If Sheryl Sculley were to define herself with one word, it would be “focus.”
“Because I manage 40 City departments, I get pulled in different directions every day,” she said. “I’m working 24/7. I’ve worked with 47 different elected officials during my 13 years, and it’s very easy to get distracted. But I’m very focused.”
Hours after she announced her retirement as city manager, Sculley sat down with four other women at a Trinity University panel Thursday, hosted by Girls on the Run Bexar County and 261 Fearless Texas Hill Country. Sporting tennis shoes, the panelists shared their experiences as women in leadership roles – often the “first” to do something – with more than 100 audience members.
Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to register and run the Boston Marathon in 1967, said she would not have completed that first race or gotten to where she is today if it wasn’t for her persistence. That persistence took her over the finish line in 1967, she said.
“I had the courage to make the decision to finish the race, and that changed everything,” she said. “I knew if I walked off the course no one would believe women could do this.”
Though Kim Lubel, former chairwoman and CEO of CST Brands, now labels herself a jogger, not a runner, she said running has been part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“In fifth grade, I ran a mile race and beat all the boys,” she said. “And that was the first time I thought, ‘Hey this is something I can do.’”
For a long time, women didn’t see themselves in roles typically occupied by men – specifically, the C-Suite levels of business, Lubel said.
“I thought I was going to be a nurse, school teacher, or stay-at-home mom,” Lubel said. “And a friend said, ‘Why don’t you go to law school, Kim? I think you’d be good at it.’ Sometimes that’s all it takes – a suggestion.”
Lubel and Sculley agreed it is still difficult to be the only woman in a room full of men.
“There are still stereotypes out there [about] a woman who is competitive, determined, focused on getting something accomplished,” Sculley said. “They have names that don’t exist for men.”
But Sculley added that she can sense a shift in the relationship between men and women in the professional world.
“I think things are changing,” she said. “There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about growing a generation of men that are supportive of women. And I think that’s happening. [We can all be] supportive of women in leadership positions.”
Mary Mulcahey, an orthopedic surgeon and the director of the women’s sports medicine program at Tulane University, said simply seeing women in certain roles can help encourage other women to pursue different career paths. For instance, most people think of orthopedic surgeons as 6-foot-tall men – and she’s only 5-foot-2.
“Maybe I do things a little differently than my male colleagues, but I’m no less capable,” she said.
“Never ever let someone tell you you can’t do something or a certain career path is not appropriate for you,” she added. “You can do anything. You have to believe you can do it and be really determined. We all have the ability to create opportunities. Don’t wait around to be noticed. Show them what you’re achieving, and put yourself in a place to be successful.”
Mona Patel, founder of the San Antonio Amputee Foundation, said she tries to share that mentality with the amputees she works with — that they can do anything.
“I walk in with confidence, I dress with confidence,” she said. “I tell them their sense of confidence did not live in a body part. They have the capacity to be happy, but they have to make that decision.”