Honoring Women—And Achieving Workplace Equality—Were On The Menu At Dallas Women’s Foundation’s Annual Leadership Forum And Award Dinner

Maura McNeil

Maura McNeil

During the VIP reception at the Omni Dallas Hotel for the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s 2016 Leadership Forum and Awards Dinner on Thursday, April 21, the woman for whom the Maura Awards were named sat in a chair against one wall, quietly greeting old friends like Susie Marshall, Vivian Castleberry and Martha Tiller.

The remarkable Maura McNeil, a one-time Dallas resident who’d turned 95 two days earlier, said she lives now in Los Altos, California, but wouldn’t have missed this occasion for anything. “Every year, it gets a little bigger and bigger,” she said. “It’s such a bringing-together event. No one else is doing anything like it.”

Originally called the Women Helping Women Awards when they were established in 1978, the awards were renamed the Maura Awards in 1985 after McNeil, the founding president of the Women’s Center of Dallas and one of 19 founders of the Dallas Women’s Foundation. The awards honor those who’ve helped improve the lives of women and girls in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Nancy Ann Hunt and Vivian Castleberry

Nancy Ann Hunt and Vivian Castleberry

Fran Phillips and Adlene Harrison

Fran Phillips and Adlene Harrison

Following the VIP reception, where the mingling guests included Adlene Harrison, Nancy Ann Hunt, and Ashlee Kleinert, a capacity, sold-out crowd of 930 poured into the Omni’s Trinity Ballroom for the evening’s dinner and program. There, Roslyn Dawson Thompson, president and CEO of the women’s foundation, welcomed everyone before giving way to Event Chairs Margaret Jordan and Debbie Taylor.

Nancy Kasten, David Stern and Lili Stern

Nancy Kasten, David Stern and Lili Stern

Soon, with the help of some expertly produced videos, it was time to present the 2016 Mauras. They went to pioneering attorney Diana C. Dutton (who said, “The glass ceiling remains in place”); entrepreneur Billie Bryant Schultz; Rabbi Nancy Kasten (“We’re all responsible for each other”); New Friends New Life CEO Katie Pedigo; and artist and community leader Vicki Meek (“Someone helped you get a leg up. Your challenge is to help that next person get a leg up”).

Vicki Meeks

Vicki Meek

Young Leader Awards were then presented by women’s foundation Board Chair Ellenore Knight Baker to corporate attorney Brittany K. Byrd, who founded a resource for girls whose mothers are in prison called Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM); and business advisor Lacy L. Durham, who advocates for women on issues ranging from mentorship to human trafficking.

After the guests enjoyed an excellent meal including seasonal bundled greens, pepper-grilled filet of beef, balsamic lacquered breast of chicken and turtle cheesecake, Jennifer Biry of presenting sponsor AT&T introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter. Slaughter, who’s the president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a former Princeton professor and a former top State Department official under Hillary Clinton, outlined a unique “vision for work-life balance” drawn from her new book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Man, Work, Family.”

Anne-Marie Slaugher

Anne-Marie Slaugher

Working women still lag behind men especially in the executive suite, Slaughter told the crowd, in part because of the extra load professional women often have carried as both mothers and breadwinners. For many years the feminist movement has devalued the “work our mothers did” as caretakers, Slaughter said. And the best way to reestablish the value of the role of caretaker—of children (and now) of aging parents—is to expect the caretaker role to be filled by men as well as women, she said. “It’s discriminatory to expect [working] women to do two jobs, and men to do one,” she said.

In order to accomplish the goal of true equality and opportunity, men will have to be allowed the freedom to give up their rigid roles as alpha males, Slaughter said, and benefit from “the same range of choices [as women] with respect to mixing caregiving and breadwinning.” Government will need to play a key role in making this happen, she added, by requiring that companies provide paid family leave, for instance, or by ensuring the availability of high-quality childcare and eldercare.

In conclusion, Slaughter advocated a number of things the guests could do to advance the cause of true equality. Among them:

  • “Change the way you talk. Banish the word ‘mother’ from your vocabulary and replace it with the word ‘parent.’”
  • “Don’t use the term ‘working mother’ unless you also use the term ‘working father.’”
  • “Talk to young men the same way you would talk to young women.”
  • “Teach your children to be gender pioneers.”
  • “Start thinking about your own ‘Phase Three’: Hillary, for example, would peak as president at the age of 70.”
  • “You can donate to the Dallas Women’s Foundation!”