About 800 guests showed up for the Texas Women’s Foundation‘s annual Leadership Forum and Awards Dinner on Thursday, May 2, at the Omni Dallas Hotel. But none of the 800 could have been happier to be there than 98-year-old Maura McNeil, who’d traveled from her home in California to attend the sold-out event. After all, Maura was one of the founders of the Dallas-based foundation — and the woman for whom the organization’s signature Maura Awards are named.
Just before the 2019 Maura awardees were recognized at the dinner, Maura would be fittingly celebrated from the podium by event Co-Chairs Retta Miller and Thear Suzuki. A little earlier, though, she’d also been among those attending the VIP reception. There, she was joined by the likes of Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt, Sally and Tom Dunning, Marsha Cameron, Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Lyda Hill, Debra Von Storch, Holly Reed, Brenda L. Jackson, Kathleen LaValle, Effie Dennison, and Pearl Garza Fracchia.
Pearl, who repaired to the ballroom with all the others once the reception ended, was one of several women with the Dallas Summit group who’d turned out to support Ana I. Hernandez, one of this year’s five Maura Award winners. During video presentations for each of the awardees, it was said of Ana, a senior VP at PlainsCapital Bank, that “her financial acumen stands out.” Community leader Sally Dunning, called “a fighter for equality her whole life,” also received a Maura, as did Dee Dee Bates of New York Life in Dallas, who was likened to “an Energizer bunny.” The fourth Maura went to entrepreneur Ashlee Kleinert, lauded for her battle against human trafficking, among other things. The final award was given to LH Holdings CEO Nicole Small, whom Lyda characterized as “an innovator who’s willing to take risks.”
Next it was time for Retta and Caren Lock to present the annual Young Leader Awards. The 2019 awards went to Dr. Haesung Han, a licensed clinical psychologist who co-founded juvenile-justice program POETIC, and Ana I. Rodriguez, director of the SMU Cox Latino Leadership Initiative.
With that, Texas Women’s Foundation President and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson took the stage. “My heart is really full,” Ros said. “This is a remarkable event.” After thanking Thear and Retta for chairing the dinner and AT&T for presenting it —”What an amazing partnership!” she said — Roz acknowledged other sponsors, including Nancy Ann and Ray, Texas Capital Bank, Jackson Walker and Southwest Airlines.
Then, Ros said with a smile, telegraphing the plea for funds to follow, “Here it comes: to invest in the exponential potential of women and girls to make a transformational change in our state, please text your contribution to 41444, and make it in honor of Maura and our Maura Award recipients. … And now,” she added puckishly, “you can actually eat!”
As guests began doing just that — enjoying a fig salad, tenderloin of beef and grilled breast of chicken, and a coconut mango dessert — AT&T’s Jennifer Biry introduced Sallie Krawcheck, the evening’s keynote speaker. A former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Sallie is now chief executive and co-founder of Ellevest, an investment platform that invests in women-led companies. She’s also chair of the Ellevate Network, a global professional woman’s network.
“I’m from the South Carolina south,” Sallie began on a light note, “and my mother would be appalled at my topic today: money and women.
“There are two lies we tell young girls. We give them the message that money — making it and investing it — is for men, and that saving and ‘being careful’ with money is for girls,” she declared. “Today, parents continue to pay their daughters less allowance for doing the same chores as boys. … The [overall] message for women is that money is tough, money is hard.
“We all think women are risk-averse,” Sallie continued. “But it’s funny, we just like to understand risk before we take it! And, it’s a fact that women money managers outperform men by 100 basis points.”
The world of money is built around macho imagery, she noted: the TV business channel CNBC was “literally modeled” after male-sports-oriented ESPN, and a rising stock market is referred to as a “bull.”
“We as women prefer to literally talk about anything except money … even death,” Sallie went on. That’s because “money is ‘masculine’ — and we’ve got to change that.”
The second part of Sallie’s talk dealt with her contention that “the progress of diversity has completely stalled. The number of women CEOs has declined this year by 25 percent.”
As possible reasons, she said, “If men’s friends are successful, they’re more likely to be successful, too. But the same is not true for women. … Men share connections and networks, and we women need to have that, too. We need to have a ‘squad’ that believes in us and vice versa. We need to reach out to them and say, ‘Does this feel right to you?’
“Our reluctance to do business with other women feels ‘weird,’ because our strength is in our numbers,” Sallie said. “Our strength is when we travel in packs. But when we get into the workplace, we seem to say, ‘I’ve gotta do it on my own.'”
Changing that mentality, she concluded, will go a long way toward strengthening women in the workplace, and in general.
The May 2 dinner came at a robust time for the Texas Women’s Foundation. Previously called the Dallas Women’s Foundation, the organization raised $50 million through its five-year Unlocking Leadership Campaign, which was completed in 2018. The foundation recently announced that it had invested a record $4.64 million during its last fiscal year in projects and programs focused on Texas women and girls. It also said it was planning to invest an additional $5 million in fiscal year 2019.
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman