For women, top spots still elusive

Teresa Bryce Bazemore, president of Radian Guaranty Inc., has benefited from the kind of networking that advocates urge women in business to undertake.
Teresa Bryce Bazemore, president of Radian Guaranty Inc., has benefited from the kind of networking that advocates urge women in business to undertake. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2011

When Teresa Bryce Bazemore, now president of Radian Guaranty Inc., started her first job as a lawyer, she noticed something disturbing.

She was working hard, but others, specifically men, were doing less and getting more recognition, more advancement, more opportunities.

Something, she told herself, had to change.

And that's the point of the latest "Women on Boards" report from the Forum of Executive Women, this year presented at a breakfast meeting attended by 600 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel on Friday.

Something should change, but very little is.

For 11 years, this organization of local female leaders has issued its report - and each year the findings are virtually the same.

Since 2005, women's level of participation in the executive suites and boards of directors of the region's top 100 companies has barely budged.

At that, it has been more a matter of diversity by attrition, as women have managed to hang on to their board seats and executive positions even as the number of directorships and top jobs has shrunk with the economy.

What does 11 years of stagnation say about sexism in corporate Philadelphia? Bazemore points to one issue: It's just human nature for mentors to give high-profile assignments "to people who remind them of themselves."

It can, then, become a self-perpetuating trend - if there are fewer women and minorities in power, then there are likely to be fewer people of the same type moving along the pipeline.

To overcome that, she said, women need to deliberately cultivate male mentors, executive women must to try harder to mentor their younger peers, and companies should institute practices that can upend typical patterns.

Nationally, the Philadelphia region ranks in the middle regarding the profile of women in the community of executives and board members.

Minnesota has the highest percentage of female executives; Texas has the lowest, with three out of four Lone Star companies having no female executive officers, according to research by ION, the InterOrganization Network, an affiliation of organizations.

Fortune 500 companies tend to have more female board members, but Philadelphia has only about a dozen Fortune 500 companies, the ION report said. Women hold 16.5 percent of the region's Fortune 500 company board seats - again, in the middle, with Minnesota at the top with 20.1 percent and Florida, at 12.6 percent, at the bottom, the ION report, released in March, said.

Over the years, the Forum of Executive Women, founded in 1977, has tried all sorts of initiatives to move the needle.

It joined forces with similar networks around the country so results could be tracked nationally and so the message would be broader.

The forum set up an informal search committee designed to recommend women for board slots and executive positions in case any companies came looking. It held training sessions for potential board members. It did exhaustive research to make the business case for diversity.

Nothing moved, at least not much.

That is why this year's approach by the organization turns the question back to the women themselves: Does leadership happen "by chance or by choice?"

"Women who aspire to leadership roles cannot leave their careers to chance," the report said.

"They must choose to build the specific skills and experiences needed and they must choose to invest time and energy in establishing professional networks."

Bazemore talked about how she made that choice. At first, she said in the report, "I believed that if I kept my head down and worked hard, I would be recognized."

But in time, she realized the importance of putting herself in a position to get the more challenging assignments - not just ones that were difficult and time-consuming, but ones that led to recognition and reward.

But don't stop there, she advised in a later interview.

"Often the conversation for women is about how to cultivate mentors and sponsors within an organization, but it is just as important to cultivate relationships outside the organization," she said.

Early on, Bazemore decided to join the Mortgage Bankers Association, a major trade group. She felt awkward at her first meeting, but stuck with it. She soon found herself on several committees, and then heading those same committees.

Back at the office, she could contribute fresh perspectives about the mortgage business. And she could impress by dropping the names of hotshots from other companies who worked on committees with her. The payoff?

When her last company was sold and she lost her job, she soon was fielding offers from her fellow committee members. One of them, Sanford A. Ibrahim, chief executive officer of the financial company Radian Group Inc., of Philadelphia, wound up hiring her in 2006.

"It's easy to say, 'I don't have time for this,' " she said, "but you may not realize what the benefits can be."

Thinking strategically is a matter of choice, according to leadership consultant Monica McGrath, a Wharton School adjunct faculty member.

The same bright women who readily analyze business issues and devise strategies for their companies often do not use those analytic skills to move themselves around the corporate chessboard, McGrath said.

Women need to look at the people who are doing what they want to do in an organization and then study their characteristics, she said.

What skills do they have? What attributes are necessary? Who can help? What is the next step? What subtle corporate nuances matter?

Young women start out with plenty of ambition, smarts, and willingness to work, McGrath said, "but I don't think they are as diligent in looking at an organization as a system they can navigate."


An Absence of Women

More than half of the top 25 Philadelphia companies by revenue have no women in the ranks of their most highly paid executives:

AmerisourceBergen Corp.

Comcast Corp.

Lincoln Financial Group

Crown Holdings Inc.

UGI Corp.

Airgas Inc.

FMC Corp.

Amerigas Partners L.P.

Ametek Inc.

Vishay Intertechnology Inc.

Pep Boys - Manny, Moe & Jack

Teleflex Inc.

Toll Bros. Inc.

Central European Distribution Corp.

SOURCE: Women on Boards Report, Forum of Executive Women, based on top 25 2010 companies (by revenue) as listed in the Philadelphia Business Journal.


Go to www.philly.com/executive to read this year's report on female executives, and find information on the local organization as well as the national view.


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvbergen@phillynews.com, or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter.

 

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