The future needs to be female: Why aren’t there more women on ROI Influencers Power List 2019?

By Tom Bergeron
New Jersey | Mar 1, 2019 at 9:09 am
Editor’s Desk

Business is about numbers. The bottom line.

And the simple fact of the matter is, no matter how many studies show that having women in power positions (board seats, C-suite roles) will make companies more profitable, the state is still slow to react to putting them there.

This year’s ROI-NJ Influencers list — what we like to call the ultimate power list in the state — shows the disparity.

We talked with more than two dozen influencers in the state, many of whom were women, and found few women came up in the discussions.

In fact, women make up just 20 percent of the total members of the list. And it doesn’t really matter which category, that percentage stays consistent.

The highest percentage can be found in the Associations category, where women grabbed five of the 17 spots (a whopping 29 percent). The lowest came in real estate, where only one female was among the 19 listed.

Our Top 30 list, the most powerful of the powerful? It has only five women.

These numbers are not surprising to anyone who is reading this. The state always has had a lack of female leaders.

The challenge is figuring out how to change this.

Michele Siekerka, the CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, offered her solution.

“This needs to be done with intention,” she said. “You need to always ensure that you have a pool of candidates that represents a diverse pool that you can choose from at the ready.

“You don’t wait until there’s a moment in time that there’s an opportunity and then you say, ‘Oh, where do I go? What do I do?’ That’s not the time to set up your network.

“Your network needs to be set up well in advance, and you need to be networked with people who know where these smart, talented women are. Because, trust me, there’s many of them across the state of New Jersey. We just need to continue to create the visibility to it.”

The Executive Women of New Jersey is one of the leaders in doing that.

Its biennial report, “A Seat at the Table,” charts the number of women on boards in the state.

The last report, released in 2017, showed that only 22 of the state’s 95 companies on the Russell 3000 index had three or more women on their boards. And women hold only 17 percent of the board seats among those companies. Amazingly, another 22 of the 95 did not have a single woman on their board.

EWNJ President Barbara E. Kauffman said the report, which will come out for the fourth time this fall, is making a difference.

“We feel we’ve established a track record with documentation,” she said. “Everyone knows there will be additive recommendations, but that doesn’t mean we are forgetting what we’ve said in the past.

“Companies need to look beyond the usual places to find talent, because it is out there.”

Consider:

Susan Story, the CEO of American Water, is one of the top executives in her sector nationwide.

Kim Ann Mink, the CEO of Innophos, is using her STEM background to create a billion-dollar company while bringing up the next generation of female scientists and leaders in the process.

Judith Spires is the well-respected head of Kings, a position she was recruited away from another grocery chain to take.

The list goes on and on: Susan Cole has built Montclair State into the powerhouse college it has become … Suuchi Ramesh is head of the fastest-growing technology/manufacturing company in the state … Aisha Glover ran Newark’s bid for Amazon … Maria Rollins heads one of the most respected accounting firms in the state (and one of the best to work for) … Mikie Sherrill was elected to the House, just the seventh women in history from New Jersey.

And then there’s United Airlines, which hired Jill Kaplan — a former publisher — to run its New York/New Jersey operations. The company just wanted a strong leader and a strong businessperson. Industry experience was not required.

That’s the out-of-the-box thinking the state needs more of.

Have there been failures? Absolutely. And that’s OK.

And it doesn’t mean women are not qualified.

Siekerka pointed to Denise Morrison, who could not get Campbell’s turned around as CEO.

“She was just named to two boards,” she said. “So, clearly, people recognize her leadership and her ability to lead and be part of a critical team.”

Women, Kauffman said, are longing for the chance to have a chance. And for the highest positions, too.

“When women are elevated, they often are elevated to non-P&L positions,” she said. “So, when it comes to being promoted again, they are not in consideration for the highest rungs in the company.”

Kauffman recognizes men play a role in the issue, too — and points to New Jersey Resources CEO Larry Downes and RWJBarnabas Health head Barry Ostrowsky as two who have championed the cause.

And then there’s Gov. Phil Murphy, who made it a point to have the first administration with more female commissioners than males.

“We are making history,” Murphy said at the time. “For the first time in New Jersey in 242 years, the majority of the governor’s cabinet appointees will be female. It has taken us a short 56 governors to get to this point.”

Let’s hope a year from now our list will be at a different point, too.

Then we will be able to shed light on another issue: The low number of minority power players and executives.

With that, click below to see who landed in the Top 30 spots on the ROI Influencers: Power List 2019:

Here are the most powerful people in 15 industries: