Authors Posts by Cathy Schreiber

Cathy Schreiber

Cathy Schreiber
Cathy Schreiber is the Chief Operating Officer at the Women's Foundation of California.

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Photo: Christopher Campbell via Upsplash
In short—if the definitions of ambition and success are changing, I feel grateful. And relieved. Photo: Christopher Campbell via Unsplash.

As I read Kristin van Ogtrop’s article, Why Ambition Isn’t Working for Women, in last week’s Time magazine, I reflected on a number of things, just as I did when I read Anne-Marie Slaugher’s article in The Atlantic three years ago about Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.

I reflected on my own life. I reflected on my mother. I reflected on the narrow definitions of success for women.

I was not surprised to read Ms. van Ogtrop’s assertion that many companies are failing to see that ambition for women is about more than the job. I wasn’t surprised to read that women’s ambition diminished by 60 percent after two years in the workplace or that a third of the women surveyed feel they’re not ambitious enough. I was even less surprised to read that the perceptions of ambitious women are less than flattering, even though 90 percent of men and women in one survey said they were raised to believe that ambition was important.

So, if I was not surprised, what did I feel?

In short—if the definitions of ambition and success are changing, I feel grateful. And relieved.

A lot has changed in my life in the past three years since Ms. Slaughter’s article ran and Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In. I had my third son. My mother passed away. My 40th birthday came and went. Like the women surveyed, the definition of my own ambition and success has evolved over time and is—as it’s always been—defined in broad terms that transcend home and office.

My ambition looks different depending upon the day of the week. On Sundays I am proud if I’ve hit Trader Joes and Target, made baby food for the week, washed, folded and put away all seven loads of laundry, cleaned the house and spent quality time with my boys and my husband. I fall asleep early, bone tired.

On Wednesday I’m proud if I’ve actually written emails for real and not just in my head, completed a few tasks while sitting in back-to-back meetings and left by quarter to five so that I can be home for dinner with my family. Some nights I’m back online after the kids are in bed. I fall asleep late, bone tired.

What this tells me is that there is something much more than ambition. Ambition is almost too superficial a word; the word itself does not connote that we are engaged in anything fun, let alone enjoyable. It sounds exhausting and obligatory. Yet ambition has roots—deep ones—based in our values. Somewhere along the way, our deeply rooted values become less visible in a context much larger than ourselves.

Ms. van Ogtrop’s article and Ms. Slaughter’s new book Unfinished Business make clear that American corporate life is set up in a way that makes it very hard for women to feel successful both at home and at work. They ask: Does a corporate culture that devalues families also kill ambition? They also ask us: Toward what end does our ambition lead?

If ambition is the means and success the end, then the answer is plain to me. Strive to do our best. Be kind and generous. But most important, define these things for ourselves. Certainly, society offers judgment about our drive or lack thereof and places value on our contributions. It assigns status to some and stigma to others. But using others’ definitions of success, failure and ambition can leave us feeling empty and worthless.

The article also had me asking myself, what is my role? How can I support, encourage and reinforce the ambition of others?

The other thing that happened to me in the past three years is that I became an “elder,” not by age but by tenure. I am officially a mid-career professional. And with that comes both responsibilities and rewards. The greatest reward, frankly, is the good faith that I have earned by working hard and following through in my twenties and thirties. And the gift that I can return to the good people around me is to mentor and coach my colleagues and other emerging leaders. I view as part of my daily responsibilities giving informational interviews to anyone who asks for one. I accept with honor the request to write letters of recommendation for graduate school. Supporting others’ ambitions means encouraging a friend or colleague to go for a promotion or an opportunity that makes her feel afraid and overwhelmed. Most often this simply means reminding other women of their power, their promise and their resilience.

A stay-at-home parent with the first six kids and a working parent with the last two, my mom would not likely have described herself as ambitious or even accomplished. In my estimation, she was enormously successful. She was driven by her values, and her work at home and at the office reflected her faith, her desire to be of service and her commitment to do her very best. As my mother was dying, my siblings and I watched a wonderful video featuring hospice nurse Barbara Karnes called Gone from My Sight. Of the many reassuring takeaways I heard was that most of us die as we lived. My mother died with a smile on her face surrounded by children.

For me, ambition stems from a desire to be of purpose, to be helpful in the world and to leave it a better place. At the end of my days, I hope I feel proud because I helped people to know they are seen, loved and valued. There is no separation in my mind between being that way at work and being that way in the world. Perhaps that’s the grandest ambition of all—not only to live as though there is no separation but to help create the same opportunity for others.

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Kathryn was a dear friend and we will miss her terribly. The celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, May 16 at 4 PM at the Stanford Faculty Club.

Women GO! giving circle
Kathryn Green, in purple, with the members of Women GO!

On April 21, 2015, the Foundation lost a dear friend—Kathryn Green. Kathryn was a longtime member of our giving circle in the Silicon Valley, WomenGO!. We join with her family and friends to grieve and to celebrate her legacy.

I remember, when she first joined the Foundation’s giving circle in the Silicon Valley, Kathryn said maybe a dozen sentences the whole year. She was reserved, a great listener and a learner. She was eager in a quiet way. She sometimes passed on her turn during introductions or closing remarks because she was shy and wanted more time to reflect and collect her thoughts.

Kathryn was not new to philanthropy but WomenGO! was her first opportunity to do her philanthropy in a social setting. Over the next eight years I observed and benefited from Kathryn’s evolution from quiet participant to outspoken leader. I know she worked very hard to step outside of her comfort zone, and I’m proud that WomenGO! was one of the platforms where she developed her voice.

For example, it was Kathryn who posed this question to her fellow giving circle members, “What do we want to be when we grow up?” She initiated a strategic planning process, co-chaired the effort and then co-chaired the first year of the new WomenGO!, the GO standing for Giving Opportunity.

I never would have anticipated Kathryn to stage a revolution. And that is exactly what she did.

Though she did not have children, Kathryn always expressed genuine interest in mine. She’d ask to see pictures and, before my third son was born, she sent me ideas for names. She took particular interest in my middle son, whom I sometimes describe as feisty and sensitive. Always supportive and encouraging, she listened to me with a knowing expression, as though these descriptors sounded familiar.

Our conversations covered dozens of topics over the years and I marvel at the way Kathryn approached each and every one with curiosity and humility. It made perfect sense that she was a writer. I recall my amazement when she described how the characters she wrote about spoke to her. What a gift she has, I thought.

I remember one of my last conversations with Kathryn. We were talking about the complexities of life. I was sharing the bittersweet experience of having my son then losing my mom shortly after he was born. I asked her if she felt we were tested as human beings.

“I don’t believe we are tested,” she said. “That just seems too…too…mean.”

She giggled, then offered, “I believe all experiences are about becoming resilient.” She shared that several losses last year left her feeling on edge, always waiting for the other shoe to drop—another call or email with bad news about a loved one. She said she realized that edgy energy was both an adrenaline rush and something she could—and worked hard to—let go of.

Her words resounded powerfully, and I remember thinking, “Wow, Kathryn has really figured something out.” I left our lunch date feeling inspired and grateful to know this kind, wise woman.

Kathryn left a deep impression on me and an indelible mark on the Women’s Foundation of California. We will miss her.

Jan Tuttleman

The world lost a great warrior for justice and philanthropy on October 29. Our board member, Jan Tuttleman passed away at her home in La Jolla, CA surrounded by family and friends. She was 56.

Jan was a thoughtful philanthropist and inclusive community leader who always did more than write a check. She rallied others to co-create, engage, support and lead the efforts that she initiated. Her deep Jewish faith and devotion to her daughters—and to all daughters—inspired Jan to be a leader on issues affecting women and children and in serving the Jewish community.

Jan joined our board in 2010. By then, she was already a seasoned philanthropist, having helped found the San Diego Jewish Women’s Foundation, now 100 members strong. Jan brought her intellect and empathy to the Women’s Foundation of California’s work. She believed in solid research, thorough analysis, strategic planning. She believed in building strong organizations in addition to supporting strong leaders. She joined the board in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, when we were rebuilding our fiscal strength and her imprint is clear.

Jan lived her life in community. And she approached her philanthropy that way, joining forces with Gayle Tauber and Linda Katz to co-found Women Give San Diego, a unique donor circle under the banner of the Women’s Foundation of California. Before she and her Women Give co-founders officially launched this circle, they invested in research to understand the needs of women and girls in San Diego. They documented that there were 250,000 women living in poverty in San Diego, yet very little funding going to programs run by and for women and girls. They saw great need. And great opportunity.

When my twin brother and I were little, people would often ask what we wanted to be when we grew up. I usually said a clown. He usually said President of the United States.

We both wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I saw my role in that in small ways—general kindness and compassion for others, being “helpful.” He wanted to move mountains.

Today, Chris is a civil rights attorney for a small Bay Area law firm. He works from home most days, which allows him the flexibility to pick up his three kids from school, attend their events and serve as PTA president. When he took on that responsibility, I asked, “Why the heck would you do that? Don’t you have enough going on?” He said he liked being able to make a difference at his kids’ school and, as a bonus, he would gain the experience of managing a $300,000 budget, giving him a new skill set should he open his own law practice someday.

I remember early in my tenure at the Women’s Foundation of California, we held a community meeting in Riverside. I met an older woman, a lifelong community advocate, who offered me a motto I adopted on the spot. She said, “I know I’m going to do this work until I die. I might as well pace myself.”

Chris and I have both taken the long view on our careers. We’re both parents, we both do our best to keep up with our family and friends and we both love our jobs. I think Chris still has political ambitions, but he’s pacing himself. And I’m committed to equity and justice for all people and know that will take many forms in my life, not just in the jobs I choose but in how I live each day. There’s no ladder to climb. Just opportunities to put skills to good use and to create a life we are proud of.

As I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in the July/August Atlantic magazine, I imagined Carrie Bradshaw pecking out a question on her “Sex and the City” laptop, “Do you ever stop to wonder, what’s having it all anyway?”

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Last week, we held our fourth annual Momentum Awards. I loved the event for many reasons. Some things that stand out for me:

Kathryn Downing’s definition of courage – “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Working at the Foundation, I see so many women speaking their minds and telling their hearts. Courage is really that simple. And it is that hard.

I was moved by Susan Burton’s story of one of the clients of New Way of Life Foundation, Tiffany. Susan found Tiffany crying one day because she didn’t know how to turn on the shower; because the hardware/technology had changed during the time she was incarcerated. Susan told her, “I know a lot has changed in the world. And you’re not alone.” When I heard Susan’s words,  I felt less alone; I felt comforted. And I felt so proud that she was a Foundation grant partner, knowing that she was there to help women like Tiffany re-enter society. Everyone deserves a friend/champion/big sister like Susan Burton.

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Being a parent is a unique and extraordinary experience, one that at its roots is about caring for another. Yet parents are not the only people who feel this impulse or take this conscious action.

This Father’s Day, I honor all of those who care for others and especially the family whose actions made an indelible imprint on the man my father became.

The Gavroye family in Regne, Belgium rescued, hid and nursed my father after his jeep was attacked by a German tank on December 24, 1944.

On Wednesday, March 30, the Women’s Foundation of California celebrated International Domestic Workers Day by co-hosting a webinar with the Women Donors Network featuring two of the leaders of the national and statewide movement for domestic workers’ rights: Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Katie Joaquin of Filipino Advocates for Justice.

Ai-jen and Katie shared the inspiration behind this movement, along with the unprecedented win in New York and growing effort in California to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Katie is working with a team of fellows in the Foundation’s Women’s Policy Institute on the bill.

Some things I found surprising:

  • There are more than 2 million domestic workers in the US—nannies, elder care givers and housecleaners—whose work makes other work possible.
  • Fifty-four percent of domestic workers are the primary wage earners in their families, and 72% send money to family in their home countries.
  • The New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights was the first law in the US to extend basic rights to domestic workers—overtime pay, paid time off, protections from discrimination and harassment. And the law covers anyone doing this work, even undocumented workers. A California law would do the same.
  • Someone turns 65 every eight seconds in the US, making elder care the fastest growing type of domestic work.
  • Employers in New York and California are embracing the Bill of Rights because they want standards and guidelines on how to be a fair employer. The partnership is leading toward the establishment of increased training and a legitimate career ladder, a path to citizenship, tax credits for employers and labor standards that promote the health and economic security of workers and employers.

There are several ways you can get involved in the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB889, authored by Ammiano and Perez), also known as Ocho Ocho Nueve Sí Se Puede, including:

  • Fund grassroots domestic worker outreach and leadership development (National Domestic Workers Alliance and Filipino Advocates for Justice are two terrific options!).
  • Join Filipino Advocates for Justice and others on April 13 in Sacramento and state your support for the Bill of Rights at the Labor Hearing.
  • Join Hand-in-Hand Domestic Employer’s Alliance on Facebook and find out more about how you can get involved.

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I caught the most recent episode of Jersey Shore (MTV) the other night. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I watch Jersey Shore (what can I say? I love Snookie), this third season continues to offer an opportunity to talk about an issue that is present in the lives of so many young people—intimate partner violence.

Two of the housemates—Ronnie and Sammi—started a relationship in the first season. “Passionate” is perhaps the term they might use to describe their relationship. “On-again/off-again” is perhaps how People Magazine might. While I’m normally hesitant to judge others’ relationships, particularly those seen on an edited reality show, I can only think of words like tempestuous, troubling and toxic.

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Maternity leave has granted me many wonderful things: precious, irreplaceable time with my new son, Julian; long walks rediscovering Golden Gate Park; humbling moments of wonder as we try to understand a new language of cries, grunts and giggles. And, morning television shows.

Not surprisingly, our mornings start early. If I’m on my game, the dishes from last night’s dinner are already done and the coffee is prepared. There’s time to get a mug of liquid energy with cream and turn on my favorite morning news program before Julian settles in for his breakfast. The show covers top news stories, celebrity gossip and some helpful household tips (did you know you could cover scratches in wood with shoe polish? It really works!).

Wednesday’s program offered something more disturbing, back-to-back stories covering the rise of cyber bullying among “mean girls” followed by an interview with the cast of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, replete with a scene in which one of the cast members curses out another and then flips a table over in a rage. The cast tells the interviewer that we can look forward to more hair pulling and even nastier gossip on season two. Really? Does anyone else notice the irony?

What does it say when news programs cover tragedies like the bullying-induced suicide of Phoebe Prince followed by the glorification of adult bullying that passes for entertainment? Is there some fine, invisible line between reality and reality TV? Is it a travesty to see children oppress each other but titillating to see adults do it?

Bullying is not a new phenomenon. But technology makes this cruelty faster, meaner and more anonymous. Bullying by text, email and social networking has parents and school administrators concerned. Yet, television producers are willing to pay non-actors to bash and betray each other while we watch with a mixture of shock and glee. And must I state the obvious? Most of these programs showcase women pitted against other women. Is sexism so internalized that we don’t notice how we participate and co-create its persistence?

Those who know me know that I love television, movies and the trappings of popular culture. I love a good story, and I know the names of the characters on some of TV’s trashiest shows. But I’m different now. I’m a mother. And I listen, watch and absorb media through a different lens. I now feel uneasy tearing up at the story of a girl so beaten down by her peers that she takes her own life, and then flipping the channel to see the fight between Snooki and another girl on “Jersey Shore.” I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I hope I can’t.

I know that television will not change simply because I stop watching certain programs. But I can be a thoughtful consumer, and I can teach my son to watch with a critical eye and to speak up if he is bullied or if he witnesses the bullying of others. For now, I can simply turn off the TV and watch my boy. He’s far more entertaining.

Find out more about media literacy and media advocacy from Women’s Foundation of California grant partners: Reach-LA, Khmer Girls in Action and Yo! Youth Outlook.

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