Kicking through the glass ceiling

Professional Oregonians share origin stories

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Ashley Espinoza speaks about Latino Professionals Connect, a company she founded as a networking space for Latinx communities. Espinoza was invited to this panel because of her background as an exemplary minority female business leader. (Selina Scott // The Torch)
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In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.

“Too often, the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed,” Carter said. “But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

Throughout the years, National Women’s History Week has grown in popularity and become widely celebrated, particularly among educators, to spread information about the women who helped shape this country. In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, which designated the entire month of March 1987 as Women’s History Month.

In observance of this, a discussion panel called “Making History Their Own Way” was held on March 11, 2019 and moderated by Lane Community College President Margaret Hamilton. The panel included Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, University of Oregon Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs for Holt International Susan Cox, Sector Strategy Director of the Lane Workforce Partnership Ashley Espinoza and CEO and co-founder of Mobility International Susan Sygall.

These women are pillars of the community, their acts of service reach far and wide. They are creating a better standard of living, equal opportunities, access to education, teaching in an inclusive way, expanding openness for all persons in the community. Success often has a narrow concept of being only about job performance and high company positions. Each of these women help to instill a broader metric of success to include well-being, wisdom and wonder, according to Hamilton.

A common thread throughout the discussion was a concept called “imposter syndrome.” It is a psychological pattern in which an individual does all of the necessary work, yet still does not feel qualified; one doubts their own accomplishments and fears that they will be outed as a “fraud.”

That can be attributed to the inequity of recognition and treatment of women. Vinis went to a post-secondary school, and it was a socially accepted notion that upon completion, “men would be stepping into a professional track role, and women would be getting employment as secretaries and office administrators.”

Ashley Espinoza grew up the youngest of five children in a Latina family in Junction City. Her father was a mechanic, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom. She was expected to get married, have children and take care of the home. The hope of anything more than that was never fostered. It wasn’t until after receiving an award as volunteer of the year from the United Way, and with the push from a friend, that she struck out to make a career out of these community outreach services with Latino Professionals Connect.

“Underneath this gendered, racialized being, is an authentic human being. That outsider status is something that we all face.”

Yvette Alex-Assensoh, UO Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Globally, this is a much larger issue. Cox attests that in one of her first meetings in Korea where no other women had a seat at the table, a business partner said, “Thank your husband for allowing you to come today.”

The women believe this environment breeds this toxic idea that women are not as capable, less intelligent and therefore undeserving of equal recognition, roles in leadership, business and compensation, leading women to feel that their efforts and contributions will never be enough, compensating by overextending themselves.

“Balance is key. It’s hard not to think you have to do everything. I wish I would have watched my male colleagues and done the same, and come in and say: ‘this is my job, that is their job, and I don’t have to feel guilty about that.”

Susan Cox, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs, Holt International

One of the largest adversities comes from intersectionality, where one faces bias not just as a woman, but also as being disabled or a person of color.

“When you have these overlapping identities with the intersectionality, race is not the only factor. There is a notion of invisibility,” Yvette Alex-Assensoh, who teaches about intersectionality at UO, said. “That underneath this gendered, racialized being, is an authentic human being. That outsider status is something that we all face.”

The other common thread was how each of these women overcame those obstacles. They each echoed sentiments of surrounding oneself with a network of people who believe in them and complement what they can do.

“It is important that you take care of yourself along the way, and that will be different for everyone. Being sustainably successful and maintaining your trajectory,” Yvette said, “means being good to yourself and others.”

“Being curious, being vulnerable, being honest about your strengths and weaknesses and really latching on to people who believe in me,” recounted Espinoza.

When discussing their backgrounds, current roles, and female inspirations, they all harken back to strong family support. They are now offering that same support and encouragement to youth and others in the community.

“If you have no one else to believe in you, you have got to believe in yourself,” Sygall concluded. “Be persistent, be able to listen and take advice.”