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Top Women Execs Talk DEI and COVID-19 at 10th Rise to the Top Event

Published Mar 10, 2021 by Pamela Gibbs-Smith


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The Greater Houston Partnership's Women's Business Alliance (WBA) recently marked its 10th anniversary of Rise to the Top in a virtual environment. The annual event brings together high-achieving female business executives from all industries to share insight and advice. In addition to celebrating the region's best and brightest women in leadership, Rise to the Top also recognized International Women's Day, celebrated this year on March 8. 

WBA's contributions to such an important endeavor makes Rise to the Top one of Houston's most anticipated and attended events. What began as a luncheon with 100 attendees in 2011 grew into a massive celebration with over 800 attendees this year. 

Lisa Shumate, Associate Vice President of the University of Houston System and General Manager for Houston Public Media, moderated a panel discussion featuring these guests:

Here are the highlights from the discussion. 

What the Partnership is doing to support women in business?

"Today, of the Partnership's 86 employees, 66% are women, and six of our 11-person executive team are women with longstanding leadership experience both here in Houston and around the country," said Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. 

How would you advise companies and leaders to be more inclusive and diverse?

"[DEI] is ultimately a driver of economic growth and performance," said Mends. "DEI work is about action. It's not a one-off program, it's about making this part of your corporate DNA. There's a formula. You decide, just like performance, that DEI is going to be a cultural norm. You commit to diversifying middle-management, leadership, boardrooms, and supplier diversity. Like everything else in business, you set objectives, establish metrics, examine policies that constrain outcomes and you fix them."

How has COVID-19 impacted the women's movement?

"As a person working with vulnerable communities, I would like to add another layer to this; while this (pandemic) is intense for women, women of color and women of vulnerable communities have had the worst of this," said Aguirre. "Many of them were the first to be impacted by the loss of a job,  As we think about moving forward, we can't just hit a light switch. We have to think about the women on the ladder that have gotten off; what do we do to expedite them and bring them back to work? Let's not leave women of color and women in vulnerable communities behind."

What have you learned in the last 10 years about yourself and business?

"I'll be very vulnerable here. I'm a white woman of privilege, and I'm blessed," said Mehnert. "For me, it's not about the last ten years. It's about the next few decades and what I can do as a white woman to help my sisters. I'm learning and I'm listening. It's about equity, but it is also about the environment."

Learn more about the Women's Business Alliance, and the Executive Women's Partnership. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here, or contact membership@houston.org.

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