Board of Managers Profile: Davia Temin on #MeToo, Business, and Finding Her Path

Board of Managers member Davia Temin ’74 arrived at Swarthmore the year that the college first operated without some of the parietal rules it had held since its founding in 1864.

“It was a time of great change for women, for men, for the sexes. You know, right before my class, you couldn’t have the door shut with a member of the opposite sex in your room. We all made fun of it. There was this rule that you had to have three feet on the ground, meaning, you can’t get in the bed. Well, there’s the floor. Who’s gonna count?”

Temin is assertive and cavalier — in other words, she is everything society trains women not to be but praises men for. She ranks her time at Swarthmore as one of the most, if not the most, influential experience in her life, alongside a near-fatal car crash that left her with “a huge amount of metal” in her leg and her taxi driver dead in 2005 and an encounter she had with the Dalai Lama that helped her decide to leave Wall Street. And she is emphatic about gender equity.

Temin advocates for what she calls “top-down” change as a trustee or board member of several governing boards such as the Girl Scouts Board of Trustees, Harvard Kennedy School Women’s Leadership Board, Columbia Journalism School’s Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Business and Journalism, WomenCorporateDirectors, and the Columbia University Women Creating Change Leadership Council.

“Companies often say, ‘well there are not enough women in the pipeline to be able to move them up,” she said. “They’ve been saying that for twenty years. There are a lot of women in the pipeline…you just have to look in untraditional places.”

When asked how these boards support women of color, Temin replied, “By total inclusion. None of those boards have not had women of color, none of those boards have not had women who are [women of color], none of them. It’s like breathing, it’s like air, this is the right thing, you do it.”

Temin kept her family name when she married Walt Kicinski in 1991. In 1997, she founded Temin & Company, a management consulting firm that conducts “international crisis, reputation, and risk management, with a specialty in cybersecurity, sexual harassment, and securities-related crisis management,” according to the company’s website.

She is a distinguished leader, holding a plethora of awards for leadership, business, and women’s advocacy, most recently Enterprising Women magazine’s Enterprising Woman of the Year award and the National Organization for Women’s 2017 Woman of Power & Influence award. She was the youngest woman to be hired laterally as a Vice President at CitiCorp Investment Bank, following which she spent many years running marketing strategy for various firms on Wall Street. She is widely trusted as a source of crisis management expertise and reporting on sexual harassment, as is evidenced by her quotes in publications such as Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and TIME. She also writes a column in Forbes called “Reputation Matters.”

But where her career would eventually take her was by no means clear to Temin when she graduated. After receiving an honors art history degree from the college, she enrolled at a Ph.D. program at Columbia and went to Paris to complete a thesis on the work of French painter Edgar Degas. But after a year, she decided she was on the wrong path.

“I realized I didn’t really care [about finishing the Ph.D.]. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about this guy who was dead and was gone and whatever … what I really wanted to do was have some impact on the world,” she said. “And studying in that way would not have given me the kind of agency that I think I’ve gotten now in my life.”

After leaving her Ph.D. program, she interned for Michael Dukakis ’55, at that time a Democratic presidential candidate, then returned to New York and worked on marketing and strategy for Columbia Business School. But despite the success of the alumni magazine she started in that position, she felt that she wasn’t where she wanted to be.

“I was starting to think … If I stay here any longer I’ll become only a nonprofit person and by that point I wanted to be in the business world,” she said. “I saw these guys making decisions that affect everybody else, sometimes from the right reasons from my point of view, sometimes not. And I wanted to have a say in it. So I figured out the places where I could go in the business world where I had any hope of being taken.”

At that time, not many firms had an open door for women to enter; on Wall Street, she was “almost always the only woman in the room.” Reflecting on her time there, she says, “I’m sure I could have gone far higher, far quicker with far more remuneration with far more gender equity, but I did okay.”

Temin & Co now keeps a #MeToo Index that counts the number of high profile people who have been accused of [by] at least 7 major articles in the media since allegations of sexual assault against the Bill Cosby were made public in 2015. The firm also researches whether the accused were fired as a result of the accusations. At the time of our interview, the index showed that 1300 people had been accused, according to Temin.

“Every woman in my generation has had this, has been sexually harassed,” she said.

She believes preventing sexual assault is critical if women are to succeed.

“If you think about the things that stop women, first of all, sexual harassment stops women, because the minute you are reduced to a body, the minute your mental functions are dismissed, people are staring at you, whatever they’re doing, and it robs your self-esteem and your self-assurance and what does it take to achieve? Self-esteem and self-assurance.”

But Temin’s career has put her on multiple, sometimes conflicting, sides of the #MeToo issue.

“I have now worked with four men who say that [they] have been falsely accused,” she said. “Two of them have tried to commit suicide. They were so completely, completely devastated by this.”

She feels that in order to prevent false accusations while acknowledging power imbalances that protect perpetrators from facing consequences, we must both give consideration to accusers and to the accused.

“You have to believe the women, and find people innocent until proven guilty,” she said. “You have to do both because right now we’re convicting people who we don’t know [are guilty of sexual harassment or assault] just because they’ve had one accusation and at the same time, in many places, we still are not listening to women and men who do report real instances of sexual harassment or abuse — we are ignoring them — and then justice is nonexistent…neither situation is right and neither can be countenanced in our society. We need to be ultimately fair, fact-based, investigative and relentless.”

The philosophy that guides her to this conclusion, she says, is compassion.

“I still maintain that to move along justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, great leadership, and culture change it still must, must be done with kindness and compassion.”

The #MeToo conversation is still ongoing nationwide, and Temin & Co’s count of the accused will not likely stop growing anytime soon. However, Temin is optimistic.

“[Sexual assault] needs to be stopped. And it’s not that hard. This is yes, this is no. There are lots of gray areas, I agree, but you know, it’s pretty clear. I believe that we can eradicate it, I really do,” she said.

Note: The article previously listed Walt Kicinski’s name incorrectly. The author amended the spelling on April 1.

Bayliss Wagner

Bayliss '21, currently a managing editor of the Phoenix, is from Vienna, VA. She is majoring in history, minoring in computer science and English. She has written news for four years and hopes to continue doing so for many more. Find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/baylisswagner

One comment

  1. 0
    Caroline Clark says:

    Davia, so glad to see you are doing well and doing so much good. Every once in awhile I pass the Madonna Inn and it’s pink craziness and it’s men’s room fountain. I think fondly of our Pomona to SF spring break trip. I know Emmy is gone now. Didn’t you tell us (Carol H., Emily A. and me) that when you were rich you would take us all there? When will that be? Haha.
    Caroline Porter Clark

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