The sponsor reception held just before the Dallas Women’s Foundation‘s Leadership Forum & Awards Dinner on Thursday, April 19, at the Omni Dallas Hotel was a busy and colorful affair.
Over in one corner of the packed room, guests sidled up to Gerald Turner and Ray Hunt, both clad in tuxedos, as well as Gail Turner, Nancy Ann Hunt and Ashlee Kleinert. Gerald and Ray were dressed to the nines because, right after the dinner—which was scheduled to honor Gail with one of the DWF’s 2018 Maura Women Helping Women awards—they intended to scram to the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University. There, their pal the former president would present U2 lead singer Bono with a medal for distinguished leadership.
Meantime, DWF dinner keynoter Nina Tassler—she’s the former chairman of CBS Entertainment—was having an impromptu reunion with an old friend from their high school in Coral Gables, Florida. It seems that Nina and her friend, Dallas hairdresser Chuck Clarke, had both performed years ago in the school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The happy meeting was arranged by Jennifer Biry, CFO, technology and operations, for AT&T, presenting sponsor for the Leadership Forum & Award Dinner. Others enjoying the reception included DWF President and CEO Ros Dawson, Caren Prothro, Marilyn and Dr. Stephen Mansfield and Holly Reed.
Once the sponsor party was over, everyone repaired to the Omni’s Trinity Ballroom, where a sold-out crowd of 700-plus was filing in to enjoy dinner and the awards program. Guests such as Shawn Wills, Jan Langbein, Thear Suzuki, Cheryl Mayo Williams, Kerry Torres, April Williams, Colleen Affeldt, Regina Montoya, Rep. Helen Giddings, Pam Gerber, Paige Flink, Shawn Wills, Ann Margolin, Shannon Wherry, and the Hon. Tonya Parker were quickly welcomed by event co-chairs Effie Dennison and Jan Sharry.
Then it was time for Effie, Jan, and Selection Committee Co-chair Brenda L. Jackson to present the much-anticipated, 2018 Maura Awards. This year’s Mauras went to Arcilia C. Acosta, who runs a leading construction company; Jocelyn D. Kidd, DDS, a dentist and community leader; Cynthia Mickens Ross, community relations director at Methodist Charlton hospital; and Gerald’s better half Gail, a civic-minded leader and founding member of New Friends New Life.
The Maura Awards were followed by presentation of the DWF’s Young Leader Awards by Caren K. Lock, selection committee co-chair, and Stephanie Jeffery of Capital One. The 2018 trophies went to Vanessa Bouche, Ph.D., a professor at Texas Christian University, and Brooke Lopez, an aspiring politician and recent graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas.
Next on the program came remarks by Ros, who thanked AT&T for its sixth year of support for the event and said, “As the granddaughter of a Baptist preacher, I’m going to keep on preaching!” Ros noted that, despite progress, women still have “a long way to go to reach equity in Congress and the C-suite.” She asked all 700 people in the audience to pony up $115 on the spot, for a total of $80,500, adding, “Don’t worry. We’re going to feed you!”
And, feed them they did. After guests enjoyed an excellent meal of Farmers Salad, Chipotle Braised Short Rib and Chimichurri Grilled Breast of Chicken, and one of two desserts (either Seasonal Fruit Parfait or Chocolate Peanut Butter Tort), Ros returned to the podium to introduce AT&T CFO Jennifer Biry, who brought on Nina, the evening’s featured speaker.
Before Nina stepped down from her active leadership role at CBS Entertainment in 2015, CBS had been America’s No. 1 network for 12 of the last 13 years. During her time at the network, Nina developed the highly successful CSI and “NCIS” franchises. More recently, she wrote a book titled, “What I Told My Daughter.” In her entertaining and informative talk, Tassler talked about the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field and why, despite “long-overdue changes” that are finally happening (think Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo), she believes gender inequality, unconscious bias, and class exploitation are still very real problems in America.
As the product of a “mixed” marriage—her mother was Puerto Rican, her father an American Jew—Nina recounted experiencing racism for the first time in elementary school and later, in college, beginning a life-long friendship with the actor Geena Davis. Climbing the ladder of success in Hollywood, she said, she “learned the value of experiencing failure. Failure does not make us a failure.”
She also recounted searching for a “perfect work-life balance,” and realizing how hard it was to attain: “I’d take my son to a birthday party—the day after the party happened!” Since leaving CBS she has started a new production company, Nina explained, with film topics in the hopper ranging from Israel’s legendary leader Golda Meir to female war correspondents during the Vietnam era.
At a Leadership Forum Speaker Breakfast at 7:30 the following morning, Nina said it was important to achieve “50 percent/50 percent gender equity in the workplace”—including with the cleaning staff and in the mailroom. As for the C-suite, she added, recalling her own experience, “You’re just one of a handful of women there. For a long time at CBS, I was the only woman. … As I rose through the ranks, it was important to me to put women at the heads of the departments. It became imperative. That shifts the balance organically.”
*Photo credit: Steve Foxall **Photo credit: Kristina Bowman