Shattered glass: Local women share success stories
"Shattering the glass ceiling" is a phrase now ubiquitous as a metaphor for women overcoming barriers to advancement. A panel of eight area women, assembled as part of a daylong International Women's Day event Wednesday at Central Lakes College, ...
"Shattering the glass ceiling" is a phrase now ubiquitous as a metaphor for women overcoming barriers to advancement.
A panel of eight area women, assembled as part of a daylong International Women's Day event Wednesday at Central Lakes College, shared their own glass-shattering stories in the Chalberg Theatre.
The panel included Kim Coughlin, Crosby police chief; Sarah Fogderud, co-owner of AW Research Laboratories in Brainerd; Claudia Allene, East Gull Lake woman who's traveled the world and started a related business; Lisa Paxton, former head of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and owner of Ultra Paws; Mary Farmer, a former math teacher and recently retired partner of Nisswa Tax Service; Adrienne Benjamin, co-creator of Ojibwe culture revitalization effort Ge-niigaanizijig (The Ones Who Will Lead); Cindy Moore, executive director of The Shop in Brainerd; and Laura Vaughn, executive director of Northern Pines Mental Health Center.
Donn Beaubien, representing sponsoring group American Association of University Women, introduced the panel.
"Each has made significant adjustments or taken risks in order to achieve her dreams," Beaubien said. "Many of these women give credit to other strong women and mentors in their life. Each woman here is committed to helping others improve their lives."
Taking inspiration from the support of others and overcoming personal challenges was a common thread through each of the women's stories.
Coughlin joined the Minneapolis Police Department in the 1980s, at a time when women in law enforcement were less common. Coughlin said she almost did not enter the field at all because of her height (5 feet, 2 inches) and gender. After earning a spot as an intern with the department, she knew it would be her career.
"Right at that moment, I knew this was for me, this was my calling," she said. "I'm not going to let my height or my gender inhibit me at that point."
She was mentored by men in the department who welcomed her and other women into law enforcement-although that did not represent everyone.
"I was very fortunate," she said. "There were many that didn't (welcome women) as well, and there were some hurdles to jump there."
Fogderud pointed to support from her parents in her pursuit for a career in science, as well as encouragement from the late Alan Cibuzar, who founded AW Research Laboratories. Her father, who was a wastewater plant operator, took her to work with him and allowed her to spend time in the laboratory. When selecting biology as a field of study, Fogderud said she wasn't able to envision the path her career would take-eventually ending up co-owner of the water testing facility.
"I never thought I would be a business owner," Fogderud said. "But you just have to kind of follow the opportunities that were given to you, even if that's not what was expected."
Auleen was inspired in her world travels as a teenager, when she took a trip with her parents to Israel, Greece and Rome. This first trip abroad coupled with a lifetime of travel with her mother fueled her own "incredible zest for life," she said.
Paxton pointed to strong women role models in her life, including her mother and grandmother. This support was key to an early acceleration as a young woman in the business world, she said. Her grandmother, who was a career woman in the 1940s, was Paxton's biggest fan.
"One of her favorite sayings, was a Robert Browning quote that she adapted for me-'A woman's ideal should exceed the stars, or what's a heaven for?'" Paxton said. "She would frequently talk to me about goals and how wonderful I was and that I could do anything."
Paxton said she tries to learn from observing other people in her life.
"I really believe that people are put in our lives for a purpose, and even and especially those people who challenge us," she said.
Farmer, who was once told by a high school principal he didn't hire married women, expressed her admiration for math teachers who never discouraged her and co-workers she came to know at the now-defunct St. Francis High School in Little Falls.
"I was never told by a math teacher-and you know how old I am, I had all male math teachers-no math teacher ever told me I couldn't do it," Farmer said. "For that, I am eternally grateful. If there are math teachers out there who ever tell a girl that they can't, I'm sorry, that's too bad. ... These women that have influenced me, their numbers are legion, and they are wonderful. Very, very empowering people. If you ever have a chance to empower a young woman in your life, do so."
Benjamin shared her own story of overcoming struggles as a caretaker for her young daughter, who suffered a stroke at 5 weeks old, and her own experience with a rare disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome. Benjamin battled serious depression, she said, but after she survived her health battle she was inspired to make positive changes in her life.
"Sometimes, mother gets looked at as you can't show up at these meetings, or you can't show up at these things, you can't go out in the community with your kids," Benjamin said. "For me, I make it a point now to show up. I always feel you need to be the change and you need to be the inspiration for other people."
Benjamin said as a mother and a Native woman, overcoming limitations of the glass ceiling means setting an example for girls.
"You can let there be a glass ceiling, or you can just continue on and be who you want to be ... being the change and being the role model that you want to see and just continuing on, because crazy stuff can happen. But also, on the other end, can be really amazing things, too," Benjamin said.
Moore focused on a change she made in her own life to transition from a resort owner in the tourism industry to a champion for young people in the lakes area. Moore said it was clear there was a need for a safe space for teenagers to congregate, learn and in many cases, eat a decent meal. Moore established The Shop to serve as that space.
"What I discovered was so much of what was lacking in their own lives in this community was only being talked about forever and ever and ever and ever," Moore said. "My goal in this whole thing is to be able to teach our young people to be the change, and as the day shows today, to be bold for change and to work toward their own changes. Teenagers are really my heroes."
Vaughn said she took inspiration in her career path in the mental health field from a moment of conflict with her mother. After an argument leading both of them to tears, she said her mother told her something that gave her clarity on the role of mentors.
"She looked at me and she said, 'I cannot be everything you need to live your best life,'" Vaughn said. "'You are going to have to look to other people (too) to find what you need.'"
Vaughn said this inspired her to live her life so she could mentor others and be "something that young women and young men would seek out."
She said in the fight for equality, leaders have more to do.
"As a leader of an organization, it's important that we all look toward equality in pay, equality in gender, equality in race, culture, identity," Vaughn said. "And that's a job for all of us."