At EWNJ event, Tammy Murphy and other women leaders talk about gains — and work still to do

By Meg Fry
Somerset | May 11, 2018 at 1:13 pm
On the Beat

Time’s Up. Equal pay. #MeToo.

Finally, it’s happening.

As a women-in-business reporter over the past five years, one of my biggest frustrations was that conversations surrounding women and minorities’ inequities and socially-enforced limitations in the workplace rarely seemed to evolve.

Or, more accurately, that those responsible were never truly taken to task.

Welcome to 2018, where, as a prior member of the film and television industry with my own #MeToo stories, I could not be prouder that the women (and yes, many men) of Hollywood are at the forefront of creating much needed and overdue change.

Say what you will about the media and celebrities and the publicity that they have received from championing such movements — I personally know, having worked in various roles from accounting clerk to personal assistant on television shows you currently watch, that these women and men are more than doing their jobs.

They are making more people aware. They are inspiring confidence in others. They are relentless in their pursuits of justice. And the leading ladies, especially, are inviting leading men into the conversation, and more importantly, the fight.

Hollywood has simply amplified the messages that women’s organizations everywhere have been shouting for decades — the only difference is that the collection of voices has now grown so loud and so widespread that we are being heard outside of our silos on one of the largest platforms available to us.

Tammy Snyder Murphy, first lady of New Jersey, said the fact that these conversations are now coming together on this sort of level is fantastic to gain the support needed to continue advancing women.

“New Jersey is in a better place than other states around the country, but, still, everyone must keep pushing and working together,” she said.

I spoke with Murphy and several other prominent women in New Jersey about the laser focus on women’s issues this past year at the Executive Women of New Jersey’s biennial “Salute to the Policy Makers” gala held Wednesday at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset, where 32 of New Jersey’s most influential women leaders in business, government and academia were honored.

EWNJ, a statewide senior-level executive women’s organization, is committed to increasing the presence of women on corporate boards and in the top leadership of New Jersey companies.

But Murphy said there is no legitimate reason why there should be any sort of inequity in the first place.

“When I began my career at Goldman Sachs, and then Smith Barney, and ultimately, Investcorp, women faced many of the same challenges in the workplace as they do today — lack of representation in leadership positions, equal pay for equal work, earned sick leave — and I started 30 years ago.

“Conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that, because women comprise a majority of the population in our country, our representation in leadership positions would follow this dynamic. Yet here we are. Just over 6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and on the (Standard & Poor’s) 500, barely over 5 percent.”

It was during last week’s United State of Women summit, Murphy said, that former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama made an impression upon her regarding this very subject.

“She said, ‘If we want our daughters to dream bigger than we did, we have more work to do — so many of us have gotten ourselves to the table, but we are still too grateful to be at the table to shake it up.’

“That is what we are doing here in New Jersey — we are shaking things up.”

Murphy pointed out the historical and cultural significance of the 11 women serving in Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet, as well as the legislative actions the administration recently took to ensure equal pay and earned sick leave in New Jersey.

“For the first time in New Jersey’s 242-year history, most of the governor’s cabinet appointments are women,” she said. “And these women are each CEOs who handle critical issues impacting our 9 million residents every single day.”

In her role as first lady, Murphy said she works to support the governor and lieutenant governor’s agenda and initiatives.

“This is especially true when it comes to women’s issues and rights, and I am incredibly proud of all that has been accomplished in our first 100 days,” she said.

Mary Clare Garber, an honoree and principal and vice president of Princeton Legal Search Group, said she, too, was happy to recognize her fellow honorees for their tenacity.

“It is an honor to be included with all these women who have hung in there, tried and true, in their professions, that even when they have faltered, waivered or questioned in times of darkness or when they may have been the only woman at the table, they persevered,” she said. “I also think it is wonderful to see men included here tonight, too, because while men and women may have their separate journeys, it’s important to come together to support and help one another advance our careers.

“Men have just as much responsibility as women in speaking out against or preventing these issues from happening and it is encouraging to see them here doing so tonight.”

Elizabeth Garner, an honoree and senior vice president of clinical development and chief medical officer at Agile Therapeutics, said that, as a women leader and a women’s health care provider, she also is extremely passionate about recognizing women in leadership roles.

“We certainly need more women in health policy, in government and at the top of companies in order to best advance the interests of women in this state,” she said.

Although Agile Therapeutics is a women-focused health care company, Garner said there are currently no women board members.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on the EWNJ gala.)

“Since I joined the company four years ago, our CEO, Alfred Altomari, has been reaching out to women who potentially would be interested, but, unfortunately, no one has yet said yes,” Garner said. “That is a leadership role we are currently missing and we both would love to see that change.”

EWNJ also named two companies, Prudential Financial, a financial services leader in Newark, and South Jersey Industries, an energy services company in Folsom, to its Business Honor Roll on Wednesday, in recognition of their commitment to hiring diverse teams and providing mentorship and advancement opportunities for women and minorities.

“We recognize that the only way for us to be as successful as we desire to be is by being completely inclusive, both in how we attract talent and also in how we interact with our customers, and the only way we can do that is by being a true reflection of the society in which we live and work,” John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, said. “If you create a working environment in which people realize you are also aware of their needs, it is amazing how dedicated they will be to the success of their company and in their individual roles.”

Not only is there a moral imperative behind this movement, but EWNJ has ensured that the bottom lines of New Jersey’s companies grow stronger, too, Laurence Downes, honorary chair of the event, chairman and CEO of New Jersey Resources, chair of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and board member of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, said.

“I’ve been a champion of diversity initiatives since the 1990s, and I can see the difference it has made in our company,” Downes said. “Nearly 40 percent of our leadership team and 35 percent of our board of directors are now women, so we, too, are making progress.”

Regarding the current tenor and tone surrounding women and minorities’ inequities nationwide, Downes said the increased awareness, especially in the media, has certainly changed New Jersey businesses for good.

“We see more and more people recognizing the real value in talking about this issue and actually taking the steps needed to diversify their organizations by, among other things, bringing women to the table,” he said.

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3