Local women who are leaders in construction, publishing, health administration and small business ownership shared stories about reaching their goals through a combination of doggedness, mentorship and thick skin.
And a common obstacle for them all was sexism.
“People will talk about you,” Shannon Hurles, president of JRH General Engineering in Stockton and executive director of the Builders’ Exchange of San Joaquin, said. They will say you do not know what you are doing and treat you as a joke, she said.
“Prove them (wrong) … You can prove them by efforts.”
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Breaking glass ceilings
Deitra Holmes Kenoly is the owner of Inside Out Lighting and Decor on Pacific Avenue, Stockton. She is also the former president and publisher of The Stockton Record, and a past president of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce.
Kenoly joined The Record’s production department in 1981 simply because she needed a job.
Once there, she set her sights on becoming an outside sales executive, a job working with local businesses to get their ads in the paper.
But The Record did not have any female or Black outside sales executives, Kenoly said.
“I don’t think it was because there was a lack of women that were interested. I just think there were never women in that role.”
In 1988, she became the first African American in that job at The Record, she said. “I was just determined I wanted to be a part of that group.”
And over the next few decades she worked her way up to the top job at The Record.
As a Black woman professional, “you’re going to run up against attacks, or wrongdoings,” Kenoly said. “I always tried to take the approach that that’s the other person’s problem.”
And also remember that the customer and the people you work with matter. “I think a lot of what helped me was the fact that I listen, I care about people, I care about the business,” she said.
And the skills she has developed now help her as a small business owner, she said.
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‘I wasn’t going to explain it to them’
Hurles got into the construction business when she and her husband started a company together. Hurles provided the financial backing and became the majority partner.
Until starting the company, Hurles had had little experience in construction. “It didn’t scare me, it actually intrigued me,” she said.
“Going into a male-dominated field, there isn’t a lot of communication. A lot of the information I took (in) was just observation … I had to make it my own, and my dream, too, to understand . “
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Hurles said she was sometimes met with confusion about her presence on construction sites.
She recalled exiting a construction site port-a-potty one morning, hard hat in hand, when a male employee on the site asked abruptly, “what are you doing here?”
The worker was later surprised to learn that Hurles owned one of the companies building the project.
“I wasn’t going to explain it to them,” she said. “I was going to show them. So I would grab the lacquer, I would get on the Bobcat, I would get on the backhoe.”
Brooke McCollough, 39, is chief operating officer at Adventist Health in Lodi. She said one of her proudest accomplishments is attaining that role early in her career.
But she added that youth and gender may have contributed to some of the challenges she faced.
“In hospitals, you see many female chief nursing officers … there’s a female-dominated environment,” McCollough said. But on the business side, “you just don’t see a lot of female executives.”
‘Great mentors along the way’
A number of women leaders said finding a mentor was a key to their success.
For Laura Garcia, owner of Terra Coffee on Yosemite Street and a board member at the Central Valley Asian Chamber of Commerce, joining the chamber provided her the support she needed to start a business.
“From the time that I had no shop, until my first location, to today, I think without them I wouldn’t have known other women business owners,” Garcia said.
McCollough found a mentor in Terry Day, the president of Lodi Memorial.
“I had lots of really great mentors along the way that I met, many of them female, that just recognized my potential and put some time and effort into me,” McCollough said.
Colleagues of women can contribute by not assuming they know everything, Hurles said.
“We can always learn. We can learn from everybody … appreciate (women’s) knowledge.”
Record reporter Aaron Leathley covers business, housing, and land use. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeathleyAaron. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at recordnet.com/subscribenow.