Fontana event

Kimberly Freeman, Dr. Adina Sterling, Dr. Sacha Joseph-Mathews, and Dr. Michele Turner were some of the participants in the Select Committee on the Status of Girls and Women of Color hearing at Fontana City Hall recently.

Increasing diversity in corporate America, entrepreneurship and academia were the major issues discussed at the Select Committee on the Status of Girls and Women of Color hearing that was recently held in Fontana.

The event was chaired by Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino) at the Fontana City Council Chambers.

“We convened this hearing to examine issues that impact women of color in California who own businesses and work in corporate America. Our major objective is to learn what the state can do to create a pipeline for girls and women of color to pursue business careers,” stated Brown. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve business opportunities for women of color.”

The hearing included testimonies by women of color who own and operate small to mid-sized businesses throughout the Inland Empire. Additionally, panelists from major corporations provided guidance on climbing the corporate ladder.

Program participants included: Kimberly Freeman, assistant dean for diversity initiatives and community relations, UCLA; Dr. Adina Sterling, assistant professor of organizational behavior, Stanford Graduate School of Business; Dr. Sacha Joseph-Mathews, associate professor, University of the Pacific; Dr. Michele Turner, executive director of the Black Alumni Association, USC; Hilda Kennedy, president, AmPac Tri State CDC; Maria Molina Solano, executive director, National Latina Business Women Association-IE; Kiana Webb-Severloh, president/CEO, Webb Family Enterprises; Quita Highsmith, franchise head/sr. director for Tamiflu, Genentech; Jennifer Fisher, intellectual property counsel, Boeing; Evelin Martinez, area president (Inland Empire), Wells Fargo and Co.; Annabel Chang, director of public policy, Lyft; Mahlet Getachew, senior legal counsel, GoPro, Inc.; Luz Rodriguez-Roldan, assistant manager of human resources, California Steel Industries; Lupita Sanchez-Cornejo, director of external affairs, AT&T; and Kim Winston, senior manager of government relations, Starbucks.

All panelists agreed that there is a need to inform women of color that business is a viable career path, Brown said.

"Additionally, we need to make intentional efforts to encourage them to pursue business careers because they ultimately create more jobs for both men and women," Brown said.

Kiana Webb of Webb Family Enterprises spoke about her experience as the owner and operator of 16 McDonald’s restaurants and employer of approximately 1,300 individuals.

“As a business owner, one of the best things about what I do is that I get to create my own experience,” said Webb. “It’s not necessarily just the challenges that we’re facing, it’s also the opportunities that we are creating, and the path that you can make for yourself.”

Panelist Quita Highsmith of Genentech, a biotechnology company, suggested that women of color need an advocate to open doors for them.

“For women of color, you need a sponsor that can open the door for you when the door is closed as they are having discussions about talent. You need someone in a position of power who can be your advocate; someone who’s willing to put their neck on the line for you. You need a champion, and a personal board of directors to provide you with professional guidance and emotional security,” she said.

Evelin Martinez of Wells Fargo Bank called upon corporations to rise to the challenge of supporting students and their educational needs.

“I would not be where I am today if I did not have mentors along the way," she said. "I think the hardest thing to do is to ask for help. We can’t wait for people to ask for help, we need to reach out to them. We need to have a call to action for corporations to provide access to mentorship and information so we can fix the issues that we have.”

The academia panel echoed some of the same concerns, and added that not enough women are pursuing business degrees.

“Women of color are more likely to pursue degrees in social sciences than in business,” said Dr. Adina Sterling, Stanford University. “The UC system indicated that 209 women of color graduated with an undergraduate degree in business last year compared to almost 3,000 that graduated with social sciences degrees. One way to encourage girls and women of color to pursue degrees in business is to increase the number of professors and teacher assistants who look like them.”

Many studies suggest that faculty makeup has a direct impact on academic success among students of color. According to Dr. Sacha Joseph-Matthews of the University of Pacific, women of color represent only eight percent of faculty nationwide.

“We really need more faculty of color in positions on campuses,” said Dr. Joseph-Matthews. “Often, on campuses, women of color do not feel they’re included. They feel this is not a place where they can get a sense of community and that becomes a huge problem. If we do not have women of color in key administrative roles, where they can influence campus-wide decision making on recruitment, admissions, retention and student life; and furthermore, how can we make campuses inclusive spaces for women of color?”

The committee concluded that additional mentorship programs are needed to encourage women of color to pursue business.

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