2019 Honoree

Mary Kay Vrba

President & CEO, Duchess Tourism, Inc.

“I try to lift all women up when I have a chance, whether through mentorship, advancement, monetary support, or a good listening heart. I think corporations need more women on boards of directors, but we, as women, need to be more supportive of one another.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

Qualities for a “Power Women” include good listening skills, collaboration, servant leaders, allowing your team to succeed, and giving people the tools they need to be successful.

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?

Gender equality begin with your local community, we need to think differently and that begins by supporting those closest to you and within your immediate environment. When the opportunity presents itself, where you can make a change one must act on it.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?

Women should be included in all issues. I think women play a major role in this area as we can move a conversation forward and present workable solutions. This must be done in a collaborative effort. Eleanor Roosevelt was a great example of tackling issues, and the Declaration of Human Rights document is a great example of women in leadership and the role we have in solving issues.

Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? (According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030).

Industry and commerce need to step up when it comes to Climate Change, and we cannot deny that change is happening. The government has to control standards for what goes into the earth (total, air, water, etc.). The government also has to monitor climate change and educate all humans as to what we all can do to contribute to a better way to live.

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

I really like my job and don’t know that I would want anyone else’s. But, having said that, maybe I would like to be in charge of a news media for the day, as I would only publish peoples accomplishments and the good deed of the day.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a women of great character, a humble human being, fought for the underdog, and walked tall among many men.

In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

I try to lift all women up when I have a chance, whether through mentorship, advancement, monetary support, or a good listening heart. I think corporations need more women on boards of directors, but we, as women, need to be more supportive of one another.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

As a department director, my directions were not taken seriously with co-directors, and I tried to work through the issues, but eventually moved on to another job, which was the stepping stone for where I am today.

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

No, I don’t. But, I think, as women, we never ask for enough. We have an opportunity if the question comes up about what we earn and what a current job is offering and we have an open door to “sell” our skills. I don’t think the question is necessary, but I don’t think it is a hindrance.

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

Yes, there has been a change. I see more women running for office and becoming involved in the political landscape, but I also think there needs to be some mentoring big time. It appears to me that some women think they need to stand up and shout, use language that is not appealing (at least to me), and respond with, basically, stupid remarks–we are better than that and more intelligent.

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

There were several moments that have led me on my journey. The first was the awakening of my spiritual life and placing my trust in God and the path that was before me. Another was getting downsized from a job and not having anything to fall back on besides faith, and how I was taken “care” of in that time.

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

I had a boss who asked me what my vision was for agency where I worked because, someday, I would be in charge. This caused me to stop and reflect and at least have a vision for how I could help my community, and, when the time was right, I was able to implement the vision. The second was to stay focused and do what I was called to do and the work environment around me would take care of itself.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room 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?

Provide guidance, direction, and opportunities for advancement on all levels and to continue to reach out and connect people to one another, to have more tolerance in our communities, and, above all, listen to each other.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?

People are stuck on higher education. There is such a need for education in the labor trades and other areas of our society, and education costs are tied to cost of living. There needs to be a major shakeup in legislation regarding immigration, employment, prevailing wage, and tax structure. Also, the education system needs refinement in the course work required for college education–there needs to be more flexibility in supporting courses needed for a degree.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage by Robin Gerber.

What do you most value in your friends?

That they support me in prayer, listen, and accept me for who I am.

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

Procrastination. I want things done, but I also will put things off particularly if there is any kind of potential conflict.

What do you consider the most over rated virtue?

Intelligence, particularly in people who act like they know it all and won’t listen, or they believe that what they think is the only way.

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