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UMGC Alumna Champions Women in Business

Mary Dempsey
By Mary Dempsey
Tulinda Larson was recently named by CIO Views Magazine as among The 10 Most Inspiring Businesswomen to Follow.

When asked about her legacy as a business leader, economist Tulinda Larsen, a 2013 graduate of the Doctor of Management Program at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), pauses to think.

“I guess my legacy is that I have helped to mentor as many women as possible to achieve their life goals. And I mean life goals—because I don’t believe there’s a work life and a home life. It’s all life,” she said. “I particularly point out that a career is a jungle gym, not a ladder. To climb the jungle gym takes resilience and perseverance, so be flexible and adaptable and take care of yourself.”

Larsen, who was recently named by CIO Views Magazine as among The 10 Most Inspiring Businesswomen to Follow, has proven to be a powerful mentor to women. But she has done so much more, emerging as a high-profile champion of women, largely driven by the persistent gender-equity challenges she continues to see in the workplace.

Larsen started her career as a staff economist with the U.S. Department of Transportation, a woman in her twenties researching the economic impact of regulatory reform affecting the trucking and aviation industries. There, she said, she was not a threat but, rather, “a novelty.”

“But then I got into my thirties and I had children and it became more difficult for me. When I reached my forties, I really faced headwinds. I was overlooked for promotions and talked over at meetings. At that time, there was never any discussion of work-life balance for working women,” she said. “I never talked about my children.”

She started to suffer from Imposter Syndrome, she added, referring to the doubts that high-achieving people can have about their abilities.

At every turn, Larsen thought deeply about what was happening and strategized her response.

“At that time, I believed that if women worked hard and gained credentials, we would succeed and gain access to the board room,” she said. “But Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, opened my eyes to the systemic biases impacting women in the workplace.”

Larsen gradually rose into leadership roles, as vice president of the Regional Airline Association, as president of the Alaska Carriers Association and as executive director of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation. But as she advanced, she saw fewer and fewer women in the upper echelons of business. That’s when she decided it wasn’t enough to just jump over hurdles. She also needed to bring other women along with her.

There was the time she told young women working as Capitol Hill interns to move from the back of the meeting room and join the discussion at the table because decision-making takes place at the table, not on the sidelines. She spent many hours of mentoring girls and women, not just in meeting their career aspirations, but also in finding fulfillment within their lives and families. By the time she was in her fifties, she was also struck by the realization that women could advance in business by taking an alternative path and creating their own job opportunities.

With that in mind, she launched Skylark Services, a consulting firm that provided economic analysis for companies involved with drones and uncrewed aircraft. Larsen’s firm was certified by the Small Business Administration as a Women Business Enterprise and a Woman-Owned Small Business.

Most recently, she was recruited to lead the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI), an economic development organization to elevate advanced manufacturing in Utah. With that position came a newfound commitment to seeing women rise into business leadership positions in manufacturing, where they are underrepresented. Larsen is also exploring ways to match other underrepresented populations, including neurodivergent people, to jobs in manufacturing.

“What I’ve really become, in the last nine years, is a proactive feminist elevating women in technical fields,” she said. Larsen is encouraged that women are getting degrees and increasingly pursuing satisfying professions. But there are still obstacles.

“We are losing women because of family issues related to raising children and finding child care,” she said. “The other aspect is that we’re getting women into the workforce but not seeing them get promoted. We need to focus on coaching them to better position themselves to be promoted. If women are not in middle management, women can’t get into upper management and women are not going to end up on corporate boards.”

Another important imperative, she pointed out, is the need for men to step forward to be allies both in the workplace and at home.

Larsen has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in economics from the George Washington University. She planned to continue straight into a PhD at the university and even started the program, “but life got in the way and I couldn’t finish,” she said. “I always wanted a terminal degree but I couldn’t do it all—work, go to school and have my children.”

Years later, she enrolled in a program at an online university that soon after went out of business. It was then that she unexpectedly found UMGC.

“A radio ad came on about what was then University of Maryland University College, and it caught my attention,” Larsen recalled. “I applied and was accepted into the doctoral program in management in January 2010. There were sixty students in that opening cohort.”

She described it as “a fabulous program” that included both in-person and online classes and provided for flexibility while working fulltime.

“I was determined to get my doctorate before I turned 60,” she said. “I graduated at 59 years old.”

In 2021, UMGC recognized Larsen’s achievements by awarding her the university’s Executive Business Leader Award., citing her for her advocacy of women. She currently sits on the UMGC Alumni Advisory Board. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts of Utah, among other boards.

There was a time when Larsen had aspired to be a member of the U.S. Congress. But in college she found herself enjoying her economics classes. Even more, her time with the U.S. Department of Transportation exposed her to the inner workings of Congress “and I realized that was not my path,” she said.

Larsen describes herself as a natural-born leader, and she acknowledges that she had an exemplary role model in her maternal grandmother. “She was a Rosie the Riveter,” she said, referring to the women who worked in shipyards and factories during World War II. “She took her earnings and bought land all over the area where we lived. Then she inherited a little gas station in the 1960s and ran it. She was the first woman in our area to get a driver’s license and to drive a car.

“She really was a visionary,” Larsen said, “I am proud to continue her legacy.”