January 7, 2013
By Linda Oubre
With the UC Davis Census Davis of Women Business Leaders, UC Davis continues to do great work to shine a light on key issues of diversity and leadership. As a fellow business school Dean in California, and as a member of Watermark, it would be great to see more research done on the unique impact on women of color in leadership in business and other organizations. This is some of the research that we hope to focus on at SF State.
I am often asked: “Do you think you have faced more discrimination as a woman, or as a woman of color?” To be honest, how I can separate my experience of being “me” in two distinct boxes? Are both equally hard, or is it that the sum of the two is really a multiplier?
Back in 1983, a senior partner of Bain & Company and recent presidential candidate told me: “We would normally make an offer to candidates during this (3rd) round, but we don’t think a black woman can deal with our clients.” More than 30 years later, I still hear derogatory comments about my gender and ethnicity. As my 76 year old former TV executive African-American mother would say: “The burden and pain never goes away…it just gets heavier!”
I was recently told that I was only named a Dean because of my gender and ethnicity. Never wanting to waste a prime opportunity for a “teaching moment,” my response was: “I graduated with honors in Economics from UCLA, I was the first person ever to be admitted to the Harvard Business School from UCLA as a college senior, I graduated in the top 20% of my HBS MBA class, I launched 30 successful businesses including several for Walt Disney and the LA Times, I started a company from scratch, took it public, and grew it to over $50 million in revenue in 3 years, I was the first and only female Executive in Residence at UC Davis, and the top-rated instructor at San Diego State’s College of Business….why is it that it’s always my gender and ethnicity that is the reason behind my selection and achievement?”
As women of color in America, we live the burden of trying to break many barriers and
many glass ceilings. No one knows how painful this burden can be, especially in corporate America and in the halls of our nation’s institutes of higher education. As leaders in business leadership education, the change starts with us. It starts at home with the students we educate, the faculty and staff we employ, and the culture we nurture.
Kudos to UC Davis for their outstanding work on these issues. However, our work is just beginning. We as educators need to find ways to expand this research to reflect all diversity, and to engage with the corporate community to make this work actionable.
Linda Oubre is the Dean of the College of Business at San Francisco State University. Oubre has a long and accomplished history as a business executive and academic leader. She has developed more than 30 business ventures from the ground up, most recently as co-founder of BriteSmile, a system of teeth whitening spas that reached a market capitalization of $150 million in just four years. She led the monetization of LATimes.com and managed acquisitions and startups for the Walt Disney Company, including Discover Magazine and The Disney Stores. She is a Watermark member.