2020 Honoree

Caryl Stern

Executive Director, Walton Family Foundation

“…I was blessed by a mother who taught me to believe in myself–to believe I could be or do anything–but that nothing would be worthwhile if I didn’t balance my personal aspirations with work that fulfilled aspirations for a better world…”

What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?

A Power Woman is first and foremost a woman who is true to herself – to her values, her convictions, her passions, and her challenges. She is a woman who not only accepts but welcomes the responsibilities that come with power. She is also a woman who knows she cannot do it alone – that it takes partnerships, give and take, challenges, and both wins and losses to propel growth and forward movement. A Power Woman understands influence and allows herself to both lead and be led, as circumstances, skills and knowledge dictate. Finally, a Power Woman is someone who values others – values relationships – and affords respect, care, and credit to those she works with.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic? Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

Traditionally women have been viewed as “nurturers,” and COVID-19 has brought forth a need for this skill. We need to care for those who are sick, we need to assist those who are afraid, we need to manage our own stress and help those who depend upon us to manage theirs. While these responsibilities cannot and should not be relegated exclusively to women, they are roles we have historically excelled at.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

I am passionate about inclusion and believe everyone deserves to be heard, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, abilities or sexual orientation. I believe strongly that we each bring a piece of the puzzle to the table, and that collectively we can best solve it if we value that without even the smallest piece, the total puzzle cannot be completed.
As a 62 (almost 63) year old woman, I have lived a life that has seen many changes in gender equality. I refer to my generation usually by saying that while our mothers wore rigid girdles, our younger sisters burned their bras, leaving us somewhere in between. We were told we could be anything, pursue any career or goal, but there were no role models or apparent routes to follow. We had to build the roads while driving on them. I hope when my life is over that I will have, at a minimum, contributed to a road map for those who follow. They can alter that map, they can build and pave new roads, but at least they will have seen that you can get there.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward empowering women and gender equality?

I believe in education. I believe that we need to raise a generation who will better solve these problems because they will know solutions are possible, and they will be equipped with a far better toolbox with which to take on the challenge. Thus, I believe solving the problems with our education system should be our number one priority.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?

At 28 years old I was fortunate enough to be named the Dean of Students at what was then known as Polytechnic University. Unbeknownst to me, I was the first female dean the institution had ever had. On a daily basis people would walk into my office and ask me where the dean was. I would laugh and say, “you’re looking at her.” Then they would laugh and say, “no, really, where is he?” They could not fathom that I was the dean. I had to prove my worth with each person in order to get the credibility that every man who held a similar title at the university was automatically given.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Yes – it does contribute as many of us set salaries based on the candidate’s expectations and these are often shaped by current salary ranges. In the case of a woman who traditionally has been paid less than her male counterparts, this will impact her forever.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions.

We need to feature these women – not only in lists of powerful women or in women’s magazines, etc. – but in general business publications and on business related platforms, programs, stages, etc.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

I was blessed by a mother who taught me to believe in myself – to believe I could be or do anything – but that nothing would be worthwhile if I didn’t balance my personal aspirations with work that fulfilled aspirations for a better world. She taught me the value of advocacy, of volunteering, of feeding my soul as well as my wallet. It was no surprise that I pursued a career that allowed for both.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

In my lifetime I have seen changes – I have seen women in some of the highest roles for the first time. I believe organizations such as Emily’s List helped to make this not only possible, but socially acceptable, even sought after.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

Secretary of Education. I would like to be able to truly change our education system. Even one day on the job might give me the insight I am seeking to find that path.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

A theatre professor whispered in my ear as I was about to unexpectedly fill in for a male lead role in a show I had been set designer for until two days before because the lead could not perform… he said, “Just remember, you don’t forget lines, you just don’t care to say them…. It’s all about attitude.” That was 41 years ago, and I still hear him in my ear every time I get up to speak.

What’s your favorite book? Fiction or nonfiction, present or past?

“My Name Is Asher Lev.”

What do you value most in your friends?

Honesty, loyalty, compassion, and fun.

Which trait do you most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

Jealousy. I understand why they call it the green-eyed monster.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I do not have an answer to this…. I think virtues are virtues, they are each valuable!

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