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KPBS Commentaries

Athenas

Four hundred San Diego women are gathering for early breakfast in the cathedral calm of The Salk Institute. The power of these women is one of those stories that slip up and startle us in San Diego. They call themselves Athenas. They have worked their way to top management ranks in San Diego.

Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. The Athenas have needed both skills to batter down board room barriers in good, old boy San Diego. They have achieved an almost silent miracle. In a single generation, they have created, bought, built or helped to lead business and non-profit organizations that account for at least one-quarter of San Diego's big business roster.

More California businesses are led by women than in any other state. San Diego's ratio is among the highest in California. A generation ago, women's clubs were the road up for many young women. The Junior League began to schedule night meetings for those rare members who were employed. Women tended still to defer to men. It took months to persuade the most powerful woman in community affairs to join a round table panel. Who?? I asked for her affiliations to introduce her.

"Just put me down", she insisted, "as social leader."

And oh...how those times have changed. Change has been led by women who learn how to work around the stolid male ego. They do not celebrate their newfound world out loud. But facts come through the National Center for Women's Business Research.

California ranks first in the number of firms with women as senior managers and owners. There are 10 Million such women across the nation. Their number grows at 11 percent a year. Several thousand are in this region:

MARY WALSHOK AT UCSD CONNECT

MARTHA DENNIS OF WINDWARD VENTURES

SARAH LAMADE OF SPAWAR

CATHERINE MACKEY OF PFIZER

KATHY HEDGES OF SAIC

JOAN DEHESH OF QUALCOMM

DEIRDE STEWARD OF RESMED

AND Brenda Cone Gebler of AMN, a nurse contractor listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2002 she earned $5 million...more than any male CEO in San Diego.

Why in San Diego, I ask, can business women move up so rapidly? They are innovators. They challenge old ways. San Diegans are wide open to fresh ideas and life styles.

Out on Carroll Road, among the Herman Miller furnishings in Office Pavillion, I find Vicki Carlson, the sole owner of a company with $20 million a year in revenue.

Vicki won the contract to furnish the TV sets for Donald Trump's Apprentice series. When the show ended, Trump wanted to sell them at a charity auction in New York. Vicki went to New York and said they'd have to do the auction back home in San Diego, where she does business. How did Vicki, a tall and stately CEO, stand up to Donald Trump?

"I don't know", she says, "We shook hands once, but he never got out of his seat."

But Trump gave in. The auction came to San Diego.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.