Jan Weiland sits in her western-facing office on the 12th floor of the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Colorado Springs.
The executive vice president of investments with Cascade Investment Group has worked her entire career in a field once dominated by men, especially in executive positions.
Weiland recollects canceled interviews when potential employers found out she was married. She remembers being told she failed an industry test she thought she’d aced. And yet, she has been successful over four decades despite the gender hurdles she’s encountered. Weiland recalls the story of a business trip she took early in her career.
“I made a trip to Ida Grove, Iowa. I’ll never forget it. I was traveling with a man from our bank and he was turning over an account to me. My name is Jan and [the clients] thought I was a man,” she said, referring to the male German name with the same spelling. “They were very surprised when I arrived. … They’d already made a reservation at the local country club and it was men’s night. That became a real problem. We had to go somewhere else.”
Weiland received her undergraduate degree from Boston’s Suffolk University in the 1970s, followed by a master’s of business administration from her “dream school,” Northwestern University in Chicago. While working at the Bank of Chicago, Weiland participated in a training program that coincided with her MBA. A collegiate “late bloomer,” Weiland was admittedly older than many of her counterparts, exclusively young men recruited right out of Ivy League schools. But, as the 1970s were coming to an end, she could sense a transformation in the business community.
“I could see what was happening,” she said. “There were lots of women who were college graduates in clerical positions starting to get interviews for these advanced positions.”
Laura Neumann didn’t seek out crises. She didn’t join the Marines, or become a firefighter or a hostage negotiator. She got into hospitality because, she said, she has a drive to serve. But many of her defining moments have come in the face of crisis. Neumann, former Colorado Springs chief of staff and now general manager of the Garden of the Gods Club and Resort, was working at the Chaminade Spa & Resort in Santa Cruz, Calif., during her mid-20s. She was director of conference services, and was out for a jog when the 1989 Bay Area earthquake struck. Neumann returned to the resort to help.
“The general manager fled the property because his prized horses had escaped,” Neumann said. “After I returned to the property, I was designated manager on duty because there wasn’t one. I learned crisis management on the fly, with people very senior to me in age and position.”
Neumann said she led staff and worked to restore order among patrons standing outside burning patio furniture to keep warm and, in a time before cell phones, she moderated disputes bordering on fisticuffs over who should get to use the phones.
She received a promotion, thanks to the way she handled the crisis, making her Benchmark Hospitality International’s youngest general manager at the time.
Neumann moved to Racine, Wis., to take over operations of a Benchmark property, where she received one of her first reviews from the company’s chairman.
“I’m in my late 20s and I’m eager to see the marks on [the review] paper. He saw me looking to see if the checks were on the far right hand side saying everything was great, and he shut the review. He said, ‘The truth is Laura, I happen to be disappointed in you.’ I asked why that was, but I really wanted to get back to the paper. He said I was playing it safe. I said I’d done all these great things and had been working really hard.
“He said ‘Yes you do and I’ve never seen you fail. … in order for me to know you’re tapping into your true potential, you have to run into some brick walls and get bruised up. … You’re winning most of the time, but what else do you have in there?’”
Following that review, Neumann was charged with opening the AT&T Conference Center in Basking Ridge, N.J. She would then go on to oversee a region from Minneapolis, Minn., which included operations in New York City. Benchmark had a conference center located on the 55th floor of 1 World Trade Center. It was nearly a week after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and Neumann was on a plane to New York. Ash was still falling from the sky.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I called upon some of those moments when I was way out on a limb in 1989. No one put me in charge. I felt we needed to calm people down and we needed to get organized, and I drew on the same things when I was thrust into that prior situation.”
She would again need to be the voice of reason as Mayor Steve Bach’s chief of staff during the Waldo Canyon fire.
Neumann said she has often had to take charge, but seldom had female mentors while rising through the ranks.
“I’d like to think that’s different now, that senior-level women would open their doors and mentor [young female professionals] and welcome them, and tell them it’s OK that you want a family and want to get married and don’t want to work your tail off and sacrifice some of the things we had to.”
Lauren Hug is a Texas transplant, in her 30s, has a master’s degree in law and owns HugSpeak Coaching & Consulting, a marketing and communications business. She’s also married and has two children. While career moms are still faced with making life-balancing decisions, she thinks it’s getting easier.
“There has been a shift, with flex time and telecommuting. Moms can work at 3 a.m. when they’re up anyway,” she said. Hug said, as her business grows, she anticipates hiring women, and wants to provide them with the flexibility to be with their families.
Now, physical location doesn’t matter, Hug said, adding, “There’s a distraction factor of having to take care of kids while working at home, but the more we erase the needs to be in a specific place at a specific time, we will open the possibilities. But not just for women. It makes a huge difference for men too.
“I understand the tension of trying to balance family and life and work,” she added. “And I’ve created a space that’s flexible regarding the where and when. As long as it gets done, I don’t care about the where and when.”
That philosophy drew praise from Weiland.
“She’s right on and the generation is right on,” Weiland said. “The greater influence of this generation’s working woman is going to make a big difference. We have lessons to be learned here from the newer generations.”
But Weiland said, having been in Colorado Springs for more than 20 years, there is still much to be done.
“When I look back at how long I’ve been here, which is quite a period of time, the community in terms of women and leadership doesn’t look that much different. … It doesn’t look like women have made a lot of progress in terms of leadership in this city.”
She said that can be remedied.
“Women have to recognize it, own up to it and admit that maybe they could be doing more,” she said, adding there are also positives to draw on.
“[Colorado Springs is] the perfect-sized city. … Because it’s smaller, you get the lay of the land quickly and can figure out where your place might be, who you need to meet, what kind of business is a good fit for you. There’s nothing overly challenging about the city. Another good thing is, if you want to change something, you can do that.”
Weiland, for instance, served as president of the board of TESSA of Colorado Springs and was instrumental in developing a daycare center for children while their guardians were in court. It opened 12 years ago and will serve its 50,000th child next year.
Overall, Weiland said, the environment for working women has improved drastically since she entered the workforce.
“There’s no question it’s better,” she said. “There are very innovative programs at large corporations. One challenge is when women leave to take time off for family, it’s difficult to get back into the workforce again. Some corporations have done a good job of staying in touch with those women. Deloitte stands out. Big investment banks are doing it as well. … I think it’s a fabulous idea.” n CSBJ