After 35 years as an awarding-winning television journalist and anchor, community leader, and emcee, what is Sandra Maas doing for an encore? She is hosting Trailblazing Women, a video series highlighting “inspiring, visionary, and dynamic women” for the Women’s Museum of California, where she now sits on the board of directors as vice president of external affairs. Maas is also blazing trails of her own.
Maas says she was fired in June 2019 from KUSI-TV, where she anchored and reported for 15 years, after she lodged a complaint that her salary was less than that of her male co-anchor. The pay disparity wasn’t just a few dollars. She learned it added up to as much as $90,000 a year for the same job. On her final newscast, Maas thanked viewers “for sharing your wisdom and personal stories with me” and left a clue as to her next challenge: “Though I won’t be delivering the news anymore from this anchor chair,” she said, “I do hope to be making news and making a difference for women in the workplace.” Two weeks later, she filed a $10 million lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against station owner McKinnon Broadcasting Co., alleging failure to provide equal pay to women, gender and/or age discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, and retaliation. The company is fighting the allegations. The case was delayed when courtrooms were closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Maas and McKinnon Broadcasting will face off in court next spring.
Meanwhile, she has been using her considerable communication skills and connections to profile women “who are making a difference in their communities, fields of expertise, and in the lives of others.” They include Erica Ollmann Saphire, PhD, a renowned virologist, immunologist, and professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology who is leading a worldwide team of scientists to find antibodies to treat the COVID-19 virus. Saphire and her team received a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When asked what it’s like to have the weight of the world on her shoulders in the race to find a treatment, Saphire admits, “It’s a lot. But there are a lot of people who’ve lost their loved ones, there are people struggling to get better. I’m healthy, my job is secure right now, a pandemic virologist in a pandemic. We’ve just got to get this work done.”
In another interview, Maas spoke with Juanita Davis, a member of San Diego’s Supremes tribute band The Corvelles as well as a model, actress, and music therapist. Music is “a magical tool that everybody has,” Davis told Maas. “A key to staying calm in turbulent times.”
Maas has also profiled Bobbi Brink, founder and CEO of Lions, Tigers & Bears, an Alpine sanctuary for exotic animals that have been abused or abandoned. “You have to be resilient and fearless,” Brink told Maas. “You can’t question yourself, you just have to go for it. And you’re going to fail. You have to fail to succeed. Once I learned that, I just kept jumping in, because if you don’t try, nothing happens.”
Maas interviewed fashion and textile designer Zandra Rhodes, who’s been wowing the world with her colorful designs and shocking pink hair since the 1960s. Said Rhodes: “We wouldn’t be what we are if we didn’t come up against those struggles which really form us.”
During “Black Lives Matter” protests, Maas talked with Alisha Wilkins, PhD, a business owner and chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. She spoke movingly about what it is like to be a Black woman in California, dealing with “landmines that we’re constantly trying to avoid in our everyday lives.” She wore her sorority T-shirt on a trip to the hardware store, for example, to lessen the likelihood she would be followed by store security and didn’t linger in the parking lot so as not to “cause suspicion.” Wilkins also asked her son, a recent college graduate, to buy an alumni bumper sticker for his car “to humanize him” in case police pull him over.
“It’s such a gift to share the stories of brilliant, dedicated, fearless women in our community who are game changers in their respective fields,” Maas said in a phone interview. “Many struggled before finding success and yet are confident enough and strong enough to talk about the failures and mistakes they overcame. It’s the messy middle part of someone’s personal story, that uncertain period, that’s often most interesting. We all learn something when women dare to share.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of U.S. women winning the right to vote, Maas points out. “Under the leadership of new CEO Felicia Shaw, the Women’s Museum of California is poised to play a more prominent role in promoting diversity, inclusion, and gender equality during this ‘Year of the Woman.’”
Maas’s Trailblazing Women interviews can be viewed on the Women’s Museum of California website. womensmuseumca.org