In the past 50 years, a lot has changed for women: We can fill combat positions. We wear jeans all the time. We hold lofty positions like secretary of state. We don't need our husbands to cosign for a loan. We're working toward equal pay for equal work. (OK, so that last one is really a work in progress.) A new PBS documentary—MAKERS: Women Who Make America—celebrates those successes while also examining what women have had to overcome in those five decades.
Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film features appearances by—and stories from—a who's who of ground-breaking women: Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Oprah Winfrey... the list goes on. It builds upon an inspiring "multi-platform video experience" of the same name that launched last February. "Women have taken extraordinary leaps forward," says Dyllan McGee, founder and executive producer, "But there is still work to be done. We hope MAKERS will spark the dialogue and inspire the next 50 years."
The doc premieres on February 26 (check local listings for times). Before you tune in, read about one inspirational Coloradan who pops up in the film: Linda Alvarado. As president and CEO of Alvarado Contruction, Linda eschewed the norm and not only stepped into a male-dominated field—construction—but flourished. If that's not enough, she made history by becoming the first Hispanic (male or female) owner of a Major League Baseball franchise. Which team? The Colorado Rockies.
5280: Your story is alongside some very high-profile women. How does it feel to be part of that?
Linda Alvarado: I’m humbled, but I'm also honored. This is about many, many women’s stories. It’s about women who were groundbreakers or pioneers in the last 50 years, the evolution or, if you will, the revolution the women's movement brought about to open doors for women, not just in terms of having a job but entering new fields, going to law school, medical school—in my case, entering [male-dominated] non-traditional fields.
5280: You pursued a field that was atypical for women at the time and faced a lot of backlash as a result. Why push on?
LA: I call it one of those great unplanned careers. I couldn’t get a job in college, and I eventually got a job with a landscape firm and then a development company on site. The reason I could even get hired was because the economy was so strong. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I was just enamored with the creativity of what I was trying to do. It was certainly a challenge, and I was not welcomed by men. They thought maybe I was the girlfriend, the love child, the mistress.
I think the documentary is interesting because not all women agreed that women should be pursuing these kinds of things. I started a small curb and gutter sidewalk business. People were waiting for me to make a mistake. Women were concerned about making a mistake because people would say, "See? I told you so." I loved it. I went back and learned how to do surveying and computerized scheduling, which created a niche. It’s really finding ways. You cannot change perceptions quickly. I learned early on to sign my proposals with my initials instead of Linda. It's important, at least in my career, that I didn’t allow other people’s narrow vision to cloud my vision of where I wanted to go.
5280: What do women bring to the table?
LA: I grew up with five brothers. I used to think that was a negative (torture, wrestling, those kind of things), but being comfortable in male environments is important because most of the high levels were male-dominated. I think women bring to the table as much as men bring to the table—a perspective on business, on marketing, on sales, on IT—but also with ethics and principles of how you conduct business. And in the context of doing that, women add value. I don’t think we're different—maybe our perspectives. It’s getting the opportunity to participate and be at the table, not to represent women, but to do what needs to be done. You need perspective and talent pulled from many diverse [backgrounds].
I think we have to be comfortable in our skin. I don’t think you need to be a man to succeed in a man's world, but you certainly can’t give up quickly or easily. It’s about equal rights and equal opportunities. No guarantees, just the opportunity to try.
5280: What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?
LA: If I had listened to conventional wisdom, I would not be a commercial general contractor or an owner of a baseball team. You have to have a sense of direction, certainly a sense of commitment, a sense of urgency. In other words: Hesitation, delays are not good in advancing what you're doing. And very often you have to have a sense of humor. You’re not going to be perfect every time. In order to succeed we have to get into the game, not just wear the attire but take some risks and raise our hands knowing that while there are some risks, there are also rewards.
—Image courtesy of AP Photo
Follow assistant editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.