By Craig A. Ruark
After nearly two decades of inactivity, the Sunset Subcommittee of the Interim Legislative Commission recommended to Governor Brian Sandoval that he reactivate the Commission for Women. The Governor supported the recommendation and in December of 2015, with Legislature approval, appointed ten members to sit on the Commission.
Current appointed Commissioners are Chair Diane Fearon, Vice-Chair Brooke Westlake-Kelley, Richann Bender, Constance Brooks, Jo Etta Brown, Elisa Cafferata, Durette Candito, Cynthia Cicero, Brenda Hughes, and Jennifer López. Chair Diane Fearon, a successful businesswoman, resident of Las Vegas since 1979, and currently the vice president of philanthropy and strategic partnerships for Nathan Adelson Hospice. Fearon is starting her second term on the commission.
Goals the Commission for 2019 include
- Addressing gender disparity/equality issues in Nevada
- Increase the number of women in public and private leadership
- Provide education for issues relating to equality for women during the legislature
- Participate in women suffrage events
- Recognize the historic role of Nevada Women
- Promote awareness of the Commission
Some of the 2019 goals are a continuation of work that has been started and when complete will be regarded as significant accomplishments.
Over the past two years, the Commission worked with legislators and other women’s groups to initiate a voluntary gender equity survey through the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office that enabled corporations’ when updating their list of officers, the opportunity to also complete a survey that identifies the representation of women within the management ranks of their company structure. This survey also helped to determine the quality of their diversity efforts in their hiring practices. As of October 2018, more than 800 Nevada businesses have voluntarily completed the survey. The results will be released in a report through Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. The goal of the report is to show a parity, or state of equality, regarding status or pay, among some of Nevada’s most successful companies, and that diversification is a sound business practice.
Instrumental in the initiation of the survey was Jan Jones-Blackhurst, former mayor of the City of Las Vegas, prominent business leader, executive vice president, public policy & corporate responsibility of Caesars Entertainment, and women’s advocate for equality. Blackhurst helped to frame the questions and provided both personal and corporate support to the Commission in the execution of the survey. Caesars proudly boasts that 41 percent of their management positions are held by women.
Also supporting the Commission is Bank of America which has provided some capacity building funding support, and proudly boasts of their high percentage of women in management as well as, its more than $30 million, nationwide, in affordable loans to women entrepreneurs since 2014.
“Another goal of the commission is to increase representation of women on State boards and commissions as well,” stated Fearon. “Research indicates that the current makeup of boards and commissions is about 60 percent male to 40 percent female. In addition, studies have shown that a woman is more likely to disqualify herself from seeking leadership positions either on a voluntary basis or in business.”
Based on those initial research and study figures, the Commission put together two ‘women’s empowerment workshops’ with a prestigious panel of women speakers from both the public and private sectors. The workshops were held in Carson City on September 28, 2018, and in Las Vegas on October 4th.
“The speakers spoke about their personal journeys in the pursuit of greater involvement and leadership positions within their organizations in an effort to plant the seeds with women who seek to have their community and state be a better place and encourage them not hesitate to become actively involved and seek positions of leadership,” said Fearon. “The workshops also alerted attendees of the number of boards and commissions within the state that had available vacancies.”
While it may not seem possible, over the course of the United States 242 years of history, women have only been allowed to vote for 98 of those years, and 2020 will mark the 100-year anniversary of the success of the women’s suffrage movement. To highlight that success, the Commission is in the planning stages of a celebration for women in Nevada to commemorate that century mark. “We have come a long way and have quite a way to go,” stated Fearon.
However, in advance of that commemoration, on September 14th, the Commission installed the Silver State Sisters: Women Transforming Nevada exhibit, which was funded by Nevada Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, Caesars Foundation, Nevada 150 Foundation, Inc., and Kathleen and Ernest Becker, in the State Capital Building, outside the Lieutenant Governor’s office, to display the significant accomplishments of over 300 Nevada women. While the Commission does not currently have a budget for a companion exhibit in Southern Nevada, they do have a continuous loop video, provided by Women’s Research Institute of Nevada, highlighting the many women who have made contributions to Nevada at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Washington Avenue in Las Vegas. The Commission is also working toward a traveling display that would make the accomplishments of Nevada women more accessible to a wider range of viewers.
The Commission meets no less than quarterly and all meetings are open to the public.
It is interesting to note that the Commission does not have an operational budget. However, they are provided with one full-time employee, Molly Walt, who is on staff with the State of Nevada Department of Administration. “We are very appreciative of Patrick Cates, director of the Department of Administration, for providing the resources of his department,” stated Fearon.
Fearon has over 24 years of experience in the banking industry holding executive positions as vice president, regional vice president, and president/CEO. She also served as the chief executive officer of Communities in Schools of Nevada and the admissions and transitions optimization program director of Health Insight.
Fearon became involved with the Nevada Commission for Women when long-time friend, Richann Bender, senior economic development officer at the City of Las Vegas, alerted her to an open position. “This is an easy subject, topic, and purpose for me. I have been very fortunate in my career of not having an inability to get through some barriers professionally, but I am also aware that the job is far from done,” said Fearon. “Becoming involved and serving as a commissioner has been very mind-expanding, enlightening, and rewarding for me.”
Fearon also pointed out that, “Nathan Adelson Hospice has been very supportive of my involvement with the Commission and four of the six executive positions, including my own and the president/CEO of Nathan Adelson, are held by women.”
To find out more about the Commission, their upcoming meetings and agendas, go http://admin.nv.gov/Boards/Women/Home_Page/