Women Leaders in the AMS Corporate Family

September 2, 2021

August 26th is celebrated as Women’s Equality Day. The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Because of the changes we have experienced within the culture and the workforce, young women of today have an expectation of equality that they did not have twenty years ago. For many of them, being unable to vote seems unthinkable!!

The massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that created this change had its formal beginnings in 1848. It has continued over the years until we now ask the question… do we have full equality in the workforce today? In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Samantha Hicks of AMS’ HR Programs and Services nominated three women who are celebrated as leaders at AMS. All three agreed to be interviewed and we present their interesting and inspiring personal stories below.

The nominees are Betty-Lou Wiseman, President of AMS West; Kim Peszek, VP Client Engagement AMS East; and Carmen Kernek, Vice President of Human Resources.

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Thank you to Betty-Lou Wiseman, President AMS West, for answering our questions on this very vital subject of Women’s Equality.

As a young woman looking forward to your life as an adult, did you have concerns or beliefs that there would be limitations due to your being a woman?  

Growing up in a small agricultural town in New York State, women were expected to be at home and take care of the household and children. I started babysitting to make my own money when I was 14, worked as a lifeguard during the summer and that was the start of wanting to be a successful woman. Being in a “man’s” world during this time, I did believe that I would have more challenges in becoming a successful businesswoman which made me drive harder. Many times in my career I have had to take 3 steps back, take a breath, and push 4 steps ahead. If you want something in a career, I feel you must stay focused and manage any hurdle that comes your way.

In your work career have you encountered discrimination, lower pay or failure to promote due to your being a woman, and if you have, how did you confront the issues?  

I have encountered discrimination in the past. I had been an interim Director of a company and had been doing the job for two months. I applied for the Directors position and at the end of my interview I was told that I didn’t get the job because my husband made good money and I have children to take care of. I challenged this in the interview but could tell that even with a good challenge it was not going to go anywhere because this was truly how the person felt who was doing the interview. I took this comment to the executives of the company and received compensation for bringing this to their attention, but not the job. I decided to leave this company as I did not want to work with a company that would judge a woman for a position based on a husband’s wages or if they have children. This was a turning point for me; the drive to become an Executive Businesswoman was now even a stronger goal in my life.

Do you see full equality at AMS for women, or would you say that there is still work to do? 

I do feel there is equality at AMS.  I encourage all women to reach for the stars and it has shown in the team I have developed working with women that started from the ground up. I am so pleased that the company we chose to invest in AMS is run by a woman who is our Chairman of the Board. I feel women have come a long way but will always have challenges and hurdles to overcome as they reach for the stars. I take pride in mentoring and teaching of all, but there is a specific place in my heart to work with women who have the drive for success. Women have come a long way and there is a way to go!

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Thank you to Kim Peszek, VP Client Engagement AMS East, for answering our questions and sharing your experiences with us.

As a young woman looking forward to your life as an adult, did you have concerns or beliefs that there would be limitations due to your being a woman? 

Throughout my youth I was most often exposed to women in the ‘traditional life roles.  Most movies and television shows depicted women as reliant upon a man to support them financially in addition to requiring the ‘man of the house’ make critical decisions within the family or business environment. Women were infrequently depicted as breadwinners or drivers of decisions or solutions. I wasn’t readily encouraged to attend higher education opportunities. As a young woman, I did believe that it was most acceptable to seek out the traditional marriage and roles that supported that structure. Being in a business environment was ‘a man’s world’ and if we as women impeded upon that world, it was inappropriate or frowned upon.  

In your work career have you encountered discrimination, lower pay or failure to promote due to your being a woman, and if you have, how did you confront the issues? 

I looked at the start of my working opportunity as a job and not a career. As I began opportunities to contribute to the business world and gain confidence in my skillsets, I frequently encountered setbacks where my contributions were looked at as insignificant even though they ultimately became solutions. My participation in business meetings often left me passed over during the traditional handshakes and business card exchanges. Eye contact with me was often avoided as if I didn’t exist at the table. In other cases the value of my participation in meetings or assignments was joked about as an opportunity to keep the attention of certain male clients due to my perceived appearance. I was, more often than not, compensated less than male counterparts for equal roles, when in fact my responsibilities exceeded levels defined by my position. In questioning those inequalities, it was reasoned away as being due to my inexperience or youth. I sought solace through focusing on eliminating the excuses and creating even greater value from my efforts. I sought out role models in business environments that focused on results and not gender. I resolved to be what I wanted to be and not what others had defined for me.

Do you see full equality at AMS for women, or would you say that there is still work to do? 

Social tolerance drives acceptance of issues whether they be right or wrong. Our AMS team houses many great leaders with no tolerance for inequality. But know that it is the responsibility of all, as one, to ensure inequalities do not exist or repeat in our future. We all have the responsibility to speak up for ourselves and others. Trust you will be heard and do it in a way that is genuinely for the betterment of positive change. 

When it becomes more common to say ‘BESIDE every great man…’ vs. ‘BEHIND every great man…’, then we can say we’ve come a long way. 

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Thank you to Carmen Kernek, Vice President of Human Resources, for giving us your view on Women’s Equality and answering our questions about your work experience.

As a young woman looking forward to your life as an adult, did you have concerns or beliefs that there would be limitations due to your being a woman?  

I grew up in a home with 6 other siblings, we were a team of 5 girls and 2 boys. In my home and culture, the females needed to step up to the plate in many different occasions in many different ways. For example, I began working when I was 14 years old and began to assist my parents in maintaining our family by monetary contribution as well as bringing home groceries. This was never asked of me or expected, but I knew that it would help my mom, who at the time was working two jobs and she and my dad were always working. With that being said, my mother taught me, through her work ethic, that no matter who you are you will need to work for the things you want in life and perseverance is key in this journey. 

I have always tried my best in all that I do, hoping that I will be a great role model to my children and others, but also in my journey of life, which has led me to much success in my career.

In your work career have you encountered discrimination, lower pay or failure to promote due to your being a woman, and if you have, how did you confront the issues?   

In my work career there were definitely challenges, but I would not call them discriminatory in any way.  ‘Challenges’ is the most appropriate way to describe any struggles in my career. 

I believe that we have the opportunity to make choices in our lives and careers, therefore I worked my way through challenges and created new pathways to take if there was something in my way. My competitiveness and my perseverance in life does not let me stop my quest to win. The challenges in my life, and as a women in business, have made me the strong woman that I am today. I confront issues, meaning I work through them and communicate in order to work out issues and find better solutions.

Do you see full equality at AMS for women, or would you say that there is still work to do?   

In my opinion there is full equality for all… not just women. I believe that there is always room for improvement and growth, however I also believe that we create our own destiny and if we want the stars, we not only need to reach for them, but have a plan to get them!

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Thank you to all of the Women Leaders in the AMS Corporate Family!!