True trailblazers: Local women break through glass ceiling

Carve out careers in traditionally male-dominated industries
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
-A +A

Electric utilities, politics, medicine, transit and technology aren’t industries traditionally associated with women. But local women are breaking through the glass ceiling and securing leadership positions in these workplaces. In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Press Tribune profiles five of our true trailblazers.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, the Press Tribune has profiled five local women trailblazers who have earned leadership positions in their chosen industries.

These are women working in electric utilities, politics, medicine, transit and technology who have carved out successful careers in traditionally male-dominated industries.

Michelle Bertolino

Roseville Electric celebrated a special occasion in 2012 — the public utility provider’s 100th anniversary. But, in May 2010, the utility marked another milestone: the hiring of its first woman director. Michelle Bertolino, of Granite Bay, oversees 121 employees and a budget of $168 million.

“I was pretty proud of the fact that I was the first woman in the job,” Bertolino said. “It’s typically a male industry. But it’s changed quite a bit.”

Raised in the Bay Area, Bertolino graduated from high school in Sunnyvale. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and attended University of California at Davis’ Graduate School of Management.

She joined Roseville Electric a decade ago, after working at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and KPMG Peat Marwick.

On a recent March morning, Bertolino stopped by a new construction project off Fiddyment Road and Blue Oaks Boulevard, and then she was off to a series of meetings in the Bay Area. Bertolino currently serves as chair of the Balancing Authority of Northern California. She was elected to the Northwest Public Power Association’s board of trustees last year and sits on the California Municipal Utilities Association’s Board of Governors.

In her 20 years of working in the electric utility industry, Bertolino says while sometimes men may watch their language around her, she usually doesn’t feel like she’s treated differently because of her gender.

“There were times at meetings, when I first started, that I was the only woman in the room,” Bertolino said. “But I haven’t noticed a big difference (with how I’m treated). We’re all just doing our jobs.”

Susan Rohan

Susan Rohan takes her job seriously. She may only get paid $650 a month for this particular job, but she devotes all her energy to being mayor of the city of Roseville.

“I know the people and business owners judge the responsiveness of their city, as well as their other elected officials, by my performance as mayor,” Rohan said. “I want people to know they’ve been heard, that their issues are important and that their input informs the council’s decision. I am grateful for the privilege to serve.”

Raised in Nebraska, Rohan has lived in Roseville since 1989. She previously worked in community and government relations for corporate landowners and now runs her own part-time consulting business.

Rohan previously served on Roseville’s Grants Advisory Commission, Charter Review Commission and Public Utilities Commission, and on the Placer County Economic Development Board. She has volunteered for a handful of other groups, including the Keaton Raphael Memorial, which funds childhood cancer research.

As the top vote-getter in the 2010 election, at 34 percent, Rohan secured the spot of vice mayor. After two years, she became mayor. She followed in the footsteps of Gina Garbolino and Pauline Roccucci, and will be followed by current Vice Mayor Carol Garcia.

“To me, the number of women who have preceded me as mayor is coincidental,” Rohan said. “What isn’t coincidental is the commitment that Roseville’s councils have historically made to serving our community over the years. Each mayor has been a role model for those that follow. The number of our past mayors and past members who check in from time to time to offer support and encouragement is remarkable and so welcome.”

Dr. Jeanne Conry

While in medical school, Jeanne Conry never thought she would eventually become an obstetrician. But that’s just what she did.

The Granite Bay resident now serves as assistant physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center. In May, Conry will become president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, making her the fourth female president in the group’s 60-plus-year history.

“It is really an honor to speak on behalf of OBGYNs across the nation, to represent them at international meetings and always to learn about what’s happening around the world,” Conry said. “This year, I’m going to focus on improving the care across the United States, both in terms of the actual care during pregnancy and in labor and delivery, and in focusing on women’s health and access to reproductive health care. The goal is for every pregnancy to be a planned pregnancy (with) a healthy mom.”

Conry is passionate about the impact of environmental toxins on reproductive health, and has made it a priority to focus on the overall health of women.

Born in San Francisco, Conry graduated from California State University, Chico, and earned her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Colorado. She joined Kaiser 23 years ago, and helped open the campus’ Women’s and Children’s Center.

“I believe that diversity in leadership should be our goal,” Conry said. “The diversity can reflect gender, racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and our sexual orientations. Each one of us brings a perspective reflective of both our training and our experience, and diverse leadership can help deliver better care and a better understanding of those we serve. I believe we need more women in leadership positions, and that we as a society benefit from our perspectives and our backgrounds.”

Terry Schonberg

Roseville resident Terry Schonberg has quite the long title. She’s a service center manager and project coordinator for Dellner, Inc. Got that? It’s a title she’s proud of, as it’s one 19 years in the making.

In 1994, Schonberg began her career with Dellner, a global company that supplies couplers and related equipment for passenger and commuter trains. Headquartered in Sweden, the company has a North American headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., and a satellite location in Roseville.

“As you can well imagine, the transit industry is primarily male-dominated,” Schonberg said. “It is not uncommon for me to be the only woman in meetings with customers — transit authorities — and car builders (such as) Siemens, Bombardier, Kinkisharyo, for example.”

Schonberg graduated from the University of South California and earned her master’s of business administration from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.

She joined Dellner as a project coordinator and, over the next 10 years, grew to project manager and assistant general manager of the Charlotte office. In 2007, Schonberg left the workforce to focus on her family. Her daughter, Ellen, was 4 at the time. Schonberg is married to Stefan Schonberg, who also works for Dellner.

Upon returning to work, she was offered the position to manage and oversee the Roseville office, along with doing project management for projects and customers in the western region.

“The transit industry is not one that little girls typically dream of growing up and working in,” Schonberg said. “I have always enjoyed the work and found it to be very interesting and satisfying. I have been treated, for the most part, with respect and equality by my peers and co-workers. This job has offered me opportunities to travel the world, experiencing many different cultures and meeting so many people. It is truly a job that I love.”

Jeannette Kamalski

Jeannette Kamalski said the fact that’s she’s a woman working in a typically male-led technology industry is a non-issue.

“Typically, I don’t think of it as I’m a woman trailblazer,” Kamalski said, adding. “For me, it’s not as much about gender as about delivering the best results on behalf of the company that I work for.”

Based in Roseville, Kamalski is the vice president of Strategic Business Partners for Hewlett-Packard. She leads the company’s global procurement organization, which supports the whole HP enterprise. She manages a team that works between Hewlett-Packard and suppliers of the goods and services needed to operate the company on a day-to-day basis.

A native of Santa Clara, Kamalski graduated from Chico State University and attended graduate school at Santa Clara University. She was hired by Hewlett-Packard in an entry-level finance position fresh out of college 28 years ago. She’s worked in global procurement for the past 14 years.

“I do think there is something to be said to come to HP at the time that I have,” Kamalski said. “When I look back at the struggles of (my) women mentors — from a generation or two ahead of me, say in the 1970s — that was a much more different period, a much more different environment (with) different cultural issues and acceptance in the workplace.”