"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.

Debbie Manning, second from right, with Leadership California alumnae, California State Senator Gloria Romero (wearing medallion) and members of the Iraqi Women's Delegation.


She’s Tough Enough

Deputy Chief Sergeant-at-Arms had to Pass Muster in State Senate

by Carol Caley

Debbie Manning is six months into her two-year term as president of Leadership California. A 2002 alumna of the CIT program and a Leadership California Executive Board member since 2005, she is a Senate appointee to the California Emergency Management Agency’s California Council on Criminal Justice. She retired in 2008 as Deputy Chief Sergeant-at-Arms of the California State Senate after 31 years of service.

IT WAS 1977. THE PREVIOUS YEAR, THE FIRST WOMAN to serve in the California State Senate had been elected, and the idea that women might be able to fill capital jobs that had always belonged to men was taking hold.

I played by the rules. Everyone was watching. I could not act too nice, because eveyone would see it as a weakness.”  

Debbie Manning was a college student with empty pockets, perusing the job listings at a UC Davis jobs center. Her political science and public administration courses had prepared her, but she wasn’t quite sure for what. A job center employee mentioned that the State Senate was looking for a staff member to the Sergeant-at-Arms. Would she like to apply? The pay was $804 monthly. “I thought, I’ll be rich!” said Manning. The interview period was already over, but she managed to get in at the last minute. “I put on the pantsuit my mother had just bought for me, and went to the interview.”

Chief Sergeant-at-Arms at the time, Frank Thomas, allowed her in as a courtesy to her government professor, who was a well-known and respected lobbyist in the capital. “Because of my professor, I knew everyone in the governor’s cabinet, I had met Willie Brown and Bob Moretti and others who had visited my college class. I could drop names! That impressed him, that a 22-year-old could know who was who,” she said. The pantsuit was a drawback though. “Senators prefer dresses,” she was told. Hired in spite of her attire, she was asked to start the job the next day at the capitol.

Debbie Manning at Session IV in San Diego, 2009  

Alone in a Room

What came next was the tough part. She was young, black, and a woman, and did not expect the freeze that greeted her. “I was the youngest person on staff. The closest person to me in age was 56. Everyone else was older, white and male. Most were retired law enforcement: CHP, police, railroad police, and business owners. ‘Why is she here?’ was their question,” she said. She was assigned to sit alone in a room all day, and given little to do. The men would say “Good morning when she came in and “Good night at the end of the workday. No one would speak to her during the day. She received no training in her duties and no assistance from the men on staff. “The first few weeks, I would go home and cry,” she admitted. “But they weren’t going to break me. My attitude was, oh no, you can’t run me out.”

There was opposition from the women too. “They felt unsafe with me,” she said. “Because the Sergeant-at-Arms is a law enforcement position, they thought a ‘girl’ wouldn’t have the same capabilities to help them, walking them to their car at night, for example. They couldn’t see me at age 22 in that authoritarian role.” But it was the women who eventually came around to help her. “The secretaries knew what I was supposed to be doing. They helped show me what my job was,” she said.

Women were looking to me. I became their voice.”

Her toughness finally paid off. It took about a year before staff attitudes changed. “I played by the rules,” she said. “Everyone was watching, interpreting. I could not act too nice, because they would see it as weakness.” One day, without prior notice, she was expected to stay at work after hours to attend a meeting. By the time she got back to her office, everyone had gone home and her purse had been stolen. Too late to catch the bus home, she had to walk. Another day, she was in a serious traffic accident where her state car was totaled. Badly shaken but outwardly cool, she picked up another car and went on with her business day. She took each of these incidents in stride and never complained. “They threw things at me. I hung in there. I didn’t back down. They wanted to see if I would lose it. I was being tested. I passed their test.”

Once the doubters saw that she could do her job, the thaw was complete. “Then I became like a daughter to them and they couldn’t do enough for me,” she laughed. “They gave me advice and started to help me once they saw that I would be tough enough.”

Promotion to Role Model

In 1998, she won the job of Deputy Chief Sergeant-at-Arms of the California State Senate, the first woman to hold the position. “At first I didn’t get the full scope of what this position meant,” she said. “You no longer are just doing your job. You become a role model to a lot of female staff. Women start coming to you for advice. Yes, I was responsible for doing the job of the Chief whenever my boss wasn’t there. But this was a responsibility that I had not been aware of, that I was part of a broader picture. Women were looking to me. I became their voice. Whereas doing my job before was low key, now I needed to think about my leadership role. Leadership California helped me with this part of it. I had to develop a leadership style to understand the bigger picture. I saw who I was representing: women in the Senate building, and women of color. I said to myself, if you mess up, it’s not just your own reputation, there’s a ripple effect.”

I didn't think I had the seniority, the experience, the knowledge. A man in the same position would jump in, but I held back. Then I realized that I could do it.”  

In her new role, she had to think like a chief and act like one. “I had to learn decisionmaking: How to do, to talk, to manage, to make decisions in lieu of the Chief. I started to have people come directly to me,” she said. “I resisted it at first. Like a lot of women, I didn’t think I had the seniority, the experience, the knowledge. A man in the same position would jump in, but I held back. I didn’t think I was that person that people could look up to. You hold back because you don’t want to seem like a self-promoter. Then I realized I could do it. In law enforcement, you’ve got to be very direct. You can’t be shy.”

Parking Garage Roundup

Manning’s capital connections have proved to be a bonus for Leadership California, particularly at Session I. With the help of Board member Sheron Violini and other Capital alumnae, she won the rare privilege of access to the Governor’s Council Room and to the Women’s Museum. Both venues now provide the backdrop for crucial Session I events. “We knew we could give women in the program a VIP experience,” Manning said. The “Breakfast with Capital Leaders” program segment has had remarkable success due to her flair for personal persuasion coupled with her security clearance. As the class arrives at the Capitol for the breakfast, Manning posts herself in the underground parking garage and snags lawmakers as they head into the building for work. Though they’ve been invited as guests weeks earlier, they’re often too busy to attend the breakfast. Her personal invitation brings a great showing of lawmakers and a great experience for the class.

That’s My Story!

We shared what it was like being a woman and also a person of authority.”

As president of the Leadership California organization, Debbie Manning’s wish for its future is to reach beyond California’s borders for a global focus. She pointed to a recent meeting between a contingent of Iraqi women leaders visiting the state Senate and a small group of Leadership California alumnae. Since the Iraqi women spoke little English, a suitable forum for the exchange was sought. Manning suggested that personal storytelling through interpreters would set the right tone. The sharing began, and Manning provided the uncomfortable details of the start of her own career. The Iraqi women beamed. “That’s my story!” one woman said. As the stories got rolling, “we really connected,” said Manning. “We started relating our stories of being a woman in a male-dominated society. We shared what it was like being a woman and also a person in authority. Women struggle with these things across cultures. Wouldn’t it be great to have that cross-culture connection as part of the program? There’s a community in just being women.”



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