Sarah Weddington is a nationally known attorney and spokesperson on leadership and public issues. She gained worldwide fame when, at the age of 26, she represented “Jane Roe” in the landmark Roe v. Wade case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Her argument made her the youngest person ever to win a case there. Weddington’s experience and charisma make her a highly sought- after speaker. So, when I heard she would be presenting at The Junior League at the annual meeting of the Federation of Houston Professional Women, I jumped at the opportunity to go hear her speak. As it turned out, I was granted an exclusive, one-on-one interview with her just prior to the big event. Below are some of the things we talked about.
HW: Most of our readers know you are a Texan but know little about your upbringing. Would you tell us about it?
SARAH WEDDINGTON: I was born and raised in Abilene, Texas. My father, Herbert Ragle, was a Methodist minister. From a very early age, I loved to talk. I was also someone who wanted to change things.
HW: Please tell us about your education.
WEDDINGTON: I graduated from McMurray University in my hometown of Abilene and then went on to Austin to earn a J.D. degree from The University of Texas School of Law.
HW: What attracted you to the legal profession?
WEDDINGTON: I think I was always interested in law, but the Dean at McMurray discouraged me. He said being a lawyer would be too tough for a woman.
HW: What exactly did he mean by that?
WEDDINGTON: He said he didn’t see how I would be able to work as a lawyer and still have enough time for a family - to take care of children, clean the house, cook meals, etc.
HW: You’re kidding, right?
WEDDINGTON: No, I’m not. It was the 1960s. Times were very different then.
HW: So, how did you end up in law school?
WEDDINGTON: I moved to Austin and went to work as a clerk typist in the Texas Legislature. The more I watched what was going on there, the more I thought, “I can do that.” So, I applied for law school. There were 125 students in my class. Only five were women. One of the five was U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
HW: Was it difficult to land that first job after law school?
WEDDINGTON: It was difficult for a lot of women back then. At the time, law firms weren’t willing to pay travel expenses to and from interviews, as they did for the men. Law partners didn’t view the expenditures as wise investments. They just assumed all women lawyers would get married, have children and quit.
HW: So, what did you do?
WEDDINGTON: I went to the Placement Office at the law school and complained about it. The Dean was told, and he agreed “it wasn’t fair.” So, he started making calls to the law firms.
HW: What happened next?
WEDDINGTON: I was interviewed by a law firm in Dallas, and the travel expenses were paid. I wasn’t offered a job, however. The partner said he wasn’t sure the wives were ready for a female attorney in their midst.Thirteen years later, while I was working in the Carter Administration, that same partner was considered for an appointment as a federal judge. I was one of those asked to make recommendations for or against his appointment.
HW: May I assume that man did not get the appointment?
WEDDINGTON: Yes, but not for the reason you might think. He never called and asked me to help him. Instead, he had one of his assistants call for him. If he had called me himself, I would have given him the nod.
HW: A few years after the Roe v. Wade case was settled, you were elected to the Texas House of Representatives, the first woman ever elected to represent Austin. You served two terms, and I understand you had an administrative assistant of note.
WEDDINGTON: Yes, I did. An amazing young woman named Ann Richards. The same Ann Richards who later became our governor.
HW: The two of you were founding members of the Foundation for Women’s Resources. Would you tell our readers about that organization?
WEDDINGTON: I’m very proud of my involvement with the Foundation for Women’s Resources - as one of the first board members and helping with the creation of Leadership Texas and Leadership America. The founding members of the Foundation felt more women were needed at all levels of Texas life, both in business and politics. We wanted women to be able to meet more people and get a statewide perspective on things. The Foundation’s key programs accomplish that.
HW: You have been such a great leader and now you speak often on the subject of leadership. How do you define leadership?
WEDDINGTON: Always the same. Leadership is having the willingness and ability to leave your thumbprint. That often means stepping out, speaking up and taking risks.
HW: You will be retiring from your adjunct professor duties at The University of Texas in Austin at the end of this school year. What’s next for Sarah Weddington?
WEDDINGTON: I believe life is best lived when looking forward, but it’s best understood by looking backward. I think that’s why the rearview mirror in an automobile is smaller than the windshield. It’s what’s ahead that is most important; I know there will be new chapters in my life. I’d like to write a book on leadership, travel and speak more.
Beverly Denver is the executive editor and publisher of Houston Woman Magazine.
From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a $16 million business, best-selling author Vickie L. Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD shares innovative success strategies in her new book, “Wicked Success is Inside Every Woman.”
Milazzo is a Houstonian and the owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company she founded in 1982. Recognized as the pioneer of a new profession, she built a professional association of approximately 5,000 members.
HW: Despite status quo statistic — women early 75 percent of what men earn and hold only 15 percent of the C-level positions — you believe there is an opportunity-filled future for women. Why?
MILAZZO: Because the qualities that are valued in today’s socially driven culture — participation, engagement, collaboration, relationship-building, and appreci- ation for the greater good — come naturally to most women. Women simply need to be willing to reach out and grab the coming opportunities.
HW: It sounds like you believe women in the workplace have the advantage over men right now.
MILAZZO: Men certainly exhibit many of these qualities, but women synthesize these strengths into a potent energy that is distinctively female. We should not be afraid to express them. Women do have every advantage right now. We’ve never been better-positioned to make our mark.”
HW: In your book, you tell women to “negotiate like you mean it.” Why do you think some women need help when it comes to negotiating?
MILAZZO: Many women aren’t comfortable dealing with negotiations, even when something they really want (and deserve) is on the line.Some think, “The economy still isn’t great so I’d better lie low. No, it’s not what I was hoping for, but if I get too pushy I’m sure they’ll pass me over for one of the other candidates. I should just be grateful to have made the cut.”This might seem like common sense, but settling for less than you’re worth is a big mistake — even in the wake of the Great Recession. In fact, it might even cost you the job.
HW: How could “settling for less” cost someone a job?
MILAZZO: When I’m hiring, I actually weed out candidates who underprice themselves; I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect. In my eyes and in the eyes of many other CEOs, job candidates actually lose credibility when they underprice themselves.
HW: A recent article in The New Yorker, might prove your theory right. It found that only seven percent of women negotiate their salaries up-front when entering a new position…compared to 57 percent of men.
MILAZZO: Those statistics are pretty telling, and I want them to change. Women can and do negotiate all the time outside the workplace — with spouses, with kids, with teachers, with friends — and we can do it in a professional setting, too. It’s just a matter of changing the way you think about asking for money.”
HW: In your book, you give women nine tips to help them ask for the money. First, you say, “never let them see you as a commodity.” What do you mean by that?
MILAZZO: Commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. And, that’s certainly not how you want to be perceived at your job. I tell women to do what they need to do to stand out. Get in the middle of everything and bring new ideas to the table. Build relationships throughout the company. If you’re able to make yourself invaluable and leverage the things that make you unique, you’ll also make yourself impossible to replace.
HW: You also tell women to “distinguish ambition from greed.” Would you elaborate on that idea?
MILAZZO: Prior to launching yourself into a negotiation, it’s a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself why you’re working toward this particular goal. For example, you’ve been in your current position for two and a half years without a significant raise, and you think your skills are worth much more. Before you march into your boss’s office, ask yourself: Why do I want a raise? Do I just want more money, or am I honestly interested in advancing in this company?
HW: You also tell women to “be your own number one fan.” Do you mean it’s okay to toot your own horn?
MILAZZO: To a certain extent, we’re actually wired to nurture and care for others and to put the good of the whole over our own personal interests. While these impulses aren’t inherently bad, it’s time for a news flash: if you don’t announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure you’re keeping your name, your accomplishments, and your skill set in front of everyone.
HW: Another tip of yours is to “ask for everything at the beginning of the negotiation.” I can just learn some of our readers saying, “But, that would be coming on too strong!”
MILAZZO: This can also be a difficult strategy for women to adopt. We don’t want to appear overly aggressive, so we don’t put all of our cards on the table at the beginning of negotiations. We think we’ll get the other person used to the idea gradually. But especially in business, adding on as you go along generally isn’t a good idea; it makes you appear unfair.
HW: You also tell women to “ask for more than you think you can get.” But, isn’t that being greedy?
MILAZZO: Remember the old adage: Nothing risked, nothing gained. Don’t jump too fast to say “yes” to the first offer, even if you think it’s fair. It's always smart to assess the situation, the person making the offer and how far you might be able to go before signing your name on the dotted line. Chances are, if your request for more is denied, you’ll still be left with the initial offer.
Editor’s Note: “Wicked Success is Inside Every Woman” is available now at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers. To learn more, visit www.wickedsuccess.com.
The Reverend Betty Adam is the founder and CEO of Compassionate Houston. She has served at Christ Church Cathedral since 1992 as pastor and educator and is currently Resident Canon Theologian. During her ministry, she has developed a theological center and an hispanic worshiping community and founded several organizations, including Brigid's Place, the Magdalene Community amd Link2Peace. We spoke with her recently to learn more about Compassionate Houston.
HOUSTON WOMAN: What is Compassionate Houston?
BETTY ADAM: Compassionate Houston is dedicated to celebrating and enhancing the compassionate culture in Greater Houston. We recognize volunteers and organizations committed to compassionate work and are building a network of partners in this mission. CH is a new organization, but one that sometimes feels more like a campaign or a grass-roots movement with a big dream for Houston. We want Houston to become one of the most compassionate cities in America, or for that matter, in the world. It’s a huge dream and because of its scope, we are starting with first steps.
HW: When was it established? By whom?
ADAM: We’ve been working on this since 2010, but we were incorporated as a nonprofit in February of this year. And, who are we? We’re a multicultural, multi-religious and multilingual group of partners as diverse as our city — students and volunteers, business people and pastors, dreamers and doers.Our Founding Partners were inspired by a global vision for a better, more compassionate world — a vision calling all men and women and children to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. When I read Karen Armstrong’s “Charter for Compassion,” which conveys the importance of the Golden Rule to all religious and moral systems, I wanted to bring the vision to Houston. So, last June, I decided to offer at the interfaith Rothko Chapel a series on compassion. Our group grew out of that series.
HW: What is the main focus of Compassionate Houston?
ADAM: Compassionate action and compassionate living, every day. We want to spread throughout the city a vision of compassionate living — we want to learn to “feel with” the other in deeper ways, recognize and respect other points of view, alleviate suffering and refrain from harming another. First, we want to celebrate the compassionate work already going on in Houston. It’s startling to realize that there are more than 15,000 nonprofits in metropolitan Houston. We want to recognize the thousands of men and women who devote the better part of their day to serving others. We also want to grow this culture of compassion.
HW: Compassionate Houston will be involved in the City of Houston’s commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Would you tell our readers about this involvement?
ADAM: Along with other groups, we are partnering with the City on that weekend. Every year since the tragedy, the City has devoted time to remembrance. Since this is the 10th anniversary, an entire weekend is being set aside for remembering those who lost their lives and those who served others so bravely and generously in this time of need. Compassionate Houston is given the charge to organize service projects all over the city. We are in the process of doing just that, so we need your help in getting the word out to communities, groups, organizations that might be interested in participating.
HW: I understand you have Compassionate Partners? Who are they? How many do you have now?
ADAM: Compassionate Partners are those organizations who want to join us over the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Commemorative to commit to service over that weekend. A Compassionate Partner may either develop a service project for that weekend or submit an ongoing project that we can highlight on that weekend. If you visit our website http://www.compassionatehouston.org, you will find out more about them, who they are, etc. As of today, we have over 70 organizations as Compassionate Partners. We are hoping to grow that list considerably.
HW: Is there a fee involved?
ADAM: No fee. September 11 is a time of reflection and remembrance. Our desire is that citizens will come together in service to one another in memory and honor of those who gave their lives and so selflessly participated in the rescue. Our Houston firemen, for example, took themselves out of their safety zone in Houston and joined other firemen in Manhattan.
HW: What is the Compassionate City Initiative?
ADAM: There’s an exciting global movement for compassionate cities. The Charter for Compassion is the conceptual foundation for this movement. The International Institute for Compassionate Cities supports compassionate initiatives in cities, towns, states, nations, faith groups, schools, service groups and other places where human beings gather. Any town could declare themselves a compassionate town. This Institute and the great people who head it up have been a wonderful resource for us in starting up Compassionate Houston.
HW: Who are the Compassionate Ambassadors?
ADAM: Specific to the 9/11 event coming up, Compassionate Ambassadors are individuals who want to assist Compassionate Houston in activities leading up the weekend and on that weekend itself. In more general terms, the Ambassadors work to be examples of compassion. They notice kindness, acknowledge a courtesy taken for granted, look for compassionate “seeds” in unexpected places. They tell and remind others though their actions, how important it is to be compassionate. Our T-shirts say “We are Compassionate Houston.” We the people are compassionate.
HW: How do individuals register to become a Compassionate Ambassador?
ADAM: Thank you for asking that question. Anyone interested can go to our website and click the “Get Involved” page and sign up. We, in turn, will be in touch. We want to have an informational get-together of Ambassadors to prepare for that weekend.
HW: I understand Compassionate Houston would like to host several open, city-wide conversations about compassionate living to serve as training for the ambassadors. Have you scheduled any yet?
ADAM: These conversations are part of our next step. We don’t have any scheduled yet but that activity is certainly part of our dream.
HW: What have I not asked about that you would like Houston women (and men) to know about Compassionate Houston?
ADAM: There’s so much to talk about. But, I guess I would say that Compassionate Houston is foremost a connecting and energizing organization. We want to create opportunities for you to connect to service projects and build upon the compassionate work you are already doing. If you study the history of compassionate work in Houston, you will see how involved women have always been in fostering compassionate service. Starting with Kezia Payne DePelchin in the late 19th century whose heart went out to orphaned children, women have been in the forefront of serving and giving. I believe women can be in the first ranks of those in this grass-roots movement to cultivate compassion in this great city of ours.
It’s an issue of increasing interest - math and science education in our nation’s schools. President Barack Obama has urged America’s youth to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This path to innovation begins with great teachers, yet the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of math and science educators. Helen Snodgrass, a biology teacher and Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellow at YES Prep North Forest in Houston, recently examined high-achieving women’s perceptions of the teaching profession. Her findings were published in the “New Educator Journal” and offer possible solutions to attract talented candidates to teaching.
HOUSTON WOMAN: Why did you become a teacher?
HELEN SNODGRASS: I have always loved finding new ways to explain something. Once I fell in love with biology in college, I saw teaching as the perfect way to unite my passion for science with my love of teaching. I get to spend every day helping 75 ninth graders see themselves as scientists and become as excited about science as I am.
HW: How long have you been teaching at YES Prep North Forest? What do you most like teaching at a charter school?
SNODGRASS: This is my first year at YES Prep North First and actually the school’s first year, as well. Everything I love about teaching at YES is really about the organization itself and not about it being a charter school, since there is a very wide range of charter schools. I love how small the school is — it means I know all of the teachers, administrators and students really well. This really helps build personal relationships with students, which translates into their work in the classroom, when you see them at breakfast, lunch, on college trips and field trips, and at school and grade-level meetings, not just for 50 minutes a day in your classroom. I also love that every single person I work with is dedicated to the same things I am — helping all of our students succeed, both at our school and in college, and constantly trying to be better at what we do. YES is very focused on improvement at all levels of the organization, and the teachers are always thinking about how we can work together to offer the best instruction to our students.
HW: How did you view the teaching profession before entering it? Have your views changed much now that you’re in the classroom?
SNODGRASS: I knew it would be difficult, but it was not until I began teaching that I fully realized the complexity of the profession. I am blown away by the dedication, talent and passion of teachers I have met and those I have been lucky enough to work with.
HW: What has been your worst and best moment as a high school science teacher?
SNODGRASS: The stresses of a frequently changing schedule, large classes, and getting down the basics of classroom management while working very long days made for a challenging beginning. This helped me understand why so many teachers leave in their first few years of teaching. I’ve also had so many great moments that I see how I could love being a teacher for the rest of my life. Seeing my students grow academically and personally has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to see them all graduate in three years and go on to the college of their dreams.
HW: You’ve done research on high-achieving women’s perceptions about the teaching profession. Why this topic?
SNODGRASS: As I became focused on teaching as a career, I constantly came across people who wanted to know why someone with a good education and a background in science would pursue teaching instead of science. I also realized that very few of my peers were considering teaching. This piqued my interest in understanding people’s perceptions of teaching that might either attract them to the profession or make them choose other careers, with the ultimate goal of thinking about what we need to do to attract more high-achieving men and women into the classroom.
HW: Were you surprised by your findings?
SNODGRASS: I was surprised and saddened by how many women were interested in teaching but turned away from it. Compared to other jobs they were considering, teaching paid less, had a much lower status and level of respect, and was perceived as difficult and stressful work. Most of these women’s peers and families discouraged them from entering the profession, as some of mine did. All of this led women to consider teaching as a heavy sacrifice.
HW: How can we recruit more skilled women into the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: To attract skilled women into teaching and to keep them there, we need to address the perception of teaching as a personal sacrifice.Teaching has to compete with other professions that women consider with respect to salary, professional development and support. The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation is one organization working to keep talented and passionate teachers in the profession.
HW: What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in the teaching profession?
SNODGRASS: If you are passionate about teaching, do not be deterred by some of the apparent negatives or what others might say. Speak to teachers to find out why they love what they do and continue to do it year after year. Then find a school and a district that will provide you with the support, collaboration and professional development to help you love your work and become the best teacher you can be. It’s going to be hard in the beginning, but stick it out and you will never regret your choice!