Women & Work

Locally, who's leading the charge for a greater balance of power?

During the autumn of 2017, our newspapers and newsfeeds were filled with stories about sexual harassment in the film business, television and other industries where powerful men behaved badly. In December, “the silence breakers” of the #MeToo movement were named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

The sheer number of cases reveals a pattern that underlies many of our institutions and organizations: Despite great gains in social and economic power in the past 50 years, women still don’t have an equal share.

Metro Charlottesville’s employment and salary numbers show disparity between women and men in the workforce. Not surprisingly, women make less money. Fewer women work full-time. Among those who are full-time and self-employed in their own incorporated businesses, only about 23 percent are women.

When women can’t reach their full economic potential because of systemic obstacles, says Darden’s Lalin Anik, everyone loses. Yet, there are reasons to be hopeful. Charlottesville’s economic gender disparity is better than the American average. There are also many women here who are starting businesses, leading companies and excelling in their fields, as you’ll see in the following pages. When a woman forges the career that she truly desires, she makes a tangible step toward greater equality.

Thanks to Kathryn Piper Crespin at the Weldon Cooper Center for her help with the statistics on which the infographics for this article are based.

Photo: Eze Amos


Liza BorchesPresident and CEO of Carter Myers Automotive

Liza Borches’ father likes to joke that his eldest daughter moved back to Charlottesville to work in the family car business because she didn’t want to wind up in Detroit. Borches had been employed by American Honda, which is headquartered in Southern California, for several years when she and her husband, Pete, “started thinking long-term about what we wanted out of life,” says the Carter Myers Automotive president and CEO. “I still loved the company I was working for, but [Pete and I] were discussing having kids, and we didn’t want to move every two years—we wanted to put down roots in a community and be involved.”

Around the same time, Borches’ father, Carter Myers III, was thinking about buying the local Volvo dealership—but he needed someone to run it. Borches says “the stars aligned with what we wanted out of life,” and by coming home in 2003, the St. Anne’s-Belfield and UVA grad was “able to learn from the very bottom with a small dealership,” by doing everything from transporting customers in the shuttle to selling cars with a child strapped to her chest in a Baby Bjorn.

That was 15 years ago, and today Borches, 42, is responsible for 13 automotive dealerships, 15 franchises and 600 employees. And she says being a woman in a male-dominated industry hasn’t hampered her at all.

“I always try to take the whole gender piece out of it,” Borches says. “Women today have no lack of confidence about being a minority in a business room; it’s the norm, and if you have confidence in your abilities, gender won’t matter.” When you’re the only female in the room, “you stand out, and your ideas stand out, and sometimes you have a louder voice,” she adds.

One challenge Borches, a mother of two young children, admits that she struggles with is balancing her professional and home lives. “You never feel like you’re giving enough to the needs of your business or the needs of your family,” she says. And on days when she’s “trying to come to terms with the guilt” she feels because she didn’t make it to a child’s performance or she couldn’t stay the extra two hours at work, Borches says she tries to “look at it all over the course of a year. And [during that time] I hope I was able to do enough for both my business and my family.”

Real diversity

An exploratory how-to guide

By Eboni Bugg

Recently, “diversity” has become a catch-all phrase to describe any number of initiatives and strategies that aim to alter the makeup of businesses and organizations. Given shifting demographics and recent events in our community, issues related to diversity have become particularly salient. Many organizations, both public and private, are grappling with how best to navigate them.

In Charlottesville, leaders in the corporate and nonprofit spheres alike are being tasked, perhaps for the first time, with leading their institutions toward outcomes that are driven as much by profit as by social good. For some, “diversity” conjures mandatory cultural sensitivity or implicit bias trainings, which may or may not have lead to tangible benefits. For others the word represents a new opportunity to move into better alignment with mission and vision.

Whether the motivation for diversity efforts stem from a response to social pressure, market forces or perceived stagnation, the ways in which businesses pursue solutions can either result in innovation and high levels of employee satisfaction, or lead to increased marginalization and reduced productivity.

While there is no shortage of articles devoted to the benefits of diversity, there are few road maps for leadership and success. Here are several key considerations when working toward building a more authentically diverse business environment.

Alignment with values

Most strategic goals focused on changing workplace composition and dynamics will alter the status quo, so they require significant resources and stakeholder buy-in for success. Rarely do such endeavors prevail when they do not embody the ethos of the organization, while also allowing cultural shifts to occur to accommodate new perspectives and information.

Therefore, when embarking on structural changes within organizational and business environments, it is important that diversity initiatives reflect and inform institutional values. An authentic investigation of values may mean acknowledging when long-held beliefs and norms impede or conflict with valuing diversity. It may also illustrate ways in which diversity is valued but not acted upon. Rather than viewing this dissonance
as untenable, executive leadership is encouraged to see this as an opportunity for strategic action.

The intersection of equity and inclusion

There is much debate about whether initiatives driven by profit or those driven by social good have greater merit or garner greater success. This debate occludes the fact that authentic diversity is impossible to achieve without also addressing equity and inclusion.

Personal and professional experiences demonstrate the tendency for some diversity initiatives to tokenize members of historically underrepresented groups. Tokenism happens when what we actually need are sustainable, institutionalized structures that generate ongoing opportunities for mentorship, advancement and leadership. Tokenism not only creates significant emotional and professional burdens for minorities in business, but also limits productivity and creativity.

In order to address this, many organizations are moving away from “cultural competence” and “cultural sensitivity” frameworks to embrace cultural humility, which recognizes intersectional identities, the centrality and relevance of culture and the need for redressing power imbalances to achieve authentic diversity. While research indicates that implicit biases can be mitigated by counter-typical exemplars, it is important that we move beyond mere representation as a benchmark for success. Investigating who holds power, who makes decisions and who has mobility might be additional ways to holistically assess diversity.


Many successful businesses are driven by clear strategic plans that reflect their mission, vision and values. Outcomes are typically judged against baseline measures based on data and evidence. But how does one measure diversity?

When conducting a survey of available diversity data, especially on the local level, there is a significant dearth of information. When moving from tokenizing to inclusion, from optics to transformation, it becomes incredibly important to develop more granular metrics and means of accountability. Data dashboards that look beyond aggregate population data are important tools that can drive the refinement of strategic goals and strategies.

For example, what might we find if we look at the intersection of gender and leadership hires, or sort intervention outcomes by neighborhood? According to the Virginia Employment Commission, four of the five largest employers in our community are public organizations. Accountability is inherent to the social contract that affords these organizations’ funding.

In Charlottesville, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate the systems of inequality that not only hinder human potential, but also stifle creativity and the full capacities of businesses and organizations to achieve success. Recognizing methods for growing a more authentically diverse workforce is more than good for business—it is good business.

Eboni Bugg, LCSW, is the senior manager for Diversity, Inclusion & Global Outreach at Mind & Life Institute.

Photo: Amy Jackson


Kit “Kitty” AshiCo-owner of Monsoon Siam, Monsoon Siam Togogo, Urban Bowl and Monsoon Siam in Madison, Wisconsin

Kit “Kitty” Ashi arrived in the United States in 2006 with only $500. First, she worked as a babysitter. Then she got a job in a Thai restaurant. “In Bangkok, I graduated from art school and worked as a stylist at a magazine,” she says. “But I come from a family of people who cook and work in restaurants.”

Ashi started as a dishwasher, then she did food prep. She was a waitress in Richmond and then became a manager at Tara Thai in Charlottesville. Her friend Dutdao “Pooh” Wonglaka, whom she’d met in art school, worked alongside her.

Then in 2011, both Ashi and Wonglaka considered returning to Thailand. “We’d been sending money home the whole time, but we’d also been saving,” says Ashi. “We each had saved up $20,000.” Ashi and Wonglaka discovered that Lu-Mei Chang, who’d opened Monsoon in 1992, had put her restaurant up for sale. It was a crossroads.

“I was tired of being a server and an employee,” says Ashi. “We had to decide whether to go home or to commit ourselves and our life savings to a business.”

When Ashi met Chang, they clicked right away. “She looks like my mom,” she says.

“[Chang] wanted to keep it an Asian restaurant. We didn’t have all the capital at the start, but she helped us and supported us and said, ‘We’ll figure out the details of the financials later.’”

Ashi and Wonglaka cooked in the kitchen, took orders over the phone, served in the restaurant and delivered food themselves. “We had to do everything,” says Ashi. “We could not fail. We went all in.” Ashi designed brochures herself, had them printed, then put them in mailboxes around the neighborhood.

“Owning a business was harder than I expected. We stressed over the financials, the service, the food itself,” Ashi says.

Then, in 2014, Wonglaka moved with her husband, a professor who now teaches at the University of Wisconsin, to Madison. After trying the Thai food available there, Ashi and Wonglaka decided to open a second Monsoon Siam. They transferred many of their Charlottesville employees to Wisconsin. It was a rough year by all accounts. Ashi found herself working 18-hour days, seven days a week, with little hope of reprieve. “It was hard to find employees,” she says. “Thai kitchens are hot; there’s lots of fire.”

She got sick from the stress. “What saved me was my friends and staff; they helped and supported me,” she says. “They are like my family.”

When the restaurant won Best of C-VILLE’s Best Thai category in 2015, Ashi was delighted. “Every plate touched my hand. I was so proud,” she says.

Photo: Eze Amos


Andrea Copeland-WhitsettFounder and president of Positive Channels, director of member education at the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

When Andrea Copeland-Whitsett was a young girl, she wanted to be a nurse, a singer or a teacher (or some combination of all three).

And though a 14-year-old Copeland-Whitsett abandoned her future nursing career after getting stuck in a hospital elevator, around that same time, inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s tenderly hard-hitting interviews, she began dreaming of hosting a talk show.

Now 45, Copeland-Whitsett, director of member education at the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, an organization dedicated to building business and community, is teaching. And as founder and president of Positive Channels, a media network that works to harness the power of media for good, she’s talking.

After working in local public education for years, she currently leads, among other programs, Leadership Charlottesville, which reveals to participating community leaders how the entire city is run—“the good, the bad, the ugly, the okay. The idea is, when you are finished with this program, that you will plug yourself in somewhere and make [Charlottesville] better,” says Copeland-Whitsett.

For example, she says “it’s not enough” to tell community leaders that more than 5,000 families in the city of Charlottesville live in poverty, and that the majority of those folks are people of color. Leadership Charlottesville teaches how poverty affects everyone in the community by showing how we’re all connected, that we’re all neighbors.

She’s especially committed to supporting women- and minority-owned businesses, as each group has unique set of needs—for example, women, Hispanic and African-American people often face discrimination when applying for business loans—and the chamber can help guide them all.

It helps that Copeland-Whitsett is an entrepreneur herself: She founded Positive Channels in 2004, and for 11 years, via local public access television and WINA radio, talked with everyone from the Charlottesville 12 (the first group of black students to enroll in all-white Charlottesville schools in 1959) to the Dalai Lama, broaching tough topics with sensitivity. Copeland-Whitsett will revive Positive Channels this year, posting short episodes to social media.

She defines success by how one shares her wisdom and knowledge to better her community. And she has plenty to share—be candid, be transparent, be yourself—but here’s the crux of it: “If they won’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own chair. That’s where we as women need to make sure we are empowering one another. We have to, because they say women can be catty, but there is enough success to go around for everybody.”

Sometimes, she says, you just need someone to whisper in your ear, “Girl, you got this.”

Photo: Eze Amos


Alice HandyFounder of Investure

Alice Handy is fond of a T.S. Eliot quote that sits on her desk: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”

“That sums up my career,” says Handy, who grew UVA’s endowment from $50 million to more than $2 billion during the 29 years she managed the university’s investments. Handy, however, was just getting started: After retiring from UVA in 2003, she founded Investure, a Charlottesville-based firm that manages more than $13 billion in assets for a consortium of 14 colleges and foundations.

Ask her about being a successful female in a male-dominated industry, and Handy recalls the early 1970s, when she was fresh out of Connecticut College and working as a bond portfolio manager at Travelers Insurance Company. “It was a different world,” says Handy, adding that her boss departed after a year, and left her with a billion dollar portfolio. But she says she was lucky because “I was young, and people took me under their wing. I wasn’t a threat to them, and they taught me everything; they gave me a lot of advantages. …They made the UVA job possible.”

But there were some disadvantages along the way, too, such as when she learned her successor at UVA (a man) “was paid multiples of what I made.” And much earlier in her career, Handy was told by the head of personnel (a woman) that the only reason she had her job was because she was female. The mother of three and grandmother of four didn’t flinch, though: “You have to do your job no matter how you got there,” she says, which is why she tells young people to “say yes to everything. Get as many experiences as you can—new places, new things, new opportunities—especially if you don’t have a planned-out career path because you never know when those skills will come in handy.” And when you see an opportunity, grab it and “run with it.”

Handy, who turns 70 in April and is in a five-year process of retiring, claims she “never really had a life plan,” so she pauses for a moment when asked what she’ll do when she’s no longer working full-time. She says she’ll continue to serve on several boards, and she’ll help her husband with his real estate development business. She’s also looking forward to spending time with girlfriends because “I finally have the time.”

Photo: Jen Fariello


Lynn EastonOwner of Easton Events, Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, Red Pump Kitchen and Zero George (Charleston, South Carolina)

As a young girl, Lynn Easton recalls once remarking to her dad that a friend’s father was an executive at Exxon.

“I said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ And my dad turned to me and he said, ‘Just so you know, there isn’t anything you can’t do. If you want to be president of Exxon, you could do that, too,’” Easton says. “That’s the kind of household I grew up in. And that’s what people need to be saying to their little girls.”

Easton took her dad’s advice to heart. She went into television, flirted with the idea of being on-air until she realized a producing role would be “more fun.” When she moved to Charlottesville with her family in the late ’80s, a friend asked if she knew of any wedding planners in the area.

“I said, ‘I don’t, but I used to produce live TV,’” she says. “’I’m sure I can do this.’ So, I became a wedding planner because I planned a wedding.”

Since starting Easton Events in 1998—then just a boutique (“code for ‘one person,’” she jokes) event planning company—Easton has set her sights higher and higher. First, she established a luxury brand by paying special attention to “high touch” details (which she credits to frequent travel in her youth, anywhere from Africa and China to Mexico and Italy). Then, nearing a decade of marriage to her now business partner, Dean Andrews, they expanded her event company to include a sought-after venue, Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards.

She’s been recognized as a top planner in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Martha Stewart Weddings and, most recently, Pippin Hill topped Brides magazine’s list of the top 30 best wedding venues in the U.S. And while that all came years after she’d been established, Easton knew straight away the level of success she wanted to achieve.

“Not everybody needs to chase success, but I was chasing it,” she says. “I wanted to be nationally known. I articulated it, I thought about it and I was willing to work hard to make that happen.” It didn’t come without a few long nights (“People talk about dinner around the table? Dinner with my boys was around my desk,” she says), but Easton says that was a choice she consciously made.

“To have the level of success that I have is an active choice. I would like to empower other women to make that choice as well, but they need to consciously articulate—and this can be a challenge for women to say—‘I want to be the best.’”

Photo: Amy Jackson


Tracey GreeneFounder and executive director of the Charlottesville Angel Network and executive director of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council

Tracey Greene likes to call herself a “connectioneer.” That is, someone who uses her network to the benefit of others. In fact, she’s made a career doing just that—recognizing a need and connectioneering (it’s used as a verb, too) the players to find a solution. It turns out she’s often the one with the answer, but only because she’s asking lots of questions. That, she says, is the secret to her success.

“Don’t be afraid to do something that you don’t know,” says the Charlottesville Angel Network founder. “And do not apologize that you don’t know it.”

Greene, 47, has spent her life learning. Starting with an office job at an area car dealership, she taught herself computer systems that others were intimidated by and wouldn’t bother with. At 19, she took a temp job at the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, where she did the same thing, and quickly earned herself a full-time position. While at CAAR, she transitioned into PR and marketing, garnering the attention of David Kalergis. At the time, Kalergis was employed at UVA, assisting innovators who wanted to commercialize their inventions. He asked her to help him start Diffusion Pharmaceuticals. Despite not knowing anything about the pharmaceutical industry, she accepted.

“He said, ‘We need wet lab space.’ I said, ‘Okay, great. What’s a wet lab? I’ll go find out,’” says the Charlottesville native.

In the meantime, Greene had begun volunteering with the Virginia Piedmont Technology Council (now the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council), and when the CEO of Diffusion put the brakes on the company during a funding slump, she presented a proposal to CBIC to name her executive director and give her a full-time job. The council said yes.

But, she says, she recognized that “something that was missing in the ecosystem, which was how do entrepreneurs find funding?” She’d helped raise angel capital for Diffusion and knew many of the players, but “if you didn’t personally know who the investors were, how did you get access to them?”

The Charlottesville Angel Network, which helps connect technology and innovation-based entrepreneurs with investors, was born.

“One of the reasons we exist is to reduce the friction for local companies to find access to angel investment and to help provide that critical seed-stage capital,” Greene says. In just three years, the organization has raised $4.8 million for 29 startup companies.

What is Greene most proud of? Besides her work with CBIC and CAN, it’s the fact that she’s achieved such a level of success by forging her own path. Instead of college, Greene started a family after high school and entered the work force right away.

“I think part of the reason I’m as scrappy as I am is because I was faced with people who had multiple high-level, post-secondary degrees and I didn’t secure a college degree until much later,” she says. “I had to be better in whatever ways I could be better.”

Darden professor of marketing Lalin Anik says undercapitalization of women- owned businesses will cost the economy about 6 million jobs over the next five years. Photo: Amy Jackson

Show me the money

Why capital matters for women entrepreneurs

It takes money to make money, and that’s why undercapitalization of certain businesses is a big deal. Lalin Anik, a Darden professor of marketing, asserts that women-owned businesses are far more likely to be undercapitalized than those owned by men: “Women entrepreneurs’ access to capital is limited in both source and amount,” she says, “and women are more likely to fund their ventures with high-cost capital such as credit cards.”

Operating a business with insufficient capital can mean, for example, running out of funds to produce or ship products, even if demand exists. And female entrepreneurs dramatically trail their male counterparts in raising money: Even though 40 percent of U.S. businesses are owned by women, they receive just 2.3 percent of available venture capital.

Why such a yawning gap? “The majority of women-owned businesses are professional services, which traditionally receive less funding than product- or technology-based companies,” Anik says. “But this is not sufficient to explain why for every dollar of small business loans that women receive, another $23 go to men.” And as with gender, she says, an entrepreneur’s race has been shown to dramatically impact their access to funding. “When we are facing this landscape, discrimination in small business lending is hard to ignore.”

The national economy stands to lose, especially because women-owned businesses are growing at five times the national average. “Lack of sufficient capital funding for women entrepreneurs will cost the economy about 6 million jobs over the next five years,” says Anik.

When unconscious bias is part of the problem, social incentives may be part of the solution. Anik hopes for a lending process that’s gender- and race-blind. “Another approach would be to move investors away from evaluating applications one at a time to comparing applicants to each other,” she adds. “While the former leads people to compare applicants to an imaginary, stereotypical applicant, the latter process adjusts people to look for the best applicant in the pool.”

Photo: Amy Jackson


Emily Morrison | Founder of The Front Porch

While the founder of The Front Porch initially defined success as being able to pay the bills while tucking away a nice cash reserve, she adds that the “barometers of success are continually changing,” and says she’s had a change of heart.

“This one is more important,” says Emily Morrison, who started teaching roots music out of her Belmont home in 2015 just to see what would happen. “Now it’s being able to provide programming for all people who want to participate in Charlottesville and central Virginia, being accessible and inclusive and attracting audiences from all backgrounds.”

For Morrison and The Front Porch folks, that means hosting and teaching music classes, workshops, weekly jams and performances to people of all walks of life, so long as they have one thing in common: They dig bluegrass, old-time, gospel, acoustic blues and folk music.

When her Belmont jam sessions were decidedly a success, Morrison says she sought expertise from mentors at UVA’s i.Lab, who helped her set up her business as a nonprofit, develop bylaws and a founders board. And voila, now she sits in a studio on Water Street East with denim blue-painted bricks and a big yellow sign with her company’s name on it.

“Finding appropriate space for this continues to be a challenge,” Morrison admits. “I love our physical setting. We have a great problem that we’re also growing out of it.”

She calls the issue a “growing pain, really,” and says she’s hoping to expand beyond the Downtown Mall, while still keeping that space, in the very near future.

Morrison’s proud of building a woman-run nonprofit in which she, the executive director and operations director all have two X chromosomes—but she says it’s hard for her to differentiate between being a woman in business and just being a woman.

“I’m so in it,” she laughs. “It’s like saying, ‘Does breathing oxygen help you stay alive?’”

Morrison explains it like this: We all have different kinds of capital that we use to build things.

“For me, what I had was social and relational capital, and I think that’s stereotypically true for women,” she says, but adds that she owes a great deal to the neighboring businesses, city government and local population for helping her along the way. “I never wanted this to seem like a one-woman deal. It’s truly been a community effort.”

Photo: Amy Jackson


Brynne PotterCEO and co-founder of Maternity Neighborhood

When Brynne Potter was a practicing midwife, she believed her role was to empower mothers, not rescue (or “deliver”) them. Now she’s taking a similar approach to helping communities improve their own birth outcomes—but instead of attending births, she’s heading a tech startup. Her Charlottesville company, Maternity Neighborhood, builds software for maternity care providers. “We’re using community resources to solve problems,” she says.

The concept goes well beyond giving midwives a way to track client information. Rather, the software can be used by many different people who might care for a woman during or after pregnancy, including birth doulas and lactation consultants. It’s designed to make it more likely that mothers will be well-informed about their care—full partners in decision-making—by, among other innovations, giving them direct access to their own records.

But the software is also a tool for data collection, and that’s where the community resources piece comes in. Potter says the best local example is the Sisters Keeper collective of birth doulas, a nonprofit that provides its members with Maternity Neighborhood software to track client care. “How do we know if that [doula-client] relationship is the best prescription for a better birth?” says Potter. “This isn’t captured in a traditional health care platform. We’re trying to quantify it. …Maybe in five years Sisters Keeper could partner with an insurance company instead of applying for grants.”

Potter says that since founding the company in 2012, she’s drawn from lessons learned years earlier when she helped midwives’ groups lobby at the state level for professional certification. “I realized I had a talent and a passion for bridge-building,” she says. “It’s not about winning, but about recognition of stakeholders. That may be a more female style of leadership”—one that prizes listening and receptivity. Maternity Neighborhood also offers its 10 full-time employees individualized hours and PTO packages, aiming to create an inclusive and family-friendly workplace.

Potter, who before becoming a CEO practiced as a midwife in Charlottesville for a dozen years, believes that being a female entrepreneur may have garnered her investments or opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have received, but she isn’t bothered by the notion that tokenism may sometimes be at play. “I will take every opportunity to expand the mission.”

How I bought a well-loved bookshop

By Julia Kudravetz, owner of New Dominion Bookshop

Being a business owner rather than an employee means I am all-in—financially, intellectually, emotionally. I’m always thinking about the shop, even when I’m not there. And as a new business owner, I feel “on” most of the time.

Even before I owned New Dominion Bookshop, I was a customer. I would browse among the tall crossbeams, high windows and bookcases that Carol Troxell and her husband, Robert, designed. The shop is the oldest independent bookseller in Virginia and its architecture expressed both tradition and the beauty and power of books, which I love.

Later, I ran the Charlottesville Reading Series at the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and asked New Dominion to sell books at the readings. (Authors loved to have their books on-hand for sale.) The readings were on Friday nights after the shop had closed for the day, so I sold the books myself.

At the time, my job was teaching English classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College, but I talked to Carol about helping part-time with social media and communications for readings and events at her store. 

Carol was an important fixture of Charlottesville’s literary community. She’d worked at the shop for many years before she bought it in 1987 from C.C. Wells, who’d owned it since 1926. (When Carol bought it, the shop was on the other side of the mall. She and Robert renovated the current space, which had been a shoe store.)

When Carol passed away, I asked Robert if he would consider hiring me as general manager with the expectation that I would eventually purchase New Dominion. I finished out the school year, then began working full-time at the bookstore the next day.

Photo: Amy Jackson


Morela Hernandez | Associate professor of business administration at Darden

Researching business governance, Morela Hernandez found a tipping point where the number of women on a board of directors changed the kinds of issues raised and decisions made.

“Three,” she says. “When you have three or more women on a board, the dynamic completely changes. Traditionally marginalized voices are heard.”

Women are underrepresented on boards, Hernandez explains, partly because board members are often chosen from C-level professionals, where women are also underrepresented. “It’s a filtering mechanism that perpetuates a disparity,” she says. As well, new board members often come from the social networks of existing board members, who tend to be white men who know people like themselves.

Hernandez is an associate professor of business administration in the Leadership and Organizational Behavior area and the academic director of behavioral research at UVA’s Darden School of Business. Her expertise focuses on the ethics of leadership and the role of diversity in organizational systems and decision-making practices. She also consults with global companies, governmental agencies and nonprofits.

“My career has been determined by practicality and passion,” she says. Her father was a diplomat from Honduras, and his work brought the family to the United States when she was 7. Hernandez’s parents sold the family farm to pay for her and her brother’s university educations. “Our education was our inheritance,” she says. “I needed to be able to rely on myself after I graduated.”

At Rice University, Hernandez was drawn to psychology, but her mentors encouraged her to go to business school. “They suggested that I study the psychology of the workforce, how people behaved within organizations,” she says. “Applied psychology.”

Hernandez earned her Ph.D. from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, then taught at the University of Washington in Seattle before coming to UVA in 2014.

How does academia compare to other industries for women? Hernandez explains that it mirrors other male-dominated industries, and women are still in the minority of professorships. “Being both a woman and Hispanic, I am often the only one in my work environment,” she says.

When Hernandez considers what advice she would give to other women, she remembers her mother’s counsel about picking the right life partner. “I knew I wanted to work and have a family, so whoever I ended up with needed to not only tolerate but celebrate the work I wanted to do.”

Hernandez and her husband both have demanding jobs and share the work of raising their two children. She applies her knowledge of organizational structures at home. “In some families, responsibilities are siloed,” she says. “It’s like having different departments at a company: You respect what the other departments do, but you don’t have intimate knowledge of the day to day. In our family, my husband and I are completely interchangeable for our children. We have the same utility. For a while, my son even called us both the same name, ‘ma pa.’”

What’s a measure of success for Hernandez? Recently, her daughter asked her if men could be professors, too.

Susan Dawson, chief people officer at Silverchair Information Systems. Photo: Eze Amos

Supporting role

What can HR do for women?

Human resources professionals help determine work culture and are often the first line of defense when employees have problems, big or small. In our current era, the HR office is busier than ever, but we stole a moment from Susan Dawson, the chief people officer at Silverchair Information Systems, about what kind of culture best supports women and how to deal with challenges as they arise.

What can companies do to support the success of women?

Supporting the success of our women employees ends up looking like what it means to support the success of all our employees. We need to ask: How are we supporting our employees to be their best selves? How can we create and sustain an environment to help employees be successful in both their professional and personal lives?

Both women and men in the modern workplace want flexibility, so they can, if they choose, come in late or leave early to get kids on or off the bus, or be home when family situations arise. They want parental leave to spend time with their newborns.

Employees want organizations with leaders who genuinely care and where they can talk through challenges they are facing. It’s about offering an environment that is respectful of each employee as a whole person. And that also means an environment that is challenging, where they can do great work, get rewarded and have opportunities for advancement.

What kinds of policies do companies need to have in place to protect people from harassment or discrimination in the workplace?

At the heart of this, you need to have a culture of open communication where people feel free to express their thoughts, opinions and feelings. Without this, it doesn’t matter what the policy handbook says, people won’t tell you what’s going on.

Assuming you have an organization where people feel comfortable and confident speaking up, then leaders need to be consistently open to learning, listening and asking questions.

As for policies, you should create them, update them and be willing to adapt or delete them. I’m also a big fan of the Netflix HR policy of “act like an adult,” meaning we can create loads of policies or we can act like adults and work things through without creating lots of bureaucracy.

Tech has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, and, indeed, even local employment numbers show that trend. Does that need to be addressed?

Tech is still male-dominated on the development and coding side of things. Outcomes and products are better when their creation includes wide-ranging perspectives. And while there may be fewer female developers, there are many women involved in the process of software development, as business analysts, scrum masters, quality assurance analysts and so on.

One thing I value about Silverchair is its Agile environment [a software development methodology based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams], that allows all members of the team to contribute directly to outcomes, so every person has a voice and is represented.

We need to get more women coding, but to simplify the equation to “too few female developers equals not many women in tech” isn’t fully reflective of female employees’ roles in the development process. At the same time, it’s important that we continue to engage girls, young women and women across the board to explore jobs in tech and to support their development and/or career transitions.

Photo: Amy Jackson


Sabrina FeggansOwner of Beyond Fitness with Sabrina

Sabrina Feggans wouldn’t have started Beyond Fitness with Sabrina if she wasn’t already a firm believer in the power of tabata.

When she decided to focus on her fitness in the fall of 2015 and wasn’t having much luck at the gym, Feggans turned to tabata, one of the most popular forms of high-intensity interval training. As she began to transform her body and started losing what would eventually be more than 50 pounds, her metamorphosis evoked the attention of others in the local fitness community.

“Once I gained that following, people started asking me for advice,” she says, so she initiated a “very informal” group with three people who met once a week to discuss exercise, calorie intake and their commitment to living a healthier lifestyle. It wasn’t long before she was given the opportunity to teach a seasonal outdoor group fitness class, which drew crowds of about 40 people.

Feggans says that experience was the impetus for building her own business, and now she’s hitting it harder than ever by teaching a couple classes in Charlottesville and Fluvanna every week.

But running her own company takes a different kind of endurance than she’s used to. According to the fitness coach, the biggest challenge has been the lack of stability.

“It’s never an even flow,” she says. New Years resolutioners carry her through the beginning of the year, but come fall, her clients sometimes stop dropping by. “There are some months where there are only five people in class and there are some months when there are 40. You can’t give up when you only have five.”

Adds Feggans, “You can’t give up when people start to rely on you. Even though there were five people, those five people needed me.”

Because she’s a mother of three and works full-time at another job, the tabata instructor says she identifies with her clients, who are 95 percent female.

“Women sometimes feel like they have to take care of everyone else, and they neglect to take care of themselves,” she says. “At the end of the day, I can’t take care of my family if I’m unhealthy myself.”

In her final word of advice, Feggans sounds as much like a fitness coach as a business owner.

“When it looks like the funds aren’t coming in or you’re not able to pay your business expenses, you have to keep pushing. It will all come full circle.”

Photo: Amy Jackson


Lauren Danley | Owner of Metal Inc.

Lauren Danley grew up in a working-class neighborhood near the shipyards of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey—places that employed tens of thousands of people. Her father loved to build things, worked on railroads and once let her drive a train. She never felt like being an academic student was for her, but she was a natural student of the industrial trades that were all around her. “I got started by randomly choosing the plumbing trade,” she says. From there she moved to pipefitting. “Metal made sense to me,” she says.

She found that the previous generation of tradespeople, then ending their own careers, were happy to pass on their knowledge. After almost two decades of industrial work, she decided to apply her skills to the architecture and design world. The company she started, Metal Inc., is now a three-woman shop that fabricates staircases, doors, light fixtures and other architectural elements near downtown Charlottesville. Many clients come from the Washington, D.C., area, but a number of local architects have collaborated with Danley, too.

“I get to work with some really creative people,” says Danley. As a pipefitter and fabricator, she says, “You had to be accurate. I transferred those skills into architecture and could push them much further.”

Being a woman in the trades, Danley says, can be a challenge, but she believes progress is happening. She relies on her integrity, reputation and skill to bring in clients. “It’s about the perseverance over the barriers,” she says. And she’s trying to foster a new generation of female metalworkers.

One of those is her apprentice, Georgia Christman, who says that when she contacted metal shops around Charlottesville looking for work, “I didn’t hear from anyone but Lauren.” Almost a year later, Christman is reveling in the environment at Metal Inc. “As someone who grew up being told ‘Don’t get dirty, don’t get hurt,’” she says, “I can unlearn that.”