How old are you?
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small farming community in the Central Valley of California. My mom and dad met just after WW11 in London (she was from Ireland) and were married in 1946 just a month after my mom moved to the US. We were a typical blue collar family and I learned from a young age that work was a part of life – I had chores before I went to school every morning - feeding the baby calves (milk in a bucket with a nipple on it), and doing dishes before I walked the 2 miles to school. After school I did chores before homework – weeding the garden, helping with dinner, washing dishes, etc. I attended Catholic schools, socialized with Catholic families and didn’t know much about life outside of that small circle of family and religion until I was 18.
After high school I attended a local Jr. College but before I could finish my first year, I was pregnant (a man I went on a date with raped me). Being raised Catholic/religious I didn’t think I had another choice but to keep the baby and marry the man. By the time I was 20 I had 2 babies and was living in a terribly abusive marriage. At 26 I was able to find the strength to get a divorce (I thought he would kill me inside or outside the marriage). The bad news is that he would get the kids during the divorce. I was terribly shy and couldn’t speak up for myself and he got the best attorney he could find and I had an attorney who believed that a woman’s place was in the home. At that time there were no women’s centers and no one talked about women getting hit or abused. I think it was expected that men should keep their women in line or under their control in that era. I had no power, no voice and felt totally alone.
Where did you go to college? Were you the first woman in your family to go to college?
Four years after my divorce I followed a man to Alaska, but the relationship didn’t last more than six months. (Yes, I was looking for love in all the wrong places!) The good news is that even though he left me stranded in Alaska I got a job at the University of Alaska as a receptionist in their Counseling Services department. I worked with amazing people who talked me into going to school (it was paid for because I worked there!). Just as I was finishing my degree in Sociology a Women’s Center was being launched and my colleagues encouraged me to work there. I did, and my life changed. I did not work in Sociology per se, but I learned a lot about people, social behaviors, social patterns and so much more than I ever learned in college. My job was to organize a series of workshops where both women and men from the community would speak to students about their goals, their careers, what made them successful, etc. At the same time, I started volunteering at a local Women’s shelter working with women who were victims of physical and emotional abuse. It became clear to me during that time that women (I) could and did have a voice and we (I) needed to help each other become strong and believe in ourselves.
Tell us about your career.
I moved to Seattle in 1988 because it was time to start a fresh life and to see the sun again… I arrived in Seattle with my best friend, Jo, without a place to live, no job and very little money in the bank. Within two years I went from cleaning houses (it was the easiest job to get right off the bat) to working at Microsoft and living on Queen Anne in a beautiful old craftsman. When I got the job at Microsoft, I told them I could work on an event team because I had planned events for the University of Alaska (I made coffee and hung flyers around the campus with a $50 budget). One of my early jobs was working with a team of people launching Windows 95. We had a 5M budget to plan a roadshow to 20 cities around the US. During that time, I remember being asked to attend a dinner with Windows technical folks from around the US. I was so afraid and kept wondering what the heck I would say to these folks because I was not technical. After arriving at the dinner, I sat down at the table, miserable, because I had nothing in common with these guys. One of the guys sitting next to me started to tell me that he had just asked his girlfriend to marry him. I simply said, “how did you meet your finance?” After he finished telling me his story a guy across the table looked at me and said, “will you ask me how I met my wife?” Everyone at the table had a turn telling me how they meet their significant other. I felt connected and part of the team! I’ve been at Microsoft for 29 years now, and even though it wasn’t always popular, I’ve stayed true to leading every conversation from my heart because I truly believe work is personal.
Was there ever a time you felt challenged by a double standard as a woman?
Yes, re-read the part about me losing my kids to a real looser. I started working on women’s issues and, especially pay equity, in about 1980 when women were making $0.60 on the dollar compared to male counterparts. A recent 2018 research study shows that women in the United States now make $0.80 on the dollar. So, that means in the last 38 years we’ve increased women’s pay by 20%. At this rate, pay parity won’t be achieved until 2056! I believe that “Sisterhood” is strong and powerful right now due to things like Tribute, the Me Too movement, all the women running for office, celebrities speaking out, etc., and I have hope that that women’s human rights, and equality, will happen in my lifetime!
Did you have any female mentors that inspired you early in your career?
Yes, I have had mentors that inspired me throughout my life. It started early on with the Counselors at the University of Alaska who took me under their wing and made sure I got an education. The woman who ran the Women’s Center and always assumed I could do anything, who continually tested me and who introduced me to Gloria Steinem. A woman who was running for Alaska State House and who showed me how a strong woman can show up while I was working on her campaign. In Seattle it was the folks at Microsoft who believed in me in those early years even though I didn’t. It was a friend who told me I could run a mile (I didn’t believe it) and who then went to the track with me every day until I ran my first mile. It’s Sarah, Jennifer and Trese (my meditation team) and many, many other women friends who’ve taught me that my ideas, voice and opinions matter.
What inspires you to mentor others?
In my mind a mentor doesn’t have to be someone who teaches you a new skill. A mentor can also be someone who’s there for you, someone you trust, who’s dependable, engaged, authentic and tuned in. I see so many folks who are hired and thrown into jobs without much training – they are lonely and scared. I feel like I have a responsibility to help them in any small way I can –taking them to lunch, introducing them to others, talking to them about the culture, the tools, and the list goes on. I challenge all of you to look around for that person who’s new or alone or struggling and be a friend, a mentor and most of all a hero! FYI – when you mentor you are mentored, and everyone wins!
What advice do you have for working women today?
Be yourself. Be honest and embrace your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to fail or to ask for what you want. Be real, authentic, lead every conversation from your heart and your intuition. This is where Sarah’s idea about Tribute as a connecting tool is brilliant for women in the workforce today. You can easily find someone who’s inspiring to you, doing a job you’d like to know more about or has a skill you want to learn, and ask them to mentor you. Don’t be afraid of over-stepping, or appearing needy or feel like you’re imposing Here’s the deal – when you don’t ask for help/guidance, you are depriving those who’d love to help the opportunity to do so. Most people will be flattered that you reached out to them. Having the courage to ask for help gives you the chance to pull someone else up.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
I hope to be an example of someone who faced struggles early in life but who learned she could create the life of her dreams by simply leaping and believing. I want to be known as a connector – someone who connected with people and someone who connected people to other people. I also hope people will think of me as someone who connected from my heart with compassion and grace.