US Congresswoman Jackie Speier founded Professional BusinessWomen of California (PBWC) in 1989.
Sparked by the overwhelming response to a Women’s Day for San Mateo County Women event, which Speier led, she incorporated the Professional & BusinessWomen’s Conference as a nonprofit organization.
In the last 24 years, the board of directors has evolved from its initial membership of long-term volunteers from the public sector to its present composition of corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders from both the public and private sectors.
In 1998, the organization announced its new name, Professional BusinessWomen of California. This step acknowledged the far-reaching success of the organization’s efforts and its commitment to increasing the awareness and influence of PBWC throughout the state.
Today, PBWC is one of the largest women’s organization in California, boasting a diverse community of more than 25,000 remarkable individuals.
In this podcast interview we talked to Speier about:
- What inspired her to start PBWC.
- Why she got into politics.
- How she endured losing several political races.
- What her words of wisdom are for other women.
- The one thing she still wants to accomplish.
Download our podcast interview by clicking here.
Scroll down to read our Q&A.
Be Inkandescent: Hello Congresswoman Speier. Tell us what inspired you to create the Professional BusinessWomen of California.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: I was on the board of supervisors back in the early 80s, and I had just done a program called Women’s Day, targeting women who were reentering the workforce, and it was so successful that I thought, well, why not do it for professional and businesswomen.
It was literally designed around a coffee table in a friend’s home. It had all of the earmarks of a start-up, and now it has grown into a nonprofit, with women professionals who give their hearts and souls to this effort every year. It’s more than a conference; it’s a program that provides services to 30,000 women in 50 countries.
There are webinar and regional meetings, and it is a great opportunity for honing skills, professional development, networking, collaboration, and it was important in 1989 and it’s important today. Women are incredibly powerful when they come together, and I am pleased as a mother of an organization to see it blossom the way it has. It’s because of all the women who came after me who have grown this organization.
Be Inkandescent: Today Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg spoke, talking about leaning in and inspiring women. What are your thoughts about leaning in, and how has it changed from the time you started this organization almost 25 years ago, to today?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: As much as I want to say things improved, and they have, we have not made colossal progress. The number of [women] CEOs in this country represents still about three percent, women who serve on boards of directors are 16 percent, the number of women serving in Congress is less than 20 percent. Go to Iraq today, and 25 percent of their legislative bodies are populated with women.
Be Inkandescent: Why is that so important?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: When you have women at the table, whether it’s the boardroom or the House of Representatives, the work that is done is different. The bringing together of thoughts, the inclusion, the focus—it is just broader, no pun intended, and more collaborative.
So, gun violence is a huge issue in this country right now. I’m convinced that the more women we have in public office, the more courage we’re going to have to create some sanity in this issue. Of the 23 wealthiest countries in the world, 80 percent of gun deaths occur in the United States. Now you could talk about that issue, you could talk about all issues that have merit in our society, and until we have more women engaged in bringing those kinds of changes we are not going to make the kinds of strides that we need to make. This is as important today as it was back in 1989.
Be Inkandescent: What is underneath this issue, why do women not stand up, why don’t they run for office? We know what the stats show us, but what is your perception?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: Part of it is the XX chromosome—the expectation that I have to work so much harder to be qualified enough to be a CEO, run for Congress; it isn’t a thought that even crosses the mind of a man, and that’s why I say we’ve got to retrain ourselves. When a woman is assertive, she is seen as a “B,” and when a man is assertive he is seen as a star. Those are just stereotypes that we have got to change, and it’s going to be better for this country and this society. What we do know is that women who are CEOs, women who are in venture capital, they’re all more successful, the businesses are more successful, there’s more net profit to the bottom line, and that is something that we have to have the confidence in moving forward.
Be Inkandescent: What would you tell women who won’t stand up?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: I always tell women, no one is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Run for office”; you have got to feel it in your gut, and then you have got to go for it. If you are passionate about an issue and want to represent that kind of thinking, and you want to run for office, then you just do it, and people will rally around you because they want authentic people. They want authentic people leading this country; they want authentic people leading our companies.
Be Inkandescent: What gave you the courage to run for Congress?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: I first ran for Congress in 1979, and I had just come back from Guyana where I had been shot five times. The congressman I had been working for, Leo Ryan, was killed, and I decided to run for his unexpired term, but I came in late to the election cycle because I had been recovering for two months in the hospital. I decided one morning that I didn’t want to be a victim any longer; I wanted to be a survivor, and so I ran because I wanted to continue his legacy but I also ran because it was therapeutic. I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself; I wanted to move on with my life.
Be Inkandescent: Was that the first time you ran? And what inspired you to take the plunge?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: That was the first time I ran, and I lost, and I love to tell people this is what a three-time loser looks like. I lost running for student body president in high school; I lost the first time I ran for Congress. It took me 29 years before I ran for Congress again, and I ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2006 and lost, so we can’t be afraid to fail. That’s really important; I have a paperweight on my desk that reads, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” There would be many more things that we would do, challenges that we would attempt, and it’s that fear of failure that somehow and sometimes keeps us from really reaching the goals we want.
Be Inkandescent: What is ahead for you, and what is ahead for your organization?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: PBWC is run by a powerful group of women, and I kind of advise them now when they want it and help them raise money when they need to.
But for the most part it is their vision now, which is the way it should be. I think that PBWC has expanded to be a safe haven for women to come, learn, develop professionally, and seek other women out to find ways to collaborate. It’s something that clearly has value. Women value this opportunity and they’ll come up to me at the end of the day and say, “You know what, this conference just changed my life!“And that’s what it should be doing.
Be Inkandescent: What’s ahead for you?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: I don’t know what’s ahead for me. I’m serving in the House of Representatives, and will continue to do that for a while. I just want to continue to be relevant, continue to be in a position where I can change people’s lives. Right now I’m working on the issue of gun violence prevention, and I’m working on military rape, and I’m working on an effort to allow states to collect Internet sales tax because small businesses are hurting, because they’re competing with Internet companies that aren’t collecting sales tax. Those are the issues I’m working on right now, and I will certainly see them through to conclusion.
Be Inkandescent: Excellent! It’s a pleasure to have met you, and this is truly a wonderful conference. Thank you so much.
And don’t miss our podcast interview on the Inkandescent Radio Network.