International Women’s Day Spotlight: An Interview with Councilmember Barbara Bry

International Women’s Day Spotlight: An Interview with Councilmember Barbara Bry

March 8, 2019, is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter. In celebration of this event, Ashford University recently interviewed San Diego City Council President Pro Tem and 2020 mayoral candidate Barbara Bry, who has worked tirelessly to create a more equitable and balanced workplace and community. 

The Early Years

Bry’s passion for women’s advocacy initially developed through observing her single mother in the 1960s. 

“[She] went to work at an ad agency where she was paid less than her male counterparts,” she recalls. “When [she] went to purchase a home, she had to get a male to cosign for her, even though she could easily afford the house.”

Stifling gender stereotypes continued as Bry attended and received her master’s degree from Harvard Business School, where it was not uncommon for male students to assume their female classmates were only enrolled to search for a rich husband. 

“Even in the face of questioning the scholastic motives of the female students, I was successful at Harvard, where I organized an innovative class on business and the media,” she says.

After graduation, Bry worked as a reporter at the Sacramento Bee, and later, the Los Angeles Times. In these positions, she experienced ongoing sexual harassment and workplace inequity first hand. When the Los Angeles Times refused to let her work part time after having a baby, Bry quit her job. 

It was a turning point in her career.

“It was a difficult and risky decision [that] ended up being one of the best decisions,” Bry says.

The combination of these experiences as a child, student, and young professional taught Bry a valuable lesson at an early age.

“You must face gender obstacles head on and not allow others to decide your own fate,” she advises.

Bry went on to become an influential leader in the male-dominated tech world working as an entrepreneur. She was also hired by the founder, and was on the initial management team of ProFlowers.com. In addition to carving a path for herself, she committed herself to organizing and engaging women in her region.

In 1989, Bry started Athena San Diego (named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and war) as an informal group, which formalized in 1998. 

The group’s goal was to help support and develop executive women within San Diego’s tech and life science community at a time when she says no such outlet existed. Today, Athena is the leading organization for women in the San Diego tech and life sciences community.

“Athena has grown into a positive force to empower women in our innovation economy and to develop role models for the next generation,” Bry notes. 

A Busy Decade

In 2008, Bry set her sights on empowering women politically. Concerned that women were not equally represented in holding elected office, she founded Run Women Run, an organization that inspires, recruits, trains, mentors, and supports pro-choice women for elected and appointed office. Since its inception, membership has grown to more than 300.  

“It has been instrumental in supporting dozens of dedicated and talented women to run for office,” she says. 

Last year, Bry combined her professional and political organizing skills to launch the Workplace Equity Initiative, a three-part community workshop that raised awareness surrounding sexual harassment and pay inequity. Each forum brought together approximately 50 community members representing San Diego’s diverse economy, including big and small businesses, the military, biotech, hotel workers, construction, and more. 

“It was encouraging to work alongside engaged community leaders who genuinely want to change the way sexual harassment and pay inequity are confronted,” she says. 

Now that the workshops have concluded, a Code of Conduct has been drafted for all participants to sign and enforce as a measure of continued commitment. To learn more on this effort, visit the Lawyers Club of San Diego.

Bry’s activism does not stop at the grassroots level. She also sits on the San Diego City Council as President Pro Tem. This year marks the first time in history women have held the majority, a historic achievement that is not lost on Bry. 

“I’m proud of the fact that the council is made up of five women, four persons of color, and three members of the LGBTQ community,” she says. “It is crucial that the city council reflects the beautiful diversity of the residents that we serve and represent. When a group is diverse, new ways of thinking, innovative ideas, and imaginative solutions tend to surface.” 

Looking Forward

This year, Bry tapped further into her solution-oriented leadership style to join San Diego’s 2020 mayoral race. One of her top campaign priorities is to address the city’s educational and economic opportunity gap. According to her website, “It is time to move Full STEAM Ahead by expanding access to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math opportunities.” Bry believes this investment in education will lead to increased opportunities in the workplace. 

“The innovation economy creates high-paying jobs and good service sector jobs to support it. We must develop our homegrown talent to fill these positions.”

The roots of these efforts stem not only from Bry’s upbringing but also lie in San Diego’s DNA. 

“It was San Diego’s Ryan Airlines that built the spirit of St. Louis, the plane Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic and ushered in the new era of aeronautics,” she explains. “Today, our region is ushering in other new eras in biotechnology, medical devices, software, defense, telecom, wireless health, sports technology, clean tech, and craft beer.”

With this deeply entrenched legacy, Bry says San Diego also has developed a support ecosystem for women entrepreneurs and investors including Athena, Hera Labs, and Ad Astra. 

“San Diego is a melting pot with smart women from all over the world,” she observes. “Much of this talent comes out of our great universities and research institutes. When women entrepreneurs have a successful exit, they stay involved. They start another company, they become an angel investor, they engage in philanthropy. This continued involvement is an essential part of the San Diego ‘spirit.’” 

Ashford University, with headquarters in San Diego, also identifies with this spirit of involvement and investment in success, providing resources and support to busy online students who balance work, family, and studies. In that vein, Bry shares some time management advice for those hoping to mimic her achievements in their own lives and communities.

“Start each day with a clear focus,” she says. “Have a concrete idea of what you want to get done and be clear on these goals before you start checking your email, listening to your voicemails, or reading for a class. In the long run, it will save you a lot of time and energy. [Next], spend a few minutes to review your task list every day. Give yourself some credit if you completed your task list. If you feel like you fell short, figure out what you will do differently the following day.”  

Bry’s reflections offer a promising reminder of how women can work together to challenge the status quo and determine their own destinies. Whether at home, in the office, in the classroom, or in the community, “when women are united, things get done!” 
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Written by Ashford University staff

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