President Donald Trump gathered 11 female entrepreneurs in the Roosevelt Room on Monday for an hourlong discussion about women in business. We spoke to one attendee who came away from the talk feeling optimistic.
Dyan Gibbens, an Air Force veteran and the founder and CEO of Trumbull Unmanned, had a seat at the table — in fact, she was seated right next to the president.
“It was amazing to sit next to him, a really unexpected pleasure,” says Gibbens, whose company uses drones to collect information about the environment for the oil and gas industry.
“I feel incredibly honored to have been a part of that conversation. I’m honored to be a part of what I hope will be a continued initiative. He made clear that it’s an absolute priority for the administration, asking for our input on ways we can advance toward these shared goals,” she added in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
Ivanka Trump has talked about how much her father cares about working women and has been holding roundtables about the issue, meeting with leaders like Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel about the importance of having more women in the workforce. Though Ivanka Trump has been championing the issue on behalf of the administration, her father has the most male-dominated cabinet since Reagan.
Gibbens — who’s Hispanic, an entrepreneur and a mother of two (a 4-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son) — said she’s never felt the need to speak up and advocate for female leaders, particularly in the STEM fields.
But more recently, she said, “I became more active in representing female and minority-led businesses to ensure that I serve as an example as an engineer and the drone industry not only for other budding entrepreneurs but for my children.”
Based in Houston, Texas, Gibbens, 35, flew into Washington twice in 12 days to participate in discussions at the White House, though this was her first time meeting Trump. Monday’s meeting was a follow-up to a roundtable discussion organized by the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) led by Ivanka Trump and Dina Powell, the president’s deputy national security adviser for strategy.
When asked whether she thought it was a fruitful discussion, Gibbens acknowledged that she doesn’t expect any dramatic changes overnight. But she believes Trump’s actions match his rhetoric and his willingness to listen to their insights.
“I commend the president for bringing the topic of women in business to the forefront and bringing more women into the administration. It was a productive conversation — we discussed affordable childcare, access to capital, increasing networks and workforce development,” she said. “It felt productive and collaborative, and for us as a table we were able to focus on these shared goals and advancing women in business.”
In February, Trump signed two executive orders that highlighted the significance of women in business — The Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers and Innovators and Explorers Act, which calls on NASA to encourage women to pursue STEM careers, and The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, which promises more support for entrepreneurial programs started by women.
Gibbens was joined by 10 other female leaders like Shirley Ann Perry, the founder of environmental consulting firm HydroTech, Jessica Johnson, the CEO of security guard service Johnson Security Bureau, and Claudia Mirza, CEO of Akorbi, a language and translation service, as well as Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the head of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon.
She even had the opportunity to tell her favorite joke — an admittedly nerdy one — during her introduction, one she said was met with laughter from everyone around the table.
“I was discussing our company and I didn’t expect to share this as part of my intro, but it just came out. Everyone in our company is an engineer, a pilot or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operator. So how do you know if someone is a pilot? They’ll tell you,” she explained.
“That’s the joke — because pilots have to make sure you know that they’re pilots. Everyone laughed. It was fun and I’ve never had that many cameras in front of me. It was an intimidating, amazing experience.”
Though Gibbens said she doesn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with all of Trump’s policies, she thinks his stated desire to elevate females to leadership positions is a good place to start.
“For me, we have to start somewhere. It seems to make sense to start on the ground that we have in common and use that as an entry point. As a country, we have common ground and we need to try to focus on the 80-90% we have in common and build from there.”
The discussion happened to fall on the first work day after Trump failed to get enough votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Given such a polarizing and political backdrop, perhaps Trump can bring the unity he promised America by rallying individuals like Gibbens on focused issues like female empowerment.
Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.