WBLF panel

NJBIA’s Women Business Leaders Forum: A Snapshot

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s Second Annual Women Business Leaders Forum, held today at the Hanover Marriott in Whippany, addressed many of the issues facing businesswomen both at the broader organizational – and more personal – levels.

Michele N. Siekerka, president and CEO at NJBIA, said, “Today, we have planned for you an outstanding program featuring key business leaders, that will stimulate and provoke discussion and conversations about the importance of diversity in the C-Suite, and the boardroom.  We are going to provide you with know-how, tips, tools, secrets and advice, to assist you, as you blaze your path forward.”

Ostrowsky: Why Men Must Advocate for Women Leaders in Business

Barry Ostrowsky, president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, was this morning’s keynote speaker.

He declared, “The truth of the matter is that the time for analysis is over; the facts speak for themselves, and this is not a sociological white paper, nor is it some anomaly of humanity.

“The fact that women are unrepresented in board rooms, and underrepresented in the C-Suite, is by design. We can – in fact – explain it away in many different ways, and we can make all the excuses we want, but the time for analysis has expired. It is now the time for action. And I think meetings like this – and others – will launch and propel the kind of action we need to undertake, to correct this weakness in our business community.”

He further described the problem, “If you want to sit down and put directors in your boardroom, the last thing [other men] need in [a] boardroom are women who are going to read the material, actually think about the topics, and – then, welcome you, when you are welcomed to the boardroom, with questions.  Why would any male, who is a CEO, invite that into the board room?

“The easy way around that [for them] is to say, ‘Well, none of them are directors, yet.  We are only going to find women directors.’

“They don’t exist, by design, because that recitation of attributes happens to be accurate.

“There is a comfort level in board rooms; there’s a comfort level in the C-Suite, that the momentum of the status quo won’t raise any issues, and everyone will go merrily along.”

Ostrowsky detailed that such attitudes in the broader workforce are harmful, since “business, our industries and economy all together suffer because the best and the brightest are not in charge. And that’s not to suggest every woman is the best and the brightest, because we certainly know every man is not the best and the brightest.  But, what we do know is that we exclude 50 percent of the population, and a greater and greater percent of those who have graduated from educational curricula, who could help business. By excluding those folks, we are putting a cap on success.”

Ostrowsky concluded, “Diversity and inclusion go way beyond gender issues.  And in our world, it is absolutely imperative that we are competent when it comes to every culture, and every ethnicity, if we are going to succeed in pursing our vision the way we hope to.   But, within that diversion and inclusion culture, we need to concentrate on this gender anomaly.  And, so, we have gone to the nominating committees of our boards, and we have put them on notice, that starting last year, every slate of prospective trustees must meet a standard for gender equality and diversity and inclusion. And if these trustees, who are incumbent trustees, do not, then management will, in fact, say to them, ‘We need to expand, we need to modify, we need to get back to include on your nominating slate, people who will help us reverse this problem for our organization.’”

Business Leaders Panel: The Career Path to the C-Suite

Famed journalist Mary Alice Williams moderated the business leaders panel, reciting numerous statistics, such as the World Economic Forum ranking the United States 65th of 142 countries for equal pay for women.  New Jersey’s gap is the widest in the nation, according to a report this past week, which revealed women earn 68.9 cents on the dollar, when compared to men.

While Williams noted that for the first time in American history there are more women in the workforce than men, and that 40 percent are a sole breadwinner for their family, just 5 percent of the S&P’s 500 CEOs are women, and 16.5 percent of these top executives – not including CEOs – are women.

Williams told the audience, “Putting women in the C-Suite isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the profitable thing to do. Gender diversity is good for business. …  What can the business world do to grow the number of business women in the C-Suite?  That’s what we are going to find out.”

Phillipa X. Girling, senior vice president and chief risk officer at Investors Bank, related the anecdote of her trip to Iceland.  She met a top executive there who had two young children, and was allowed to take a year off from work, for maternity leave.

Girling said, “I talked to her and said, ‘How is it that you are able to have this very high-pressure job?’  [The executive] said, ‘People understand that I need balance.”

Overall, Girling said, “Be more radical. Don’t be comfortable with small, incremental change. I think the firms that take the radical route, and decide to get women to the top, will be the ones who are successful, and have high profit margins. And they will survive crises.”

For her part, Elizabeth Forminard, worldwide vice president, corporate governance, Johnson & Johnson, said, “We are fortunate to be a company that is pretty far along on its journey; 46 percent of J&J’s 130,000 employees are women. How do you grow that, and build their careers, and develop them all the way through?  It comes down to saying that every opportunity that is given out … helps you to plant those seeds, so you have people who have had the experiences they need to have, by the time the big job comes.  And then you also, frankly, ask them what their aspirations are, all the way through their careers.”

Forminard said, “And you ask them, and then you say, ‘Oh, my God, I would have made an assumption about this person, based on the fact that she has five children. But, actually, I know that what she wants is a geographic move.’  And she’s up for that.  So, asking and planting those seeds all the way along, I think, is very important.”

Speaking more broadly about the value of diversity, Girling later added, “If you bring in diversity, and have people who are a little outside of their comfort zone, actually that team is going to be much better performing.  Study after study has shown that a diverse team outperforms a less diverse team, every single time. There is a creativity, problem-solving and conflict resolution, even if the IQ is moved lower.  So, we know that diversity works.”


Overall, the event featured speakers from more than 10 leading industries, including those mentioned above, in addition to: Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; NJ Manufacturers Insurance Company President & CEO Bernie Flynn; Deloitte Chairman of the Board Mike Fucci; and Wyndham Destination Network President & CEO Gail Mandel.

Topics covered in three breakout sessions at the forum included: “Leading in an Entrepreneurial Environment,” “Strategic Networking,” and “How to Brand Product You.”

Meanwhile, the NJ Inspiration Awards, recognizing women for their leadership, innovation, philanthropy and dedication to the advancement of others, were presented to Sally Glick, principal and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co., and Carol Stillwell, president & CEO of Stillwell-Hansen. Rider University student Rachael Caferra received a Rising Star Award.

Related Articles: