The Sisterhood They Didn’t Know They Needed

May 18th, Momentum will graduate our 14th class of outstanding professional women leaders. Every year, at the beginning of our leadership training, we ask the class about any concerns regarding the program. And every year, we hear the same concern resurface again and again: I am worried about what it’s going to be like to be with all women, all the time. Because our participants are very high on the org chart, they have spent most of their careers interacting with a predominantly male peer group. So long, in fact, that they are convinced they get along better with men.

What is exciting to see is how these concerns melt away in a matter of minutes. In fact, as one after another they confirm the “room full of women” concern, the relationships are starting to build. They are more alike than they are different. Within the course of the afternoon, they are no longer concerned about how they will relate to the other women, or what the other women will think of them,  or of how their participation in an all-women’s program will be viewed by others. By the end of day one, they know they are surrounded by strong women with great talents, and they are proud to share the room.

As the year progresses, our class hears from renowned authors, trainers and facilitators. In between sessions they complete numerous assignments requiring introspection. In their co-mentoring groups they share experiences, discoveries, and vulnerabilities. Within a couple of months, when class day rolls around, they are no longer thinking “how can I make time for this,” and are now thinking, “I really need this!” They have found the value of Sisterhood. Very soon they will join the larger sisterhood of Momentum Alumnae, 350 women strong!




New Study Suggests Equal Pay Next Century

Kayleigh is a college sophomore and marketing intern at Momentum.

In January, Momentum’s April Benetollo wrote a post entitled “Who Can Wait for 2085?”  The article focused on the study that projected women to achieve parity in leadership in this country in the year 2085.

A new study from the AAUW suggests that women may not achieve pay equity with men until the year 2152. Yes, middle of the next century.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the earnings ratio hasn’t had significant annual change since 2007. The gap has narrowed since the 1970s, due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate. Still, the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. But even that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152.”

-The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, Spring 2017 Edition, AAUW

An early career woman faces the daunting reality of the gender pay gap, especially as she makes career path decisions that affect her long-term salary. Some of the gender pay gap stems from the motherhood penalty, which we will discuss at a later time, but this Forbes article has two suggestions for eliminating the gender pay gap: implementing pay transparency and eliminating negotiation.

photo credit: Wall Street Journal

The idea about implementing pay transparency is establishing unbiased meritocracy within an organization. It would raise awareness among employees, which has been the consistent weapon of choice to combat gender bias. It’s not that organizations are outwardly opposed to equal gender rights, rather organizations are unaware of how their actions affect the gender pay gap. Underlying biases are not always recognizable. Implementing pay transparency could eliminate the issue, forcing organizations to be honest about how employees are rewarded for their work.

Men negotiate salary and benefits 4 times more than women, but when women negotiate, they are likely to earn $1 million more over their lifetime than women who refuse to negotiate. It’s easy to accept a salary lower than market-value during the early career stages, but employees who do are likely to continue being underpaid for the duration of their time with that company. If eliminating negotiation is not an option, then women must find their voice and exude enough confidence to negotiate, even when they may be a minority in the workplace.

The difference between pay equity in 2059 and 2152 is vast. As an early career woman, 2059 means I will see pay equity in my lifetime. 2152 means that my grandchildren will. Entering the workforce with awareness of these issues and the confidence to fight for them will make all the difference.

Facetime with Sandy Thurmond

One of the greatest things about Momentum is the powerful alumnae network. Periodically we interview these amazing women about their experience.

Sandy Thurmond is Vice President of Primary Care Services at Children’s of Alabama where she has worked for thirty years. Sandy is responsible for operations and development of the primary care arm of Children’s as well as for maintaining and improving relationships with pediatricians around the state. Children’s owns thirteen primary care offices which provided over 342,000 medical visits in 2016.

Sandy serves on the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team, the United Way’s Women United Advisory Group, the Birmingham Southern College Alumni Board and the UAB Health Administration Women’s Leadership Initiative. She is a past president of both the Alabama Healthcare Executives Forum and UAB’s Graduate Programs in Health Administration Alumni Association from which she received its 2009 Outstanding Alumnus Award. She is an active member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and her hobbies include fitness, reading and travel. Sandy is a member of Momentum’s Class 10 and of the Momentum Alumnae Program.


What did you gain from your MOMENTUM experience?

In addition to the excellent training provided at the monthly sessions, I gained a network of inspiring, supportive, accomplished and fabulous professional women who I now call friends.

What is one piece of leadership advice you have been given that has helped you in your career?

The path forward is not a linear one – be determined and confident in your ability to master the obstacles you encounter… and in each success, you move along.

What challenges do you think the next generation of women leaders face?

We have the opportunity to lead teams of unparalleled diversity in terms of skills and backgrounds.  However, with the differences in the styles of the generations and genders, we will be challenged to truly listen and be flexible in how we charter, communicate with and problem solve so that we can truly leverage the talents of our teams.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18 year old self?

Be aware that you do not know what you do not know… your success will come through your ability to apply what you do know to the challenges you face.

What three words do you think should characterize every leader?

Integrity, Adaptability, Passion.

How do you find balance in your career, home, and community life?

It is optimistic to say that I find balance, but I believe that by recognizing that I do have finite time and resources and by devoting my limited time and resources to what matters most to me at each time and stage of my life, I do have satisfaction and some balance with my career, home and community lives.  And, I’ve learned to relax without feeling guilty… I enjoy what I am doing or I choose to do something else.

Is there a book that has been helpful to you in your career?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey… it gave me permission to say no to otherwise worthwhile endeavors allowing me to focus on those special activities and projects aligned to my passions and goals.

Is there anything else you would like to share? Advice you would like to give women in leadership?

We can’t control what the future brings, but we can control how we respond to it. Embrace challenge, empower and support your team and enjoy and be passionate about your work.



Former US Attorney to Address Momentum’s Class 14

Joyce Vance

Former US Attorney for Alabama’s northern district is slated to speak at Momentum’s graduation ceremony for the 2016-2017 executive leadership class.

Joyce White Vance stepped down as President Obama’s U.S. Attorney in North Alabama on January 19, 2017.  As U.S. Attorney, she served an estimated 3.1 millions residents as the top-ranking federal law enforcement official in district, directing criminal prosecutions, and civil and appellate litigation on behalf of the United States.

During her tenure, Vance and her team focused on civil rights, drug trafficking, prison reform, and public corruption cases, among other pressing issues in our state.

Vance served as a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee under Attorney General Eric Holder, and co-chaired the Criminal Practice Subcommittee from 2009 to 2017.  She also served as a member of the Civil Rights Subcommittee.

Before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Vance spent 3 years in private practice as a litigator with Bradley, Arant, Rose & White here in Birmingham, and 3 years with Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin and Kahn in Washington, D.C.

Currently, Vance frequently appears on MSNBC as a commentator on legal issues and is engaged on a variety of criminal justice reform projects.  She will join the faculty of the University of Alabama Law School late this summer.

Challenge Assumptions

Kayleigh is a college sophomore and marketing intern at Momentum.

The internet has thousands of articles offering advice for early career professionals. Most of the authors think back on their own career and write what they wish they had known at age 22 when they entered the workforce.

Universal advice includes, “find a mentor,” “become a life-long learner,” and “prove your value.” But if you include the word “women” in your search for early career advice, you get distinctly different results.

So logic would tell you that if the advice is very different, then the experience must also be different for young professional women than for their male counterparts.


I find the advice diverges along three basic assumptions:

  1. Women communicate differently from men (rapport vs report, if you will)

  2. Women shoulder a disproportionate amount of responsibility for housework and care-giving, particularly when it comes to family planning (the “motherhood penalty”)

  3. Women will earn less money than men for the same work, in nearly every profession (the gender pay gap)

Photo Credit: Ged Carroll, CC BY 2.0

Assumptions about early career women in the workplace push women to believe the stereotypes are true. As a young woman beginning to explore the workforce myself, my view of the business world is largely influenced by the advice people give me and the expectations they set for me, because I haven’t had a lot of professional experience yet.

Instead of getting advice on how to navigate through the struggles, I’d rather receive advice on how to eliminate them.
We need men and women working together to remove stereotypes, assumptions, and biases to maximize productivity among innovative, driven individuals- male or female. This begins with the expectations we set for up-and-coming leaders. Let’s not create boundaries that do not have to exist. Instead, let’s ask men and women alike how they need to adjust their schedule to accommodate a new baby. Let’s look at high-potential women and mentor them on how to take a high-earning path to provide for their family. Let’s not assume that one or the other is more willing to travel, do extra assignments, or lead the way for others. Let’s assume we are equal.


Middle-School View On Glass Ceiling

April Benetollo, Momentum

A student at my daughter’s middle school interviewed me yesterday for a research paper on the proverbial glass ceiling. As I answered her questions, I couldn’t help thinking about where her generation will find glass ceilings. According to a joint study by Deloitte and the American Alliance for Board Diversity, the total number of women on Fortune 100 boards of directors increased from 16.9% in 2004 to 23% in 2016. That’s a very modest gain given the emphasis on diversity in the last decade. And those are the biggest corporations in America.

photo cred:

As you get into the Fortune 500, Fortune 1000 and beyond, the numbers look much worse. At this rate, gender parity at the board of directors level won’t happen in the Fortune 100 until my daughter and her friend are 27 years old. And the chances of parity further down the corporate chain are even further off.

The key to change is awareness for the powers that be, and getting that awareness to translate into changes in training and policy across the organization.

The factors that contribute to the glass ceiling are complex. Here are three of the top issues I see as contributing to barriers that prevent women from those top executive positions.

  1. People in power tend to recruit, train, and promote people who look, think and behave the way they do. This well-known sociological pattern is at the root of why white men, who have been in power for centuries, select young males similar to themselves to mentor, sponsor, train and promote.
  2. Sociological behavior is slow to evolve. Women gained the right to vote less than 100 years ago. Many employment practices, pay policies, and bank lending rules unfairly discriminated against women for decades (some persist today.) For instance, until The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988,  a woman still had to have a man present at the bank to co-sign for a business loan in many states.
  3. Implicit bias is a frequent occurrence the workplace, politics, education, and even healthcare. Implicit bias affects many groups, and is often based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Women often need to prove themselves more than men, due to the implicit bias that they are inferior. Women are often passed over for choice projects or promotions due to the bias that they cannot handle the work. Women that do manage to reach positions near the top are often perceived as ruthless, bossy, or power-hungry for the same hardball behavior as their male counterparts when tough decisions must be made. In hiring, education, and healthcare there are many studies that show that simply changing the names of the applicants from female to male dramatically increases their chances of getting admitted to an interview, a school, or a health study.

Men and women at the top perpetuate the policies that lead to a glass ceiling (yes, women at the top can be as guilty of discriminating practices as their male counterparts.) Men and women in positions of power must work together to:

  • understand the issues
  • provide training
  • shape policies

that ensure that their best talent, regardless of gender, makes it to the top!


Myth-Busters About Equal Pay

April Benetollo, Dir. Marketing & Development, Momentum

Bring up the topic of equal pay, and you’re likely to be met with a host of arguments as to why the whole gender pay gap is a myth. We all know when you compile research upon research there are many variables. These variables leave open windows for those who don’t agree to shoot holes.

But there are so many valid studies on the gender pay gap, it’s hard to refute that it exists, even if it’s not a simple number. It’s worth a dive into some of the research and societal pressures that fuel the debate.

First let’s outline the top myths on the gender pay gap.


Myth #1: Women choose lower paying jobs.

Some women may indeed “choose” lower paying jobs because they need the flexibility due to a partner with a demanding career, or because they are single mothers, or because family care requires it. That may account for some of the disparity in studies that do not isolate for equal pay for equal work. But there are numerous studies that control for factors like age, education, experience, and performance and still the gap persists. This research on medical professions found that male doctors earn $200,000 more on average than their female peers, even if they have the same specialty, experience, and education. In a recent analysis by Glassdoor, one of the largest job recruiting sites, the company concluded:

“Based on more than 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees on Glassdoor, men earn 24.1 percent higher base pay than women on average. In other words, women earn about 76 cents per dollar men earn. However, comparing workers with similar age, education and years of experience shrinks that gap to 19.2 percent. Further, comparing workers with the same job title, employer and location, the gender pay gap in the U.S. falls to 5.4 percent (94.6 cents per dollar).”

The gap narrows to just a nickel when you control for same title, employer, and location? So what’s the big deal? Well, that’s more than $130,000 over the course of a career for someone making an average of $65,000. How many men would voluntarily sign up for that?

Equal Pay Advocate, Lilly Ledbetter

Myth #2: Women are a protected class, so employers can’t pay them less.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal to pay women less than men. Yet, it still happens. First, transparency regarding salary is discouraged in most workplaces. Many women who play by their employer’s rules will never know if they are being paid less than men for the same job. Second, women would have to confront their manager about uneven pay, a courageous act that can result in retaliation. Third, in order to enforce the Equal Pay Act, a woman would have to take her employer to court– an unpleasant journey for all involved. We have Alabama native and Momentum honoree Lilly Ledbetter to thank for getting rid of the 180-day statute of limitations for wage-related claims. That means if you do file a claim and the court decides in your favor, you can pursue damages for all of your years of employment, not just the last 6 months.


Myth #3: Women make less than men because they leave careers to have families.

While some women do leave their careers to have children, employers should not presume that all women will have children or that a woman will be unable to balance a demanding job just as well as her colleagues who are fathers. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 70% of women with children work. Another study by the Pew Research Center shows that 40% of women with children who work are the sole or primary bread winners for their family. Pair that with the fact that nearly 48% of women between 15 and 44 do not have children. Yet our society still leans towards paying men more when they have children, the so-called “father bonus”, based on stereotypes we have of men being the breadwinner for the family. Those same societal norms impose a “motherhood penalty” on women regardless of whether they have children, plan to have children, or never have children.

Top 3 Takeaways from Keynote

Highlights from Dr. Foust-Cummings Keynote on Men and Women Leading Together

On Thursday, March 16th, 2017, Dr. Foust-Cummings addressed Momentum’s sold-out event of 500 women and men. Here are our top three takeaways from the presentation:

1.    When people feel like an “other,” companies lose talent and value.

Dr. Foust-Cummings described being an “other” as having characteristics that set them apart from the dominant group, which results in feeling like they do not belong. Anyone can feel like an “other” based on gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, etc.–this keynote focuses on gender. People who feel like “others” are more likely to be in lower ranks, receive fewer promotions, and downsize their career aspirations. The result is a loss of talent and the loss of value that diverse perspectives bring to the workplace. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Together we can create workplaces where everyone is valued.

2.    Engaging men is a critical pathway to inclusive workplaces.

When men are aware of the exclusion experienced by “others” they can become part of the solution to create more inclusive workplaces. Men are the key stakeholders in most workplaces, yet less than half of men think of gender-stereotyping as a barrier to women’s advancement, and many others fear reverse discrimination. However, the more men were aware of gender bias, the more likely they were to say that achieving gender equality is important. Dr. Foust-Cummings presented three ways to develop awareness of gender inequality:
1) willingness to define success factors outside of masculine norms,
2) exposure to women mentors, and 3) creating fair play policies.

3.    Individually, we can take steps toward a more inclusive workplace environment.

Men can: tell their male peers about commitment to a gender-inclusive workplace, listen and validate the experiences of women colleagues, sponsor an emerging woman leader, get involved in a community that advocates gender-equality (for instance, Catalyst’s online community, MARC,

Women can: mentor a man, engage in open dialogue with men on gender issues, get involved in a community that advocates gender-equality.

People, businesses, and communities thrive when there is a mutual sense of belonging. Let’s not be afraid to talk about the need for inclusive workplaces. It’s the critical first step to making sure our most talented people reach the top.

Photo credit: Bang Images

Look Who’s Coming for Breakfast

This is the first Momentum breakfast where we have actively promoted the event to men. That’s because it’s important for men to be part of the solution to the imbalances that exist when it comes to leadership. Sometimes we are asked why women need their own leadership program. In simple terms, women make up half of the population, but have only about 20% representation in areas of leadership. The business and economic impact affects everyone. The reasons for the disparity are complex, and the solutions will take require men and women to work together to change.

There are many challenges stemming from culture and past history that are not unique to women, yet they are almost universally experienced by women. These challenges impact everyone, not just women.

Men who work with women, manage teams with women, are sons of working women, are married to working women, or who have a customer base of women (which covers just about everyone) are all impacted when those same women earn less, are recognized less, are promoted less, or purchase less because society values them less. 

Earlier this week a woman in our current Momentum class shared an interesting story that illustrates my point. The story covers Martin Schneider, a guy who simply switched his email signature with a female co-worker for a couple of weeks. You can read her blog post about it here, or  his Twitter moment here. After two weeks of having to work twice as hard to earn credibility from clients in order to get anything done, @SchneiderRemarks tweets “I was in hell…”

This is precisely the type of discussion we hope to hear at the breakfast this Thursday. The more we open ourselves to the discussion, the faster we can find solutions that will help better our businesses, communities, and economy.


International Women’s Day

Here at Momentum we are pretty excited about March 8th, International Women’s Day.  Our work to develop Alabama’s talented women leaders goes on year-round, but on March 8th we take the “broader view” (pun intended.) On International Women’s Day, we look around the world at the incredible contributions of women from every country, every industry, every socio-economic strata, and every age…often despite sexism that is deeply embedded in laws, policies, culture, religion, education and families. When we look into the challenges women face, at home and abroad, it’s time to get back to work.

According to a 2012 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, of the 93,000 female homicides that year, 47% of  the women were killed by intimate partners and family members.  Let that sink in for a moment. There is much work to do, and many women risk their lives every day to study, to work, to provide for their families, to demand equal protection under the law.

Here in the United States, we may not face death threats each day for pursuing a career or running for political office, but we are far from equal. There is still much work to do. Consider just a few harsh realities in the Land of the Free…

On International Women’s Day, take a moment to appreciate heroines, leaders, and inspiring women around the world. Then make a commitment to take action. Here’s a page of action resources from the United State of Women website that’s a great place to start. There is much work to do.