A capacity crowd of more than 400 business community members gathered at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla earlier this month to honor 13 of San Diego’s brightest and most influential female business luminaries at the 2022 San Diego Business Journal’s Business Women of the Year event.
This year’s event theme, “Speak Up and Stand Up,” was inspired by a quote from Melinda Gates, a vocal proponent of women making their voices heard in the business world, which Gates called “the strongest force we have to change the world.”
In introducing the day’s honorees, chosen by a panel of judges from hundreds of nominations, Barb Chodos, publisher and president of the San Diego Business Journal, said, “These amazing, inspiring, successful women are speaking up for themselves − and those around them – to make a real difference and positive impact in our community.”
Tribute to Mary
The celebration kicked off with an emotional, star-studded tribute to longtime University of California San Diego administrator Mary Walshok, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by San Diego business icon Malin Burnham and Mark Cafferty, CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.
Walshok, who for a half century has been one of San Diego’s most elegantly effective and quietly influential business leaders, both at UCSD and in the region at large, recently retired after overseeing the opening of UCSD’s new $60 million Park & Market center in downtown San Diego, the area’s newest cultural and academic hub.
“When Mary arrived at UCSD in 1972, there were only a handful of women in professional positions at the university,” Burnham said. “Mary changed all of that.”
Burnham has spent considerable time with Walshok in recent years and donated $3 million to make the Park & Market facility a reality. His new “think-and-do” tank, the Burnham Center for Community Advancement, is headquartered on the building’s fourth floor.
Touching on the many highlights of her career, Burnham said he was proud to call Walshok a longtime friend and collaborator. “Thank you, Mary, for setting the bar so high,” he added. “We’re all still trying to hang onto it at that elevation.”
Cafferty, whose EDC office also recently relocated to UCSD’s Park & Market building, recalled that when he arrived in San Diego 22 years ago, Walshok was among the first and most impactful business leaders he met.
“I read about Mary before I even arrived and about UCSD extension and how it completely changed the way this region trained and retrained a workforce,” Cafferty said.
“Mary Walshok is the storyteller of our economy, the poet of our economy,” Cafferty said. “To hear Mary talk about our economy is to hear pure poetry, even when you’re talking about industry clusters and job training and some of those things that don’t sound like poetry normally.”
In a gracious acceptance speech peppered with humor and personal anecdotes, Walshok shared what she called “six habits of mind and practice, which enhance both a meaningful life, and also a successful life.”
“I think one of the essential qualities of success and of joy in life and in work is being able to work in complicated groupings with diverse people across ages and stages and genders and races,” Walshok said. “And boy, in the world we live in today, that kind of connectivity is really, really important.”
Walshok identified one of the “six habits” as competency.
“There are no free rides,” she said. “You can have all the personality in the world and all the friends in the world, but you have to bring something real to the relationship and real to the work. … What I’m talking about when I talk about competence is we have to know stuff. We have to be able to do stuff − and we have to put in the time.”
“Everything’s complex, there are no easy solutions,” Walshok told the audience. “We have to be able to do stuff – and we have to put in the time. So whether you’re a tennis player or a pianist, you are an Olympic athlete, a plumber, surgeon, rocket scientist or my local plumber, you got to be competent. … And we have to [be competent] ourselves and teach those who live and work with us how to be open to change – and to recognize the changes occurring, to be open to it and to embrace it. I call it being ready for the unplanned.”
Before concluding her speech, Walshok applauded her fellow female business leaders and encouraged younger members in the audience to “be confident.”
“You need to feel good about what you’re doing,” Walshok said, adding that it was important to recognize accomplishments too. “We need to do a good job of celebrating loved ones, excellence, resilience, and yes, even achievements.”
Panelists Detail Strategies
After Walshok’s speech, attendees were treated to a panel discussion focused on strategies working women can employ to make their voices heard in the workplace – and throughout the community of business.
“It’s so important to speak up and stand up at a time when women’s rights are being challenged in so many different ways,” Chodos said in introducing the high-powered panelists. “It’s more critical than ever to find our voice, to speak up confidently and consistently, and to stand up for one another by lifting each other up, supporting and mentoring each other.”
Chodos’ thoughts were echoed by panelists Maria Chan, senior vice president and San Diego Commercial Banking Group team lead at City National Bank; Jane Finley, senior vice president, area Manager, Kaiser Permanente; Diane Hanson, president and CEO of Palomar Health; Kelly B. Shupe, managing director of business banking at Chase Bank; and Sema Zavulunova, COO at Boutique Recruiting.
“I’m going to add to what Mary talked about, being competent, because it’s about knowledge, skills and abilities,” Kaiser Permanente’s Finley said. “And with that knowledge and those skills and abilities, you have a truth that you share. You have a responsibility actually to the people that you work with and the communities you serve to speak your truth because they won’t get better without you. You actually have a moral responsibility to speak up, because your truth matters.”
Similar sentiments of encouragement and empowerment were voiced throughout the program as the 2022 Women Business Leaders came to the stage to accept their awards.
Tanya Duggan, director of communications and government relations for the Rincon Tribe of Luiseno Indians, and one of the winners in the nonprofit category, said: “I always tell my daughter, work hard and everything else will fall into place.”
Acknowledging her fellow award winners and all of those in attendance, Duggan added: “What a wonderful dynamic room full of women. You inspire me and you inspire the women and people around you.”
Another nonprofit winner, Nancy Sasaki, CEO of United Way of San Diego, also applauded her fellow attendees. “We are uniters,” Sasaki said. “We work in partnership with others to get this work done. We learned, all of us learned in the pandemic that we can’t do it alone. We need our partners.”
Juli Moran, managing director and office managing partner at Deloitte and winner in the large company category, recognized the outstanding accomplishments of those honored at the event.
“So many of you in this room have been instrumental in helping with education equity, health equity, and I can’t say enough about the San Diego community,” Moran said. “I’m just so proud and lucky to be able to help all of us here in San Diego make it one of the most amazing cities in the country.”
Sarah Hassaine, global director of Diversity and Inclusion at ResMed and another award recipient in the large company category, echoed Moran’s sentiments.
“I was listening to everybody speak today, and the words inclusion, diversity, equity kept coming up and it brought me so much hope,” she said. “Thank you all for embedding words like equity and belonging and inclusion in your daily values and in your businesses − because that’s the way we are going to see change.”