Congratulations to Class 15

It seems like yesterday that we greeted our new class at the September retreat. It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year already! We are so proud to celebrate another Momentum class of outstanding women leaders. Class 15 is our largest and most diverse class to date.

A few adjectives I would use too collective describe Class 15 include intelligent, driven, aware, supportive, articulate, caring, and FUN. Together we honed skills in negotiation, mediation, stress management, work/life management, emotional intelligence, personal branding, presentations, leadership lessons, and leading healthy teams. We laughed, we cried, we worked hard.


These women deserve the highest accolades for their dedication to this year’s demanding program schedule, managing the extra demands with their already over-booked schedules.

We are fortunate, indeed, to call Class 15 “alumnae.” Congratulations.

Here’s  a look at their program year: Play Video

The ABCs of Breaking Bias

I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Athena Collective entitled the ABCs of Breaking Bias. The guest speaker was Dr. Stefanie Johnson, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. This is such an important topic, because understanding unconscious bias, and how we can keep it in check, is fundamental to getting the best talent to take on the challenges in our companies, organizations and communities.

I was glad to see that the audience was made up of men and women of many ethnic backgrounds and ages. Dr. Johnson helped us all to see that unconscious bias is in all of us. It is primal, rooted in the tendency of humans to observe the world around them and unconsciously use the data collected to make thousands of micro-decisions every day–decisions that may or may not be sound, depending on that individual’s experiences. Women exhibit gender bias just as men do. Minorities make biased decisions based on race each day. No one can be totally free of unconscious bias, but Dr. Johnson presented four easy ways to rein it in with her “ABCs” of breaking bias:

A is for Admit it. As mentioned above, we all exhibit unconscious bias, so let’s just admit it without blame or shame. I would add to the A-list two more words: raise awareness when you observe unconscious bias and address it.

B is for Blind it. The Boston Symphony became the poster-child for blinding unconscious bias when it began using blind auditions in an effort to test gender bias on its hiring of musicians. They started by holding auditions behind a curtain, and even went so far as to have musicians remove their shoes, since the clicking of women’s heels even tipped off the hiring committee as to their gender. The result ? The blind auditions increased a woman’s chances of moving past the first audition by 50%, and accounts for 30% of female new hires, according to a research study in the American Economic Review. Similar “blinding actions” can be taken by companies, educational institutions, and healthcare professionals by removing names and other bias-tipping factors from resumes, reviews, records and recommendations.

C is for Count it. What gets measured gets done, so if we can quantify how unconscious bias negatively affects our workplaces, we can make the case for change. For example, tracking metrics on the diversity of candidates before and after implementing blind screening practices can be a great way to demonstrate that unconscious bias exists. It’s equally important to show data to motivate policy makers to  invest in a more diverse talent pool. Fortunately, an increasing number of reliable research studies point to strong correlations between diversity positive key performance indicators.

S is for Support it. Humans find safety in sameness, so human nature causes us to surround ourselves with people like us. Yet we know that it’s the diversity of any ecosystem that defines its strength and longevity. Workplaces, educational institutions, and communities are no exception. One of the most frequently cited studies supporting diversity is Why Diversity Matters from McKinsey & Company. While the study asserts that the link between diversity and high performance is a correlation, and not necessarily causation, there is a very strong, logical case that diversity gets more talent to the table and helps teams avoid “group think” in important decisions.

Even if we stop short of making sweeping organizational changes to address unconscious bias, each on of us can check our own biases on a daily basis. For example, when describing a person, how often do you include details about gender, race, or age, even when they are absolutely irrelevant to your story? Double-check that you are not somehow implying something unintentional. Consider the images conjured in your mind when you read the following:

  • I was behind this old guy parking his car.
  • I was behind this woman parking her car.
  • I was behind this black man parking his car.
  • I was behind a business man parking his car.

Based on the fact that the speaker qualified who was parking the car, we immediately form a stereotype of the story to follow. Having qualified who was parking the car may reinforce the unconscious bias that an old person, woman, or black man would not park a car as well as the business man, when in fact, those things have nothing to do with that individuals ability to park a car. Why not simply say, “I was behind this person parking their car and noticed that the gas cap was open.”

Admit bias, blind it, count it and support efforts to counter it. Dr. Johnson’s “ABCs” for breaking bias are great building blocks for more diversity in our workplaces and communities.




Equal Pay Day is Here

We are 99 days into 2018, and today marks the day the average woman has earned what it only took a man until December 31st to earn. At the current rate, the gender pay gap is not expected to close until 2059. Depending on the studies you read, economists and think tanks issue lots of proclamations about the reason the pay gap exists. From the mommy penalty to unconscious bias, it can be difficult to find consensus on the root cause. One thing most economists can agree on is that it is in the economic best interest of our country to to actively address inequities in pay.

According to a 2017 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy, “the United States economy would have produced additional income of $512.6 billion if women received equal pay; this represents 2.8 percent of 2016 gross domestic product (GDP).” Not only that, but the poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half. Pay parity represents 16 times what the federal and state governments spent on families in need in 2015. That means if women earned the same as men, the government would pay out less and families would have much more, a win/win for everyone.

There are many things we can do to close the pay gap, starting with transparency in pay rates and a ban on using prior earnings as a negotiating point for salary. A partnership between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the US Department of Labor issued a rule to take effect in September of 2017 requiring companies with 100 employees to start disclosing how much people are paid when they report on gender, race and ethnicity. In June of 2017, Trump reversed that rule. Despite being introduced in every congress since 1997, the Paycheck Fairness Act has yet to pass. Women can negotiate with the best of the boys and will still suffer the gender pay gap as long as there is a lack of transparency in what employers are actually paying their people.

Accepting Nominations for 2018-19

Momentum is now accepting nominations for the 2018-2019 executive leadership class. If you would like to nominate an outstanding woman for consideration, please ask her to fill out the application and list you as the nominator. Applicants may also self-nominate.

Why consider Momentum? Because it’s a leadership development experience beyond compare! Momentum has developed a truly unique program to advance qualified women into leadership roles in their companies and communities. Each year at our opening retreat, we ask the class if they have any doubts, fears or concerns. It’s quite common to hear:

  • Can I really spare a full day every month for training?
  • What if I get in and find out I’m not in the same league with the other participants?
  • I’ve already done lots of leadership training; is there anything new here to learn?
  • How will I benefit from learning from women when I work mostly with men?

Take a look at what our graduates say about their experience on the other side:

Margaret Ann Pyburn, Exec. VP, Cobbs Allen
Momentum Class 2017

“You do have time to devote to becoming a better leader, mentor, and parent. Plus, you now have 25 of the most incredible new life-long friends who will listen, encourage, and hold you accountable. You name it, you can do it. Momentum makes you a stronger, better person for Birmingham, your company and your industry.”


Mary Beth Briscoe , CFO University Hospital & UAB Medicine
Momentum Class 2017

“Participating in Momentum provided me with an opportunity to learn new leadership approaches, improve my professional development skills, and network with inspiring women leaders. This program equipped me with not only new skills but with a network of friends to support me along the way.”


Rosilyn E. Houston, SVP Talent & Culture, Chief Talent & Culture Executive, BBVA Compass
Momentum Class 2014

“Momentum gave me permission to breathe, literally, and exposed the powerful qualities that I possess as a woman and as a leader. I now lead with conviction, intentionality, and courage. I’m more confident in who I am, and add value to other aspiring women leaders by teaching what I have learned through the program. Momentum is the platform to transform aspiring leaders into world-changing leaders!”


Anne Marie Seibel, Partner, Bradley, Arant, Boult, Cummings
Momentum Class 2013

“As a professional woman actively managing work and home responsibilities, it is easy to become isolated. Momentum was a reminder that I was only one of many women in the community who were walking similar paths. I was immediately enriched by the experiences, advice, and life lessons of the talented women in my class. That experience allowed us to connect and develop bonds that will carry forward for years to come.”


Each year we receive many more applications than we can accept. Our selection committee strives for a broad range of organizations from different industries, as well as individuals with varied roles, backgrounds, ethnicity, and experiences. Participants will be notified of acceptance in June and classes will begin in September. All deferred applicants are strongly encouraged to reapply.

If you are considering advancing your career, developing leadership skills or know a woman who would benefit from Momentum, you can download the application here.


Smarter, Stronger, Better Together

We had an outstanding showing for the fourth biennial Momentum Leadership conference. We are grateful to each and every attendee, panelist, speaker and volunteer who invested the time to advance women in leadership. A very diverse group of over 850 professional women (and some men!) from the state of Alabama convened to learn about resilience, fearless leadership, and how we can all become better leaders. Throughout the day it was easy to see how we are smarter, stronger and better together.

photo credit Erin Tunnell
At the conference, Momentum announced a new leadership program targeted to early-career women. The program, called Upward, is designed to develop leadership skills for motivated professional women with approximately three to seven year’s experience. Momentum will induct its first Upward class in January 2019. We will be taking applications for Upward this summer, and participants will be notified of acceptance in the fall.
Our conference co-chair Cheri Canon also mentioned the strategic work we are doing with a new men’s advisory board, called Men with Momentum. Comprised of leaders from Birmingham’s most prominent businesses, these men are working with Momentum to chart the best course for keeping their top talent, women and men, rising through the ranks together.
While our post-conference survey will remain open for another few weeks, initial responses have been outstanding. Out of the 200 responses that have been entered so far, we have some great preliminary stats to share
  • A full 100% of respondents would be “very likely to recommend the conference to a friend or colleague.”
  • 74% said the conference “exceeded expectations” with another 25% saying it “met expectations.” The remaining one percent had no expectations (smile.)
  • 63% attended the conference for the first time.
  • 92% said the conference was the best or one of the best they have ever attended.
  • The keynote speakers, Bonnie St. John and Carey Lohrenz, knocked it out of the park with 80% and 95% “excellent” ratings, respectively.
  • 19% of attendees were Momentum alumnae, with 81% never having been through the program.
  • Most respondents expressed interest in the Upward program, Momentum’s executive leadership program, and/or having Momentum come conduct training or workshops at their organization.
Andrea McCaskey
Given the tremendous interest in leadership programming for women, Momentum also announced at the conference a key new-hire to our staff: Director of Programs, Andrea McCaskey. Andrea is leaving her current position as VP of HR at BioHorizons to join our team. She will direct our Upward program, executive leadership program, and all community events as well as corporate training. Given the appetite in Birmingham, that’s no small feat, but Andrea is up to the task!
While there is always room to do more, we couldn’t be happier with the success of this conference. We are so very grateful  to the 100+ volunteers, speakers and panelists who made it happen, and much appreciative of our generous sponsors for supporting the event. We plan to have many more local events leading up to our next biennial in 2020. Until then, here are a few ways you can lead with momentum:
1) Connect with us on social media: you’ll find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
2) Apply for the Momentum 2018-19 leadership class.
3) Learn more about the Upward early career program.
4) Request a mentor (or to be one!)
5) Bring Momentum to your organization. Email us to learn more.
If you would be interested in contacting one of our panelists or getting copies of one of the presentations, email us your request.
If you forgot to pick up your door prize and still have your prize voucher, or if you forgot your t-shirt and/or tote bag and still want one, email us…we have a few left.
If you were there but haven’t filled out the conference survey, please do!
With our gratitude,
The Momentum Team

Women’s History Month

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month. I have actually been asked by my own son why we need a whole month dedicated to women’s history or black history? Why don’t we just have a history month? Deep breaths. “We celebrate women’s history month and black history month because history, as we have learned it, is white male. It is written by white males and documents the achievements of white males. The contributions of minorities like black people and all women, who often achieved great things despite their repression, are rarely noted or celebrated. Having a dedicated history month helps to rectify that.” He seemed satisfied enough with that answer.

During the month of March we’ll post on the achievements of women, particularly right here in Alabama. At each biennial Momentum conference, we recognize women leaders who have made a significant contribution to community, business, culture or politics. The 2018 awards were held this past Wednesday and honored six new women with a Woman of Impact award. You can meet the new honorees, and each of our past honorees, here.

Last year we interviewed five of our sixteen honorees to get their stories and advice on film. Here are a few inspiring clips from that project.



Celebrating Careers of Women of Color

In honor of black history month, and on the cusp of women’s history month, we salute the women who overcome a long history of bias, prejudice, and discrimination to succeed in their careers. According to a 2015 study by the Center for American Progress, a stunning 70% of mothers in black families are the main bread-winner for their families (compared to 24.7% of white mothers and 40.5% of Latina mothers.) At the same time, black women experience a wider pay gap than white women compared to white men (black women earn 63% of when compared to white men, where white women earn 75% of what white men earn.)

To level the playing field, much has to be done to raise awareness and train employers on the gaps that exist. Those cultural shifts can take a long time. Updating workplace policy is the other piece in the engine of progress. Ensuring that employees have access to paid sick leave and family leave has shown to increase participation in the labor force and reduce reliance on public assistance for women who still carry most of the burden of caring for children and aging parents. We also need employers to regularly educate management on unconscious bias in hiring, managing and promoting minorities.

In the 2017 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and the Lean In organization, women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. The study asserts that gender and race are inseparable, and that companies need to dig deeper into the experiences of women of color when shaping their unconscious bias training and employee management policies.

Rosilyn Houston, BBVA Compass

Rosilyn Houston is Senior Executive VP and Chief Talent & Cultural Executive for BBVA Compass and a Momentum alumna. She had these thoughts to share for this post:

“The stats McKinsey recently released are undeniable truths. Now that we know the facts what are we going to do about it to bring about change? Black women have to jump multiple hurdles and run through walls that may not exist for non-blacks as we face both unconscious and conscious bias in the workplace. 

This is not just a black woman challenge, it is a challenge for all of us. Just as we need white men to be interested in gender equity in high places in our organizations, we need all men and women to recognize the struggles of women from all cultures and do some things differently. 

I propose the following:

1) Hire a talented and qualified black woman to lead on your immediate team. 
2) Mentor and/or sponsor a black woman leader.
3) Advocate for and introduce a talented black woman leader to your network. 

All talented and hardworking women deserve the opportunity to bring her best into the workplace and to impact an organization’s bottom line. Black women need the support and opportunity to work on high risk projects, be exposed to key leaders, and mentorship. In my opinion, working together to take tangible steps to change the status quo is what we need to to close the gap and walk the talk.”

Deb Grimes, UAB

Working women of color especially benefit from the support of other women to embrace who they are. Momentum alumna Deb Grimes, Chief Diversity Officer at UAB, offers this advice: “Being a women of color is not about comparing yourself to others, it’s about focusing on your uniqueness and encouraging others to do the same. Always remember, you are too awesome to just fit in…dare to be different!”

The upcoming Momentum leadership conference is focused on the theme “Better Together, Uniting Leaders.” To make real progress toward workplaces that reflect the diversity of the population, we have to come together to champion the advantages. We need men to support the advancement of women. We need white women to support the advancement of black women. We need black women support the advancement of Latina women. We all need to triple-check our unconscious bias and commit to supporting top talent in leadership roles.


Battling Slow Burn

I recently visited with a woman I mentor from time to time. She has been in the same department within the same industry for more than ten years now, but only three of those with her current employer. While she still likes her job, and her employer, the current job market is tempting her to make a change. In the end I believe she is experiencing the “slow burn”–the kind of burnout that happens when you fall into a rut and just grind away there for weeks, then months, then years. In many cases the slow burn can be rekindled into a fire in the belly, or at least a vibrant flame, without leaving your employer. Here are a few suggestions I gave my mentee:

  1. Learn a new skill. If you work in the IT department on the database side, maybe you want to try your hand at training end users or designing web interfaces. You are very likely to pick up new ideas and meet new people along the way. Trying something new that enhances your skill set can give you new enthusiasm and make you more valuable at work.
  2. Change up your work environment and daily routine. Think through the changes first and make a plan. Share your plan with your colleagues. Then set a date for the big “change day” and make it all happen at once, like the big reveal. Move your furniture, buy new accessories, get a stand up desk shelf, bring in art you like, invest in a set of herbal teas, come in an hour early and leave an hour early, commit to a walk outside every day at 3:05 pm and take a picture of something interesting you see…these are all just examples of easy changes we can make to our every day environment to give our biorhythms a little shuffle-ball-change.
  3. Rally for a cause. When you have reached a level of comfort and security in your job, reinvigorating our sense of accomplishment may come from outside the workplace. Maybe you believe strongly in workplace diversity, but your job has nothing to do with HR. Think about finding a local nonprofit that advocates for diversity and find out how you can get involved. Once you have some experience and some connections to the cause, you can bring it back to HR and executive leadership and pitch a few changes for the organization. Maybe they get implemented and maybe they don’t, but you are still making a difference through your advocacy outside the workplace, and earn respect from within your organization for going the extra mile for something you believe in.

Burnout can come in many forms, and there are many ways to combat it. HR Consultant Dawn Burke will share her top tips to fight burnout at the Health and Wellness session during the upcoming Momentum conference. We’ll invite her to share those thoughts on this blog soon after the conference, so watch for it!

(photo iStock)

Power of Professional Networks

Having a strong professional network is important for every professional, and especially important for women. Because of unconscious bias in the workplace, women often have to work longer or harder than their male peers to get the same level of recognition. Since women still carry more of the burden of household management than men, including childcare, there is precious little time leftover for networking or career-related events that happen after hours. Yet women really benefit from sharing ideas and experiences with professionals inside and outside of their office walls.

There are plenty of tips and articles on where to find people, how and when to connect to them and even what you need to say to attract and maintain your network. With limited time to spend networking, we encourage women to really be intentional about who is in their professional network. When you only have a few hours a month to spend with your network, quality over quantity is the name of the game. Here are three good places to look.

  1. Industry groups – find out who the leaders in your industry are and add them to your network. If they are local, ask for a meeting to discuss a certain topic or current event. If they are out of town, connect on LinkedIn, invite them to be on a webcast/contribute to a blog, or set up a phone call. Examples of industry: healthcare, manufacturing, interior design, restaurant management.
  2. Peer groups – identify a few people you admire who share your role, but are in a different industry. Sharing experiences and approaches across industries sparks innovation. It can also save time when you can reuse someone else’s approach to a marketing campaign or business practice in your own industry. Examples of peer groups: finance executives, B2B marketing, customer service management, advertising executives.
  3. Adjacent groups – similar to industry groups, adjacent groups are industry groups that are closely aligned with your own. Connecting with leaders in adjacent groups can help identify trends that may affect your own industry. Examples of adjacent group: civic group and nonprofit charity, private and commercial real estate, private and public education, banking and finance, software development and product manufacturing.

We’ll be talking about how to build meaningful relationships for effective networking within these groups during our networking breakout session at the upcoming Momentum conference. Check back for more blog posts on this topic in the spring.


Women on Boards

April Benetollo, CEO Momentum

One of the goals on my personal development plan when I was in Momentum was to serve on a nonprofit board. I had no prior board experience, but with the encouragement of my co-mentoring group and a little networking I easily found my way. I realized within a few board meetings that I could have, and should have, pursued the board opportunity earlier. Nonprofits, schools, universities and small businesses can all benefit from a diverse board to advise, strategize, and get things done. The board members benefit too. My board service at Children’s of Alabama committee for the future, TechBirmingham, TechAlabama, UAB’s Collat School of Business Sales and Marketing, and UAB’s School of Engineering IEM board, has enriched my life in three ways:

  1. Expanded my network. Through board service I’ve gotten to know close to one hundred local professionals. I make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn. I can rely on this network as a sounding board for new ideas, make connections between people with similar business interests, and get feedback when I have a particular issue or question.
  2. Gained confidence. No matter how confident I think I am, I still can have that little voice inside that wonders if I really know what I think I know. Testing your ideas and strategy at the board level is very validating, because your fellow board members are smart, they are equally committed to the cause, and more objective than traditional co-workers.
  3. Made great friends. By volunteering for projects and committees I have gotten to know quite a few fellow board members on a personal level, and those friendships live on. My career and family do not leave a lot of time for forging new friendships, so uncovering these as a result of board service has been a real bonus.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of women on boards. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the women at the table do not volunteer their ideas as often as the men, particularly if there are a lot more men than women at the table. I’ve read a lot of studies and stats on women and board service and it boils down to this: women are half the US population, women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 62% of masters degrees, and 53% of Phd, medical and law degrees. Representation by women on boards in the United States–whether you look at public, private, nonprofit, or particular industries–is generally below 20%.

There are many reasons behind the gender gap at the board level. Board seats usually go to individuals who hold top positions in their organizations, the positions just beyond the proverbial glass ceiling. Unconscious bias (something men and women have) in hiring, managing and promoting women throughout their careers is a primary contributing factor. Women are also tapped out, since they often have to work harder to be recognized at work, and also carry more of the load at home, particularly working mothers.

The good news is that we see a lot more data in the last few years about the benefits of a diverse board, including gender diversity, for boards of directors. We’ll be exploring this topic during our “Women on Corporate Boards” session, with facilitator Major General Lee Price and four outstanding panelists at the  Momentum Leadership Conference in February. I look forward to posting some insights from that panel in March. Stay tuned.