Glass ceilings are breaking all over the country as women fight to rise to positions of leadership in these times of #MeToo and powerful male leaders are being accused of sexual harassment and assault.
New allegations are coming out of Texas and New Mexico politics too, along with calls for the resignations of veteran elected leaders accused of sexual misconduct.
So far, those sorts of stories have bypassed El Paso, where women are making inroads to high-profile corporate and public offices, breaking a little glass along the way.
In the March 6 Democratic primary, three well-known leaders, Norma Chavez, Veronica Escobar and Dori Fenenbock, are in a bare-knuckles fight to be the first congresswoman El Paso sends to Washington.
Women now lead the nonprofit El Paso Children’s Hospital and the highly profitable Hospitals of Providence, El Paso’s largest hospital network and second largest private employer.
Then there are Mary Kipp, CEO and president of El Paso Electric; Emma Schwartz, president of the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation and Sylvia Acosta, the El Paso del Norte YWCA CEO, who are working to help other women rise to leadership positions.
“I think we’re finally starting to see more women in leadership positions, though of course there’s a long way to go,” said Kipp, one of seven female utility CEOs out of the nation’s 47 electric utilities.
“One of the areas we still need a lot of improvement in is women on the boards of publicly traded companies,” Kipp said. “A board provides strategic oversight for the company and has a fiduciary responsibility that may be really, really critical.
“So I’m hopeful we can see more women in those positions.”
El Paso Electric, one of two publicly traded companies headquartered in El Paso, has a program called Powerful Women Resources, or PWR, that Kipp started in 2015 “to encourage growth and development opportunities for our female employees,” she said.
“We still don’t have women equally represented in the organization to the extent that we would like to,” she said. “We’re also trying to get many of them on boards in the community to help them learn to give back.”
Kipp, Schwartz and Acosta agree that joining a nonprofit board is one of the best ways for anyone to learn about leadership, make new friends and meet people who might open doors to new opportunities.
“I applaud the El Paso community because we have women leaders in all sorts of positons – nonprofit, government, the private sector,” Kipp said. “It’s really a pleasure to know so many of these women and just to have others to talk to and bounce ideas off of.
“I think El Paso may be ahead of the curve on that.”
Kipp said she doesn’t know whether El Paso has more women on boards and in leadership positions, statistically speaking, than other cities, but she knows things have changed here.
“When I moved here from Washington, D.C. a little more than 10 years ago, it wasn’t this way,” she said. “We have achieved a critical mass and have powerful women in this community who are very supportive of one another.”
As for the sexual harassment and advances that many women encounter on the job, Kipp didn’t say if she ran into that on her way up the ranks at the electric company, but she thinks diversity is the key to stopping it anywhere.
“I think there’s less opportunity for abuse than when a single demographic group tends to be in power,” she said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction, and it’s terrific that we’re talking about it.
“Bringing a light to things is the best way to deal with them. There are growing pains associated with it but in the long run, diversity, inclusion and having dialogue to me is the solution to a lot of social ills.”
Both Kipp and Emma Schwartz credited men they worked with for making their advancements possible.
Schwartz is the first and only president the El Paso Medical Center of the Americas Foundation has had since its creation in 2009. After her appointment, she oversaw the $27 million Cardwell Collaborative building project on the MCA’s 440-acre campus.
In addition to being a wife, the mother of two and taking part in triathlons, Schwartz serves on more than a dozen boards where, she said, she keeps running into the same women.
“I get invitations from boards all the time, and I’m, like, isn’t there another woman you can call?” she said.
Part of the issue is there are some women who do a lot of volunteer work while others don’t because they have responsibilities working and raising kids.
For those wanting a leg up, she said, there’s a group called The MentorSHIP El Paso made up of women mentors who will work on a rotating basis with women who want to grow in their careers.
“It’s just a way to get these young ladies in front of people, and then they can ask all kinds of questions,” Schwartz said.
Every few months, she said, she invites different women she knows to dinner at a well-known restaurant for a big networking dinner to talk about anything and get to know one another.
“I feel the more we happen to know each other, the more we’ll have opportunities to work together professionally – and to think of each other when there’s a board position open,” she said.
As hard as it can be, with all the other demands on working women, getting out professionally and personally is important for career women.
“Sometimes it takes someone to bop you on the side of the head and say go out, to meet some people,” Schwartz said.
That can include joining traditional civic groups like Rotary Club or the Lions that are struggling to survive and need new members to carry on their community work.
“It’s great networking,” Schwartz said.
March is Women’s History Month, and Sylvia Acosta said the YWCA is hosting events to celebrate it, including a showing of the movie “Suffragette” about the women who fought for the right to vote in the early 1900s.
“We’re showing it on March 7 – the day after the election and before International Women’s Day – because we want to call attention to the fact that the primary is not the final election,” she said. “There’s another election in November.
“We need to celebrate our ability to come together as women and have gotten the right through the 19th Amendment. Leadership matters, and women’s leadership matters.”
And, she said, the YWCA has just rolled out a dating violence curriculum created for the El Paso and Deming school districts in partnership with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and now available to other districts.
“We’re doing this because we looked at the state average of dating violence among teenagers and found that statewide it was about 11 percent, but in El Paso, it was 17 percent,” Acosta said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.