Alumni Spotlight // Communication


Communications consultant and advocate Dr. Lois Phillips Ph.D. `86 Lois Phillips
Photo credit: Cindy Faith Swain of

Her life’s work is about creating possibilities – for women in the workplace, and for communities and organizations in need of a strong voice for positive change. Whether behind the podium at a major conference or lecturing in a college classroom, Dr. Lois Phillips Ph.D. `86 is a dynamic communicator who works to empower women through public speaking.

For 11 years, Phillips was the founding executive director of Antioch University Santa Barbara. Before she moved to Santa Barbara, Phillips earned her undergraduate degree in speech from Queens College in New York and her master’s degree in humanistic psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. As a graduate student, Phillips wrote a paper titled “Fragmentia! The disease of women in transition.” Her paper sparked nationwide interest, leading to speaking engagements at women’s conferences.

Phillips did her own “juggling act” when she balanced raising a family, working at Antioch University and pursuing her doctorate in education from the UC Santa Barbara Gervitz Graduate School of Education. Her passion for public speaking inspired the book Women Seen and Heard co-authored with Dr. Anita Perez Ferguson. Phillips also taught communications classes for UCSB Extension students and a series of corporate workshops titled “Creating a Culture of Innovation.” She also co-hosts DIALOGUES, an NPR radio show on KCLU providing commentary on current issues and now leads a consulting firm providing coaching and training to spokespersons, managers and executives. Phillips also co-founded the Gervitz Graduate School of Education Alumni Association, the SB Women’s Political Committee and collaborated with Dr. Fran Lotery to produce the Women’s Leadership Conference at Santa Barbara City College.

Beyond her many community leadership roles, Phillips is also the proud mother of two children. Her son Craig Phillips is a screenwriter who works for INDEPENDENT LENS in San Francisco, California. Her daughter Tracy Phillips-Seifert teaches drama and English at Mount Eden High School in the Bay Area.

This month, Phillips received the 2016 Woman of Achievement Award with fellow Gaucho Congresswoman Lois Capps `90 from the Santa Barbara chapter of the Association for Women in Communications, an organization she helped establish for female communications professionals on the Central Coast.

“Our honoree Lois is indeed a Renaissance woman,” said community leader and former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Susan Rose at the ceremony. “[She is] an entrepreneur and creator of new programs, academic and educator, consultant and volunteer and, last but not least, a feminist activist. The community of SB has benefited greatly from her work and commitments; as have many educators, administrators, non-profit boards, politicians, young employees and executives.”

In this Alumni Spotlight, Phillips talks about her passion for communication, her love of learning and what drives her to continue to push for excellence in her career.

What was your reaction to receiving the 2016 Woman of Achievement Award with your fellow UCSB alum Congresswoman Lois Capps? How did you feel to be honored by this community?

It was a total privilege to be recognized in the Santa Barbara community.

I have been here for so many decades -- I moved here in 1972, at a time when UC Santa Barbara was exploding in terms of growth. When we moved here in the late 70s and early 80s, we were very motivated to be involved in grassroots movements. Our generation are still very dynamic in terms for our time in history – we continue to work on civil rights, women’s rights and environmental activism. During that time, a lot of legislation was happening – it was a time when the political activism still continued on from the 60s and 70s. These issues affected Lois Capps and her point of view of the world.

I certainly walk in her shadow. I am a local advocate AND a professional who did an advanced degree. I have worked both paths. During the 80s, fields were populated with very conservative men. As a woman, you were forced to be one or the other – a feminist or a full-time person seeking a tenured position. I was consistent in what I wanted and speaking out on what needed to be done.

I can now say, after so many years looking back, I was always involved in starting something – including this Santa Barbara chapter of the Association for Women in Communications. The awards event was just incredible. I am still overwhelmed.

How important is it for women to develop their own voices and to speak up -- especially during this time in our political history?

I think, first of all, it’s important for people who are progressive to speak up on the broad arc of issues, from advocacy for the environment to civil rights. I think this is a time during which many young women are complacent. They think they have it all. They think all the battles have been won.

But there is a lot at stake now in politics and in women’s issues like reproductive choice. Young women need to know that we really can’t turn back the clock. For both men and women running for office, issues affecting young women need to be front and center.

In this political race, I think the challenge for Hillary Clinton is to convey that becoming president isn’t just an ambition of hers. These issues on the forefront have defined her life just as they have defined my life and all our lives as women.

How integral are communication skills to success, especially for women in the workplace?

The way you present yourself in advancing in your career – whether in higher education or in corporate America – there is so much research that presentation skills play a big part in being noticed and being quoted. This is when people see your brain power. Your ability to speak in groups and audiences is one defining trait that can bring opportunities.

From my own personal perspective, I was always outspoken in my work. My dissertation centered on how you can teach women AND men to become confident public speakers. At UCSB, I did my research with three different classes in Public Speaking 101, doing this experimental curriculum.

If you want to be in public life as well as corporate life, you have to deal with difficult discussions and debates. If you want to make it into management, you have to facilitate discussions. You need to show you can track the ideas and summarize and synthesize them at the end – and frame what ties into YOUR vision.

In order to be a strategic thinker, you have to be able to articulate, summarize and synthesize ideas. Women who want to advance in any executive leadership role, it’s not just about being a good conversationalist or to do a job well. Women need to position themselves as thought leaders. Steve Jobs is often cited as a thought leader – he was ahead of the curve, he was kicked off his board and then rehired. You have to stay steady at the helm and manage your feelings so you can direct people toward the greater good. A very strong person who can articulate a position and sell it, does it through the power of speech.

There’s a lot of mockery about women’s voices and how women speak, like the stereotypes of the Valley Girl and the vocal fry. Women have to learn the tools to create a more directive style that is appropriate to a commanding presence. She can be busty, skinny, straight, gay or whatever – but it’s important to develop a commanding presence. Research shows most CEOs are 6’2” or taller, which means most of us physically are a foot shorter – how do we make up for that consciousness of what a leader looks and sounds like?

Why did you choose to pursue your doctorate at UC Santa Barbara? And how did you balance work, school and family during that time?

When I was finishing my master’s degree at UMass, the Center for Humanistic Education’s sister program was at UC Santa Barbara. Both were funded by the Ford Foundation with emphasis on integrating value of education and self-awareness into the curriculum. It was a “quasi-counseling” program in its orientation. It taught us to be aware of how people see you, to be aware of your biases in a multicultural society, and to become a model for your students or colleagues. It was a course on humanistic values, decency and fair play.

So it was a natural transition to study at UC Santa Barbara. The summer before I got it together to enter the doctoral program, I already was very familiar with the faculty and their publications. I was already the executive director at Antioch, so it was perfect to take those late afternoon classes throughout the week.

When people think of the Gervitz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, they think of teacher training or those who want to become professors. But there are also degrees in organizational behavior and organizational leadership that help cultivate executives The studies in organizational leadership and behavior really helped me understand the politics of organizational life.

In my grad program, I wrote and published a paper about women’s juggling act, titled “Fragmentia!” where I talked about the “dis-ease” of women trying to do it all. It was a psychological piece, a study of diverse new roles women had to play with few supports from institutions and dealing with archaic attitudes about women’s roles. So I was already thinking about this juggling act before I did it myself. All of a sudden I was getting requests to speak about this issue at conferences.

Then, I was living it. That’s the irony. Soon I was working. I was co-parenting. I was studying. I did the dance. I could write another book about it – the implications for institutions, for society, to make it better for us. Nothing too much has changed since that time. Then, I added consulting – and flying around to work. That juggling act experience prepared me for a very creative life in which I always combined several roles and projects. I was prepared. It made me flexible and resilient.

The fact is, when you are juggling work, family and school – it’s not easy. I credit having friends who were also single parents or were also juggling, which allowed some laughter in between.

What inspires you to do what you do?

I have a wonderful partner, Dennis Thompson, who is an incredibly creative architect. In our golden years, we have a very creative life. We have a lot of appreciation for this gorgeous place and are always looking for ways to have balance.

The creative work is constantly on his mind and mine. Even when I’m sleeping, I have ideas. I am forever connecting the dots and seeing needs that haven’t been met before. It makes my life fun. In the past six months, I took a course on voiceover acting. I took a poetry course – poetry as therapy. I took course on women artists. I’m always curious – I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire to constantly learn. I just think that everybody wakes up at 6 and runs to the drawing board like I do! I usually come back from work projects very stimulated and ready to do more.

What advice would you share with students – especially older female students – who are considering graduate degrees to launch second -- or even third – career paths in their lives?

When I was going to college, I was very lucky I picked speech communication – it involved theater and speech therapy - a truly amazing program. It served me very well. Research now confirms the fact that nobody has the same career forever and retires with a gold watch. Advances in technology, globalization of the workplace and multiculturalism have created new jobs.

Even if you stay in the same field, your job can change. You can advance. It’s naive to think that what you study when you are young will always be the same path when you are older. There are new fields emerging, new jobs you didn’t know about when you made your first plans back in college.

The true pressure is to keep learning. The rate of change is advancing. The person who is very naïve going for the certificate as a solution – you need to keep learning. We have seen companies die because the product wasn’t needed any more, There’s no end to what you can learn. Life is about being flexible and resilient.

Follow Dr. Lois Phillips on her blog at


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