Women have come a long way in the fight against workplace sexism, but there's still a ways to go.
Nearly 700 women - and their male comrades - on Tuesday attended the sixth-annual Women's Leadership Conference at the MGM Grand. The two-day conference, sponsored by MGM Resorts Foundation, covers issues ranging from work-life balance and gender differences in the office to public speaking and wellness.
Phyllis James, MGM Resorts International's executive vice president, special counsel in litigation and chief diversity officer, opened the conference with a reference to the famous Virginia Slims advertising catchphrase, "You've come a long way, baby." Then she asked whether women have actually come that far. The answer is yes, she said, "But we still have miles to go."
"Many glass ceilings remain to be shattered," James said. "In some contexts, the glass seems to be titanium steel."
Women comprise 49 percent of the workforce but account for 59 percent of low-wage employees in the United States, she said. Women will have to wait until 2056 for their wages to become equivalent to men's for the same work. The crowd audibly groaned at that statistic.
There have been small strides made for women in leadership roles, but not enough, James said. In 2001, only five Fortune 500 CEOs were women. In 2011, that number grew to 18. Last year, 40 percent of the world's largest corporations had no women on their boards of director. There still has not been a female senate majority leader, vice president or president. For women of color, headway has been even tougher.
Some of Las Vegas' highest-powered female executives attended the conference, including Paula Eylar, Boyd Gaming's vice president of business and technology, and Renee West, president and chief operating officer of Excalibur and Luxor. The two participated in a panel on women in leadership roles with hospitality consultant and entrepreneur Gwendolyn Turner, owner of Princeton Proper LLC.
Eylar said disparaging comments about women were once commonly overheard in the corporate world, but not so much anymore. Companies now offer sensitivity training and encourage diversity in the workplace, which has made offices less of a hostile environment.
"Some stuff still goes on behind closed doors, but it's lessened," Eylar said.
West said corporations are beginning to realize the traditional idea of an employee, a man who can devote his life to his job because a woman is taking care of his home, no longer applies to contemporary American life.
"The traditional organizational structure isn't working for men anymore, either," West said.
Millenials just entering the workforce have different expectations for their careers than older generations. Turner said her 22-year-old niece is an example of changing attitudes. When new Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines by announcing she was pregnant shortly after joining the company, Turner said, her niece wondered what was newsworthy about a pregnant CEO.
The panelists drew on their own experiences as executives to offer advice ranging from "be authentic" and "know your stuff" to perfecting the art of self-promotion and not being afraid to be feminine in the office.
"I've seen a lot of women emulate leadership styles that work for men," West said. "It doesn't work."
Author and journalist Lee Woodruff, who moderated the panel, reflected on darker days when women emulated more than just men's leadership styles but also their clothing styles. Oversized gray suits and tie-neck blouses were her top offenders.
Woodruff delivered the conference's opening keynote about her family's experience dealing with traumatic brain injury. Woodruff's husband, ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, was injured while reporting from Iraq in 2006. Woodruff spoke of balancing a career and four children ("There is no balance, and that's OK"), and offered advice for girls and young women aspiring to become working professionals: Find mentors, don't leave gaps on resumes and develop connections outside of Facebook.
Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at cmcgarry@review journal.com or 702-387-5273.