20s are a time to focus on careers, say S.F. executives

A woman, a Jew, a wife and a mother while on the rise in the business world, she believes she has a message for younger women.

The founder of Parenting magazine, she has also held several high-profile jobs including publisher of Mother Jones, where she said she was described as "not nurturing enough" by her female employees.

"That wouldn't have come up if I were a man," she told a small crowd of young women during the recent Spring Women's Series at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The event, called "Executive Jewish Women in Business Today," featured Wolaner and Valli Nevesch, former chief operating officer of San Francisco women's apparel manufacturer Fritzi California.

The two 40-somethings spoke on the rewards and challenges of being a woman in a professional environment, revealing their secrets for balancing and sometimes not balancing their professional and personal lives.

Nevesch, for instance, sold Fritzi a year and a half ago in order to make more time for her family.

"I found it difficult to balance everything," she said. "That's one of the sacrifices of being a working mom."

When she was in her 20s, she dedicated herself to pursuing a professional career.

"It's easier to focus in your 20s than when you're older…and other things are pulling at you…like children and family," she said.

A native San Franciscan, Nevesch took the business over from her father and spent more than two decades working on and learning about the different aspects of the company. For 14 of those years her husband, Bob, also worked for the company because, "it was too hard to manage our home life with two careers."

Wolaner also credits the pre-children days of her 20s and early 30s as an important time in her career. That solid foundation allows her the freedom to only work 30 hours a week. She is currently executive vice president of CNET in San Francisco, a leading online source of information and services relating to computers and technology.

"An advantage of having your 20s and early 30s to establish your career is that you have clout once you have kids," said Wolaner. "You can structure your job to fit your family."

And with a stay-at-home husband, Wolaner continues to defy stereotypes.

"I'm sure there are some women who can do everything at the same time, but I wasn't one of them," she said.

During their rising careers, neither Wolaner nor Nevesch felt that they were hindered by their gender. In some cases it may have even helped.

"Men find me less intimidating," said Wolaner, adding humorously, "They also like that I'm shorter than them."