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Lunch with Ernest: Women in business see need for support

Workplace sexism plays a critical role on the AMC television show Mad Men, an award-winning series that focuses on a 1960s advertising agency.

Unwanted advances are commonplace for women in the office of Sterling Cooper, the firm at the center of the series. Women playfully dismiss the intentional brush of a hand from one of their male bosses.

But local attorney and activist Mary Ann Stiles says there's nothing fictional about Mad Men. Tuesday night, Stiles told the American Business Women Association's Brandon Sunburst Chapter that she fought her way through a similar environment that proved all too real.

She rose from assistant to secretary to office manager before finally deciding she, too, could be a lawyer — even though only two percent of the nation's attorneys were female then.

Today, Stiles serves as managing partner of the firm she founded in 1982, lobbies in Tallahassee and led the charge to change Hillsborough County government by creating a county mayor position. Clearly, her story proved inspiring to the association, especially the members who still find themselves dealing with unfair work situations.

Whether its garnering support for workplace difficulties or seeking information about complex issues such as insurance and trusts, the association strives to lift up members.

They share expertise on their specialty areas, and they share stories of overcoming the business challenges women face.

"We're an organization that helps women grow personally and professionally," president Grita Perry said. "And we do it one woman at a time."

The association displayed its tenets Tuesday at the annual Pioneering Woman Dinner: leadership, education, networking support and recognition. Stiles provided the leadership and education and there was a symposium featuring various businesses. The organization also recognized former state Rep. Sandra Murman as its pioneering woman of the year.

Murman, who spent eight years representing Brandon in Tallahassee, remains connected to the community. She is a member of the Brandon, Tampa and Riverview chambers as well as the Brandon Community Foundation and the Brandon Regional Hospital Board. She edged out local insurance agent Pat Magruder, nonprofit executive Diana Niles and business owner Marie Bartholomew to win the award.

Murman echoed the night's theme about mentoring and support.

"Hopefully, they say, 'Gosh darn it, she made it, I can make it, too,' " Murman said. "Mary Ann gave that message today and that's why I brought Mary Ann out here today.

"We have to make ourselves more available to mentor and do more for other women. We have to let them know, 'Hey, work hard and you can be right up there.' "

The association works against the perception that women can be their own worst enemies when trying to advance in the business world. A supportive environment surely will pay greater dividends than a cut-throat approach that leaves enemies in your wake. As Stiles noted, you have to wake up every morning, look in the mirror and feel good about the person looking back at you.

Women who banded together to open doors have a much better chance of doing just that. And that door has a better chance of remaining open for future generations.

That's all I'm saying.

>>Fast facts

About the group

The American Business Women's Association's Brandon Sunburst chapter meets the first Tuesday of each month at Giordano's Restaurant. For more information, contact Grita Perry at 813-393-7188 or Jill Billings at 813-245-8798.

Lunch with Ernest: Women in business see need for support 10/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 10, 2008 5:03pm]
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