The data say women in our state have more going against them than for them, but these nine aren’t buying it.
Writ large, the story of women in Louisiana's workplaces isn't a good one. Even considering the cloud of contention that surrounds metrics like the oft-cited gender pay gap, our state’s consistent bottom ranking in reports by institutions like the American Association of University Women and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research demonstrates a disturbing pattern of inequity. A flash of the numbers can be downright depressing: 49th in the wage gap, 34.6 percent of the female workforce in low paying jobs; an intimidating gulf of achievement in science, technology, engineering and math; a median income of $32,000 for women against $48,000 for men. That last measure hits even closer to home in a report by the AAUW that ranks Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District (ours and Rep. Charles Boustany’s) dead last in the wage gap. Men earn on average $51,022 in the greater Acadiana area, with women pulling down $31,119.
There’s cause for alarm here, because this isn’t news. No matter what side you’re on when it comes to that contested wage gap metric, the fact is Louisiana hasn’t proved amenable to change. Just this past June, the Louisiana Equal Pay Act failed to escape a House committee and died before it hit the floor. Boil that gap down to a matter of opportunity, choices or education and the situation doesn’t look much better. Even if you accept, for the sake of argument, that career choices differ between men and women (which opponents of the value of the gender wage gap metric cite loudly), Louisiana’s dismal performances in those measures still indicates that women have fewer choices, and our crumbling education system is failing to create more. A land of opportunity must provide equal opportunity, or it doesn’t deserve the name.
Concede that numbers can lie and you still have to grapple with culture, a nebulous valuation of human existence that is not readily quantified nor easily understood. These forces are really like gravity, something that you can’t really see but nevertheless have dramatic downward pull. Maybe the gap is due to choices women make. Maybe it isn’t. Data can’t really describe initiative or give accurate color to context. To that end, legislation can be impotent. Laws can be valuable but nonetheless incomplete as remedies if, culturally, a state or a community or a town or a family don’t themselves place value in equal opportunity or cracking glass ceilings. Consider Wyoming, which ranks near the bottom in all of the same metrics as Louisiana but has an equal pay law in place. Then consider Wisconsin, a state that has no such law on its books but ranks in the top half. One can only assume there’s something stewing beneath the data that laws, or a lack thereof, don’t address.
What does this really tell us? Well, to be honest, the obscurity of human motivation confounds any obvious prescription. But given the role of culture in whether and how women succeed in the work environment, models of success become that much more important. People are the greatest agents of change. Laws may be written, but action comes from muscle and change from force of will. To be sure, things have improved here, even if the process has been painful and the gains modest. And whatever growth we’ve experienced as a society is due to women in the flesh and not tick marks on a data sheet: women who make things, who teach in universities, who raise and give money, who run businesses, who own businesses, who protect businesses and expand them. The spirit of innovation is alive in Louisiana despite the dreary reports, and this year we celebrate nine women who positively brim with the stuff. They brighten Louisiana’s future with each passing day and give hope that Louisiana can be a land of opportunity for all of us.
WWMB Awards Luncheon
Thursday, Oct. 8 at 11:30 a.m.
River Oaks Catering & Event Center
Tickets: $40 each or $350 for table of 8
Contact: Robin Hebert
769-8603 or email@example.com
Meet the WWMB Class of 2015
Photos by Robin May
It’s hard to imagine that Carolyn Bruder hadn’t hit a wall in her 40th year at UL Lafayette. With 30 years in the classroom and 10 more in Academic Affairs at Martin Hall, she’d been a tireless student advocate and gifted teacher. Employing a selfless, collaborative, “utilitarian” ethos (to borrow loosely the 19th century academic philosophy of John Stuart Mill), she had served the university with vigor and an innovative spirit. No doubt she was tired, and no doubt that fatigue was little succored by the historical significance of the position offered her. As first woman provost, and the university’s titular second in command, she would steer the university through shallow and choppy waters from 2010 to 2013. Cascading, yearly budget cuts riddled the hull. There was no time for laurels, only time to make do and reflect on her accomplishments later, perhaps while finally learning to play the piano. She accepted the position in the way only a devoted technocrat can: with loving resignation.
“I was pretty tired, frankly,” she says. “I’d been doing this for 43 years, and especially with the budget cuts it was extremely emotionally trying. It was very difficult. And, of course, you’re doing that at the same time you have the crisis du jour. It comes with a cost.”
Her storied career included introducing film studies to the university in 1977 in her purview as an English professor, a discipline that’s since gone on to flourish as its own independent program. By the time she left for Martin Hall in 2000 to take a job as the first woman vice president of Academic Affairs (second woman VP overall), she had spent her lifetime in service of progressing an at times struggling university in dire need of visionary academics like her. At Martin Hall, she would develop and introduce a Universal Freshman Seminar initiative, which served to increase student retention and graduation, winnowed failing programs and re-allocating shrinking resources. In short, she made tough decisions that didn’t just keep the ship afloat — it put wind in the sails and moved it toward a clearer horizon.
These were not easy decisions. With 40 years under her belt, she couldn’t be blamed for declining the offer. Instead she answered the call, and Lafayette is a better place for it.
“I go back to the greater good, which is a core principle for me,” she says. “The university needed me to do that. I lived my whole adult life in that place; I was very interested in seeing that it survived and prospered.”
As we shake hands, Carlee Alm-Labar sheepishly gestures to her yellow notepad wondering aloud if it’s really necessary for our meeting. She’s not exactly embarrassed, but she chuckles a little bit about her over-preparedness. As it turns out, the pad proves useful in her explanation of the differences between “The Office of Community Development” and her role as “chief development officer” at Lafayette Consolidated Government. A nifty flow chart scurries on the pad as she eagerly demonstrates the differences. She’s helpful, kind and patient with my buffoonery when she could have readily derided me for not doing my research. With a disarming humility she talks about how jazzed she is to work at LCG, gracefully avoiding total credit for the accolades I attack her with.
“I think when you get to be part of a team, you lose track of ownership,” she explains. “When it’s a high-functioning and high-performing team, you stop caring who gets the credit.”
When I first met her, she was answering tough and pointed questions from some “dissatisfied” new residents at a workshop for newly arrived and newly interested Lafayette residents. Representing Project Front Yard, another Alm-Labar-spearheaded clean-up project for which she defers credit, she explained why Lafayette had no apparent uniform yard regulations or sign protocols. While these are the sorts of issues she dealt with in her 4.5 years as assistant to City-Parish President Joey Durel, contributing her patient wisdom to the 460 action items in LCG’s Comprehensive Plan, the questions weren’t quite pertinent to her presentation. Still, with a diplomatic smile she calmly gave well-reasoned and practical explanations. The questioners were sated. The meeting could continue.
Alm-Labar is a team player with a progressive and individualistic energy. She’s deferential to her peers, blushing and squinting when pressed to brag about her accomplishments. We have her to thank for the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm. She’s the second chief development officer in the city’s history. She graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern University in Illinois and has a master’s in public administration from LSU. She was selected to present at TEDxVermilionStreet, besting 90 other applicants to join a lineup that includes many of Lafayette’s brightest minds. She gives Durel a lot of credit for her success, but maybe it should be the other way around.
Allyson Pharr lived an entire business cycle by the time she hit 30. She took over Red Fox Companies, the family business, just a couple of years out of law school, assuming command as president of the multifaceted and international oil and gas business at 25. Just a couple years into her tenure, she shepherded Red Fox to an acquisition by a publicly traded roll-up company called TransCoastal Marine Services, comprising several operations from around the state. She hung on to serve as chief legal counsel until TransOcean disbanded in 2000. That’s an executive’s lifetime in five years. Some would call it the new American dream. For Pharr, it was just the next thing to do.
You wouldn’t fault her for taking it easy after that. Seven months pregnant with her second child, she was still making sense of parenthood, a personal path she wasn’t always so sure about. A self-described careerist, Pharr understood business, but the risks of child-rearing scared her. She had focused most of her ambition on work, not really taking much consideration of motherhood. Too little control. Too much risk.
“I think that being a mother puts you in such a vulnerable position,” she says. “You’re experiencing this responsibility and this love that is so overwhelming and some of it feels out of control. There was a sense for me that the stuff in business was something I could control more of and I knew I was successful at. I was terrified of being a mother.”
Not many folks take jobs to ease anxious minds, but it would seem that Pharr did. It makes sense when you consider that what she was initially asked to do was something she did well: offshore risk management and master service agreement negotiation. Taking a job meant taking control, bracketing a piece of her existence that she could manipulate so she could handle the adventures of parenting. It was a part-time offer from Acadian Companies, so how could she say no? At 14 years and counting she’s held that temporary gig for longer than any of her previous jobs, attaining the position of senior vice president of legal and governmental affairs in 2006.
Pharr was born into it, as they say. From an early age she took an active interest in her father’s work at Red Fox, learning ropes up and down the company ladder, from arc welding to sales management. Her father’s mentorship was gender-blind when it came to business. Not only was she actively encouraged to play ball, but there was no pretense of doing so according to the boys’ rules. Pharr is proudly feminine, flaunting her unorthodox approach and colorful, non-corporate appearance. Whether she’s lobbying in Washington, D.C., or Baton Rouge, she checks her BS at the door, valuing another mentor’s admonition to not believe her own. With Pharr, what you see is what you get. And what you get is a proud and honest woman.
It takes a special kind of courage to face the unfair reality of a world that took your child away, a virtue I’m not sure is adequately expressed as “bravery” or “courage.” Whatever you call that value, it’s a combination of compassion, optimism, kindness and hope that abides the sheer irrational tragedy of an accidental loss of life, the cruel inversion of nature in which a mother outlives her son. That unnameable virtue abounds in Carol Trosclair, who lost her son David suddenly in 2010 to an accidental comorbidity of over-the-counter allergy medication and a prescription for his cold. Since his passing, that virtue has moved her inquisitive and ruby-lipped smile. It stretches her arms wide to hug a stranger, her wrists jingling joyously with charm bracelets. It walks her into businesses to cold call for donations to the endowed memorial scholarship named in honor of her son. It’s fueled her insatiable and tireless work supporting UL’s School of Kinesiology, her gentle but persistent advocacy on behalf of its students and her blissful certainty that she will see David once again.
“I believe there’s a heaven, and I’m going to see David one day. I’m going to see him, he just got there first,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.
Trosclair doesn’t just sell raffle tickets; she makes them seem essential. A mere $10 is your ticket to an earthly paradise on a cruise around the Caribbean sponsored by Travel Machine, a discounted auto bath at Todd’s Car Wash or a free cup of coffee and dessert at Indulge: A Sweet Spot. With so much to gain, you’d be foolish not to buy, right? But the trick here is her salesmanship is earnest, not founded in a hoodwink or a swindle; she genuinely means for the transaction to benefit all comers. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s managed to sell countless tickets, raising more than $200,000 via the endowed David Trosclair Memorial Scholarship in Kinesiology and additional scholarships awarded by the Kinesiology Majors Development Fund, one ticket at a time.
Everything she does, from spearheading the KMDF or her work raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, she does in loving connection to her son. Her office — she is a successful landman — is adorned with David’s posthumous diploma, memorial plaques and collages of photographed memories, all of which she looks to lovingly as she talks about him. It’s clear that she misses him but feels his presence. She shows me a collection of coins she’s picked up off the ground after reading the poem “Pennies from Heaven,” sweetly explaining that each rescued copper is a moment of communion with David. She’s not been at it long, but the jar is filling up quickly, penny by penny, just like she fills up the scholarship funds dollar by dollar, and just like she greets her life as an opportunity to do good, day by day.
Missy Rogers is quick to point out that the robot in front of us is not doing anything special. It’s a hum drum kind of duty for such a sophisticated piece of “intelligent” machinery, picking up interior mechanical parts for an Icee machine, saving the trouble of the two engineers programming it nearby. She takes me around the side of the machine to see the injection molder responsible for the thermoplastic, industrial grade thingamajig handled by the robot on the other end.
“They don’t like it when I say this, but this is essentially just a big hot glue gun,” she says through a cocksure laugh.
You’d be fooled by that oversimplification to think that this was a distillation of fact performed for her understanding alone by know-it-all engineers. As CEO of Noble Plastics, she’s nominally removed from the assembly line floor by title, but she too is one of those know-it-all engineers, through and through. Her metaphor is entirely for my benefit.
We stroll around her plant floor, which is quaint by what I picture to be manufacturing standards, but humming with robotic activity. Pinpointed arms pick up plastic molded parts, drop them into water to cool and start over, repeating tasks that would stupefy any rational being into pulp. She explains every machine, every process, every detail, every advantage to me as we walk by different stations. It’s as though she wants me to injection mold my profile of her with one of her robotically enabled units.
I confess that I don’t really understand what her expertise is. She gleefully accepts the challenge of explaining science to an uninitiated boob, whisking me over to a computer with an analytical regression graph on it. That’s what I call it, though I’m sure it’s not the term. That computer is the competitive advantage Noble offers its clients, she says. Where others pursue the task of injection mold manufacturing as voodoo or alchemy, Noble is solving problems with math. With systematic precision, the company has calculated every nook and cranny in the parts it builds, crafting formulae that describe and predict the output of its machines. It’s demystified a black art. “It’s not magic,” she says with the tenor of an evangelist, “it’s math.”
Rogers and her husband Scott founded Noble in 2001 with plenty of engineering know-how but no background in plastics manufacturing. Their company’s tabula rasa gave them a leg-up on conventional manufacturers trying to retrofit production methods to antiquated processes and under-performing machines. The Rogers, with Missy Rogers’ immediate purview and financial expertise, guided the company from a single molder in an empty warehouse, to a bustling and highly skilled workforce tackling projects for the U.S. military and oil field giants with the assistance of a regiment of robots. It takes vision to build a company like this in Grand Coteau, not just entrepreneurship. Missy Rogers and her team dispel myths and solve problems, nimbly vigilant for the next innovation in their industry. There’s good reason they’ve attracted so much business on word of mouth alone: Other folks reinvent wheels, but Missy Rogers and Noble Platsics reprogram robots.
Maj. Luranie Richard
It takes some firsts to break a cycle of poverty and violence, to leave the projects and make something of yourself. Just the success of leaving a world of low expectation is sufficient cause for celebration, but to continue breaking barriers both personal and professional is the stuff of legend. Maj. Luranie Richard of the Lafayette Police Department started collecting firsts at a relatively young age.
“I lived in the projects in Opelousas. They call them housing developments over here, but we called them projects over there,” she says. “And I saw everything: the drugs, the alcohol. I just decided that I wanted to go to college because I didn’t want to be stuck staying home with no education. And I saw people needed help.”
By 18, Richard had lost both of her parents, living with her sister in a loving but difficult situation. With the encouragement of her uncle, himself a police officer, and her gifts as a shooting guard, Richard was the first person in her family to go to college, obtaining a degree in criminal justice from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond on a basketball scholarship. Coming home to Acadiana, she joined the Lafayette Police Department in 1985, hitting the road as a patrol officer, keeping her sights on joining the Youth Services Division and reaching a hand out to kids who needed help getting out, like she once did. She would go on to spend 15 years as a Youth Services investigator, influencing generations of kids in Lafayette’s toughest neighborhoods.
“Not all kids are bad. It’s something that they’re lacking in their lives,” she says. “When you see the whole picture and you explain that you’ve been there and done that, and you know where they’re coming from, some kids just need some guidance and attention. I tell the juveniles, once you get in [jail], it’s hard to get out.”
Richard’s 30-year history with the LPD is a series of shattered ceilings. She was promoted as the first woman sergeant in department history in 2001, putting her back on patrol for a brief spell, returning to Youth Services months later as a supervisor. Making lieutenant in 2008 was a quick stop on the way to captain and first female precinct commander of LPD District 1, a vast charge covering north Lafayette and known as the most “active” district in the city. In police parlance, that means the toughest beat, the highest crime rate, most dangerous calls and the most taxing work week.
In 2015 Richard passed her major’s exam and took over full command of LPD’s services division, a rank second only to Chief Jim Craft himself. Receiving that commission is a testament to her abilities as an officer. Being the first female in the department’s history do so is a testament to her leadership and legacy. The state Legislature honored her name in a resolution; her legend is now law.
Hailing from France’s Loire River Valley, Pascale Henry couldn’t hide her Frenchness if she tried. And she absolutely shouldn’t disguise the natural elegance and poise that is her heritage. Henry is a striking woman, an aesthetician and massage therapist trained in Parisian salons; beauty and exterior health is her stock and trade. Hers is not a superficial concern, however. Her caramel skin breathes around her body, giving an earthy undertone that pops the candy-apple red of eyeglass frames and short-cropped hair. Henry is a picture of natural health, and sharing that earthy cosmetology and therapy is her passion. She’s the only person I’ve ever heard speak joyfully of Louisiana’s humidity.
“I don’t wear makeup,” she says through a milky French accent. “Life is to enhance what we have. You can be beautiful and be natural, and especially in Louisiana where we have so much humidity, the skin can really take advantage of that.”
If that seems novel, imagine hearing it 1987 from a woman just learning English. The ’80s, as Henry and I discuss, was all teased hair and caked foundation, blasts of rouge and artificial skin tones. That’s the aesthetic context into which Henry opened her spa, Pascale’s Spa, in the Oil Center, arguably the first European-style spa to open in Lafayette. Her message has resonated with countless clients in the ensuing decades, growing her business to its current operation that employs a staff of 30, including manicurists, pedicurists, massage therapists and aestheticians serving as many as 65 clients a day.
Today spa treatments like these have been integrated into personal care routines, rather than remaining luxurious pamperings reserved for folks with lots of money and time on their hands. The 21st century spa client can be young, old, male or female, and their reasons for walking into Henry’s spa range from vanity to holistic well-being. For Henry, this is her reason for staying active as a massage therapist, despite running such a large operation. Her healing hands have given her joy and satisfaction in providing wellness to decades worth of clients.
I’m lucky I caught Cynthia Simien when I did. As she apologetically mouses a chocolate croissant she explains that she’s been in and out of town, and that she’s always in and out of town. She’s a vocal advocate for musician compensation, a tireless negotiator and jetsetting do-gooder who’s been loved or loathed for her fierce promotion and protection of her husband, zyde-king Terrance Simien’s career. Terrance may be the face of the operation, but Cynthia is most certainly the brains and the brawn. What others may see as arrogance is a salesman’s confidence in her wares and salesmanship, one honed in the fashion industry through account executive work. She demands top dollar cause she’s got top product. She gets top dollar cause she’s a top salesman.
“When they come to us, they know what they’re getting, and I don’t have to work that hard,” she laughs.
Cynthia pulls double duty on industry gigs that themselves are doubly duty-heavy, operating as Terrance’s manager and booking agent, keeping his opportunities flowing and his band on the road 250 dates a year. Being her client’s wife caught her heat in the early days, with male counterparts underestimating and boxing her out of the negotiating table. Now she’s a force. She admits some improvement in the area but is pessimistic in her optimism. Even great fighters get bruised in the ring.
“It was not accepted for the wife of an artist to be involved in her husband’s business. Not like I was,” she says. “We’ve made some progress in this country, but not enough.”
Her work strikes a social justice nerve. She’s made a lot of noise in Louisiana, leading the six-year effort to include a Cajun and Zydeco category in the Grammys and rallying her influence to attract the wildly successful Levitt AMP Pavilion performances at the Horse Farm. It would be enough to call her involvement with the Pavilion grab a coup, but that score gave her the opportunity to turn the $25,000 budget into a boon for dozens of local musicians, who were all paid handsomely for their appearances at Levitt. Paying a livable wage and getting Louisiana musicians well-deserved recognition is no pet advocacy for Cynthia; it seems positively sinful to do otherwise. She’s got the zeal of the saved, and the righteousness of a prophet.
“We can do better. And we have to do better. We’re all activists at heart,” she says.
Our brief conversation in the middle of her hectic to-and-from is one more opportunity for her to make her case, to rattle the cans and take Louisiana to task for not taking care of its most precious cultural assets: its musicians. For her it’s as simple and compelling as a chank-a-chank groove: The music is worth it, so pay the piper.
Passing shelves of Aveda products and rows of shampooing sinks, Spa Mizan owner Ginger Louviere takes me to her office. Were it not for everything I just walked through, the racks of spa robes and invisible lilts of herbs, I could be convinced that the leather austerity of desk and chairs in front of me occupied the manager’s office of a paper supply company, albeit one that smells divine. Our conversation is peppered with MBA speak like “benchmarks” and “customer loyalty.” But that’s entirely the point. Mizan is a buttoned-up operation, all 8,500 square feet of it, with more than 30 employees delivering a full range of aesthetic and therapeutic services. Louviere, besmocked and primped with dark eyeshadow and an executive’s diction, remarks with a methodical calm that she added hair to Mizan’s “business model” in 1998. Since then she’s become an advocate for defeating the image of aestheticians she encountered early in her career: as no-good do-nothings.
“A lot of people still have the beauty school dropout impression of people who go into cosmetology and do hair,” she says. “Like in Grease. You can’t do anything else so you go to beauty school. You’ve got nothing going on up there. My goal is to change that.”
Louviere began Mizan as a post-parenting hobby at age 40. With her kids out of high school and a keen interest in hands-on healing still simmering since nursing school, she began taking clients as a massage therapist in 1989. Before Louisiana required a license to practice massage, Louviere took advanced coursework in the discipline, later acquiring one of the first licenses issued in the state. Growing customer by customer and employee by employee, she grew her original business, Dermatronics, into the state-of-the-art massage and beauty institute that is Spa Mizan, complete with competitive salaries averaging $43,000 per year, employee benefits, advanced staff education with no out-of-pocket expense, paid vacation, worker’s comp and supplemental health insurance. Providing standardized benefits for her staff sets her apart from the traditional “business model” of for-contract chairs usually associated with salon work. Her employees are certified professionals, with a creative and well-honed craft. Standards of excellence and acumen are no different than in any other sector.
Her Salon and Spa Business 101 course, available and required for all of her employees, teaches contemporary business metrics for her beauticians and therapists, instilling the kind of data-driven analysis used to measure and improve business outcomes in less “creative” or more grave industries. For Louviere it’s about establishing the spa industry and its practitioners as legitimate and peer-level professionals in the eyes of the business community at large. Her work as a businesswoman and the quality of service at Mizan have been nationally recognized with two selections — as a Top 200 spa in North America and as 2012’s Louisiana Small and Emerging Business of the Year by Louisiana Economic Development.