka Schneiderman led the Antioch Rotary Club to host The Empowerment Project that was aimed at “Changing the attitudes of Antioch schoolgirls toward themselves and towards the possibilities that lie in their future.”
I embraced The Empowerment Project the first time I learned of it, because it is a movement designed to provide hope and encouragement to young girls through the example of successful women who had to fight through adversity to achieve their goals.
We can never underestimate the power of an example, either good or bad, to change the course of a person’s life. Einstein revealed a great truth when he wrote, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”
The Empowerment Project has created an ongoing program at a national level that is being administered at grass-root levels in local communities. !e project creates potentially life-changing energies by introducing young female students to a panel of successful women from the community. !e women, of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, are put center stage and given the opportunity of telling their stories, acknowledging the barriers that they faced, and describing the attitudes, decisions, and factors that made them successful.
Three members of the Brentwood Rotary Club — Olga Vidriales, Julie Deck, and Vera Martinez put together our local Empowerment Project at Freedom High School with the full cooperation of the Freedom principal Kelly Manke. Olga was the real booster! She acknowledged the wonderful assistance from the Antioch Rotary Club members, who began hosting the annual event several years earlier. Olga had been part of the first Antioch Rotary Club presentation and was profoundly moved by the impact she saw it was making on the young women in the room. Olga, herself, is second generation Mexican American. Her mother emigrated when she was 12 years old and became an ideal example of the American Dream.
She obtained her citizenship, earned a GED, started two successful businesses, and purchased a couple homes. Olga loved !e Empowerment Project’s ability to help young women make real changes in their lives by giving them role models that they could look up to. “The message really spoke to me,” Olga said. “Because a woman named Licha Chavez took me under her wing, mentored me, made sure that I got into college, and changed the direction of my life.”
We conducted our Empowerment Project event last fall before a room full of young women at the Freedom High auditorium. I was one of four panelists, along with Nancy Marquez, who is Oakley’s Human Resource manager and Assistant to City Manager; Seanna Fippin, who is CEO of Red Box Business Solutions; and Dr. LaJuan Hall, owner of Brentwood Children’s Dentistry.
Two of us panel members were of Hispanic descent. Dr. LaJuan Hall is African-American and owner of a highly successful pediatric dental practice. Seana Fippin is a Caucasian woman who had to overcome the effects of a difficult childhood. Each of us were able to talk about the barriers and difficulties we faced, and to present ourselves as role models, each of us leaving the girls with a message. “If I can do it, you can too.”
When my turn came, I listed for the students the factors that I believed had contributed to making me a success in the business world including such things as a willingness to get out of my comfort zone and take risks, to believe in myself, to find support from others, to learn from failure, and to always be prepared. I hope my words helped some of the girls in the audience prepare for success, but I think the most powerful motivation was them seeing me, as a woman — small in stature, yet big in heart — who is experiencing a nice quality of life, running my own business with passion, enjoying numerous opportunities for travel, while never relying on a man to lead the way.
"These girls are definitely going places"
Seana said that she was moved by being part of the event. Along with the other panelists, Seana presented herself as an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things with passion and heart. She spoke about the strong female role models that, in various ways, had impacted her own life.
Seana said the girls inspired her as much as she inspired them. Her favorite part of the event was when young women came up to the stage after the presentation and asked such thoughtful questions as, “How do you deal with insecurity?” Seana was encouraged by the level of engagement those attendees were showing and thought to herself, “These girls are definitely going places!”
Vera said that The Empowerment Project was one of the best things she was ever involved in. At a couple points during the presentation, she was nearly overwhelmed with the realization that in some cases, lives in that room might be changing forever. Vera found Nancy Marques’ speech to be especially powerful, and said that she was encouraged by it herself.
Nancy made a lively presentation that captured the attention and the hearts of the students and fellow panel members, as well. Vera said that she found Nancy to be so inspiring it made her think better about herself.
Nancy said that a lot of her energy came from the fact that she was standing up on the stage of her alma mater. “I graduated from Freedom 15 years ago,” she said. The event caused Nancy to became aware of how wisdom, advice, and inspiration really do move from one generation to another. “As I stood on the stage,” she said, “I realized that I was speaking to the group of young women that my baby daughter will hear from and look up to when she attends this school.”
Her participation in the event required eﬀort on Nancy’s part because she shared some personal struggles about her upbringing that she had never made public before, growing up as a ﬁrst generation Mexican American, and some of the fears she and her family faced. However, she said, “The goal of this program spoke so deeply to my heart and to my deepest held beliefs, that I agreed to put myself out there.”
Nancy especially wanted to convey to the young women the truth that overcoming challenging circumstances is the very process that sets them apart, conﬁrms their calling, and increases their ability to contribute even more powerfully to the world and to their own success.
Nancy expressed a goal that each of us share: “That young girls would see that their goals are attainable, as long as they commit themselves to working hard and relentlessly.”
Seana spoke for all of us panelists when she said, “It was such a wonderful event to be a part of! I would do it again, anytime!”