Supporting the personal and professional development of women at ASU for 30+ years

History of UCW at ASU
Our History

UCW has been supporting the personal and professional development of women at ASU for 30 years

University Career Women was formed in 1985 by a group of 16 dedicated ASU employees.

Women in Motion: The Birth of a Network

By Sheila Luna and Stefanie Bobar

Imagine the excitement when all women employees at ASU received a memo from Diana Regner in March of 1985 inviting them to join a new campus organization called University Career Women.

"Here is the news you’ve been waiting for!!! There is a new organization at ASU designed with you in mind. If you have a serious commitment to growth and development in your career, plan to join University Career Women and meet with other women so committed. Programs and activities will reflect the concerns and interests of the membership and could include: career paths, salary equity, training opportunities, networking, and staff sabbaticals…"

The Good Earth, a restaurant on Mill Avenue, was the venue for the first organizational meeting for prospective members of UCW on April 9, 1985. Membership was open to any "career person employed at ASU" and the annual dues were $10. It takes considerable time and energy to create a formal organization. Bylaws creation alone is hard work. So, what impelled these women to undertake the time-consuming tasks of surveying potential members, crafting a mission statement, writing bylaws, establishing a governing board, and recruiting new members?

Various conditions that would create an environment ripe for ASU women to unite and form a group began to coalesce in 1984. The primary catalyst came from a need, felt by many administrative women, for professional development support and mentoring up through the ranks. Donna Portz, a UCW Director-at-Large during that first year, recalls that most of the first organizers were members of the Faculty Women’s Association (FWA). They attended FWA meetings and programs but often felt left off of the agenda as FWA business focused on tenure and salary equity issues facing faculty women.

"Because the members were not classified staff nor were they faculty," says Suzanne Bias, UCW president in 1989/90, "this group was disenfranchised; they had no collective voice in university policy or decision-making."

In the 1980’s, women at ASU were beginning to crack the glass ceiling and move into administrative positions. When Susan Malaga, currently an Assistant Vice Provost for Human Resources, arrived at ASU in the mid-80’s there were few women in professional positions. "When a new woman was hired, an informal "welcome wagon" greeted her by taking her to lunch, giving her survival tips, and serving as a support group," says Malaga. "As more women joined the professional ranks, the welcome wagon lunch bunch began thinking about setting up a more formal support group."

"Dr. Betty Asher and I had both been at the University of Cincinnati and were part of an organized women’s professional group called Association of Women Administrators," says Malaga, "thus we had prior experience with a women’s group on campus." Betty Asher was the Vice President for Student Affairs at the time and the first female VP at an Arizona university. Thus, she was very much a role model for other women.

The "Women Organizers" (as the group of 16 called themselves) began meeting over coffee, lunches, and Sunday potlucks to explore the possibility of forming a group to promote professional development, mentoring, networking, and equity for ASU women. There were some women who lobbied for the formation of two groups under one umbrella called the University Women’s Coalition. Each group (FWA and the new group geared to staff women) would have separate programs and plan a certain number of joint events. They believed that faculty and professional women would have a stronger voice if they remained united.

Jill DeMichele, currently a Development Officer for ASU's Campaign for Leadership, remembers a meeting in Betty Asher’s living room where the "Women Organizers" debated the pros and cons of splitting from FWA. "Actually, I was one of the few that thought we shouldn’t separate," DeMichele said, "but everyone was convinced that our positions (faculty, administrative, or classified staff) were so different because staff didn’t seek tenure or teach."

In December 1984, the "Women Organizers" surveyed potential members to determine "who you are, your ideas about the organization, your needs, and your interests in participating in this new women’s organization." Survey results (from sixty respondents) identified these top five issues as being "very important:" 1) salary equity, 2) women in administration and other leadership roles, 3) career advancement tracks, 4) stress management, 5) communication techniques, and concerns about professional isolation (tied).

By February 1985, the group called itself "University Career Women’s Association" and began to revise and create their bylaws. They also elected acting officers to preside over the organization during the development period. They were Diana Regner, president, Ann Bergin, president-elect, Gerie Lerner Leshin, secretary, and Jill DeMichele, treasurer. The first board members were Dr. Leellen Brigman, Connie Corey, Susan Malaga, Robby Nayman, Donna Portz and Barbara Thomas.

Susan Malaga assisted the Bylaws Implementation Committee to grapple with questions such as: Should this be an officially recognized group, with an ASU sponsor, or should it be a professional group not reporting to anyone on campus? Should the membership be well-defined, or broadly defined to allow many types of women to participate? Should university funding be sought or should the group pay dues?

UCW has certainly come a long way from Betty Asher’s living room. In 1985, the membership was approximately 78 which soon rose to 212 in 1989. "UCW has succeeded way beyond our initial vision," says DeMichele. "The membership numbers are much higher than anticipated. The programs are comprehensive, fun and extremely helpful to both the new employee as well as the more experienced employee. UCW has helped women employees access the many wonderful resources that are available right here on campus."

Committees were, and still are, the backbone of the organization. UCW began with four committees in 1984 (Program, Research & Development, Election, and Membership & Publicity). In 1994 there were eight committees. For example, Leadership Development dealt with needs of women who were already established in their careers; External Relations was charged with forging relations with other women’s organizations, primarily in other educational institutions; and Management Development served the educational and professional needs of women seeking managerial positions.

"UCW is a great place for women to develop leadership skills," says Becky Reiss, an administrative associate with Information Technology, who served as UCW board secretary from 1994-98, "because it provides them with opportunities to ‘try on’ roles that are often traditionally held by men in the workplace." She recalls a fellow UCW member who took the bull by the horns and decided to chair a UCW committee in order to get over her fear of public speaking. Today she is a successful speaker and has risen on the university administration ladder.

The early founders of UCW certainly achieved their vision of forming a group to provide for the professional development and support needs of women. Over the years membership has been broadened to include classified staff, faculty, and academic professionals, as well as graduate students. It has also opened doors for women seeking to advance in their careers or those who just want to be more effective in their current positions. However, the focus still remains on the needs of non-faculty women.

UCW has had its share of growing pains and members will continue to debate important issues as the organization evolves and matures. It is crucial for UCW to continue to reevaluate its direction and purpose as well as stay attuned to the changing needs of the membership. The founders decided on the current logo because it conveys motion. "We certainly wanted UCW to be an organization on the move," DeMichele says, "and focused on helping women to advance in their careers and have fun getting to know each other."

It is important for us, both individually and collectively, to stay involved, to keep moving ahead, and to keep growing.




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