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Breaking Through Minnesota's Glass Ceiling

Women executives define what needs to change to achieve gender parity in the C-suite.

Breaking Through Minnesota's Glass Ceiling
Photography by Bill Bartlett

Is gender equality in corporate leadership a pipe dream?

If you look exclusively at national and Minnesota data, you might answer yes.

In 2017, women occupied 20.4 percent of the executive officer roles at 72 public companies in Minnesota, according to an annual St. Catherine University study.

McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org found that women held 20 percent of the C-suite jobs in their national study, Women in the Workplace 2017.

These aren’t the kind of numbers that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, was anticipating in 2013 when her landmark book Lean In was published. She became a national advocate for gender parity. But in an October commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Sandberg and Lean In president Rachel Thomas wrote, “Progress toward equality in the workplace continues to be slow—and may even be stalling.”

Nationally and in Minnesota, the portion of women holding key executive roles has been increasing at a rate of less than 1 percentage point a year. In 2012, the McKinsey study showed that women held 16 percent of C-suite positions, while the St. Catherine study indicated Minnesota women occupied 17.4 percent of executive officer roles in 100 public companies.

At S&P 500 companies, Catalyst Inc. reported that women held 5.2 percent of CEO positions in 2017.

Twin Cities Business, which has been closely examining gender parity issues since 2012, recently interviewed two Minnesota women who have broken through the glass ceiling. They shared how they succeeded and the actions needed to expand the ranks of women in C-suites.

Beth Wozniak is senior vice president and president of electrical at Pentair. In a few weeks, the electrical division will be spun off into a new public company called nVent. Wozniak will be CEO of nVent, which will be Minnesota-based and expected to generate more than $2 billion in annual revenue.

Vicki Holt has been president and CEO of Protolabs, also a public company, since early 2014.

Wozniak and Holt pursued academic paths that have served them well in their leadership roles. Before they each earned MBAs, they had STEM majors as undergraduates. Wozniak’s bachelor’s degree is in engineering physics, while Holt’s is in chemistry.

They also participated in the same activity as students, which helped build their confidence and discipline, and their competitive natures. Wozniak and Holt were both swimmers in high school, and Holt also was on the swim team at Duke University.

In a 2015 study, EY reported: “Athletes figure prominently among the women who have broken through the glass ceiling. Ninety-four percent of women in the C-suite played sports, 52 percent at a university level. Executive women are more likely to have played a sport and to hire other women who also played.”

While some women may view gender parity as a fairness issue, many men and women view it as a business imperative.

“Having diverse teams enables us to home in on high performance, and I think it enriches the workplaces,” Camille Chang Gilmore tells TCB. She is the global chief diversity officer for Boston Scientific. Chang Gilmore, primarily based in Maple Grove, also serves as vice president of human resources for the interventional cardiology business.

Women hold only one in five C-suite positions in U.S. corporations.

As a black woman, Chang Gilmore also is aware of the paucity of women of color in C-suites. The McKinsey study showed that women of color hold about 17 percent of entry-level jobs in U.S. corporations, but only 3 percent of C-suite jobs. Their male counterparts of color occupy about 12 percent of C-suite positions. At Boston Scientific, three of the 10 board members are women, including two black women.

Wozniak, Holt and Chang Gilmore told TCB that many strategies are needed to attract, retain and promote women to top executive jobs. The following are reports on the individual interviews conducted with the women leaders. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Beth Wozniak, Pentair

Senior vice president, president of electrical

On April 30, Wozniak will become CEO of nVent, a public company that is a spinoff from Pentair. Its projected revenue is more than $2 billion annually.

Q: Where were you raised, and what did you enjoy doing in high school?
A: I grew up in southern Ontario. My father was a banker. My mother did part-time jobs and was a bookkeeper. I loved math and science, which is what led me to go into an engineering discipline. I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I also had part-time jobs, working to save up money to go to college.

Q: How did earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics—a STEM field—put you in a strong position to succeed in business?
A: If you work hard and you have the aptitude for it, and you have the ability to work with different people, anyone can succeed after coming out with a STEM degree. As a professional, you need to ensure that you as an individual can adapt to whatever work environment there is. That’s true if you are a man or a woman.

Q: You were at Honeywell for about 25 years. Why was it a good place for a woman engineer?
A: I had the opportunity to work in three different countries. So I eventually left Canada and moved first to Phoenix. I also had the opportunity to live in London. What I liked about Honeywell is that it gave me the opportunity to work in different businesses, countries and functional assignments. As a leader, you grow when you put yourself into new experiences and you get new cycles of learning. I spent half of my career with Honeywell on the aerospace side and I spent half of my career in automation and control solutions. There was a great culture within Honeywell that had good values.

Q: Was there anything that was particularly helpful in advancing your career at Honeywell?
A: To get promoted in a company like Honeywell, you have to get results. I always tend to be a very goal-oriented person, and so delivering on the results—completing engineering tasks for customers or doing project management—puts you in a position to be looked at for new opportunities. I was asked if I would be interested in taking on a leadership role that was different from what I had pursued in very technical roles. The way I thought about it is that you always grew and developed the most when you took on new assignments outside of your comfort zone.

Q: You are about to become CEO of nVent, and your leadership team of nine executives includes three women. As one of the few women CEOs of public companies in the U.S., what will be important in the nVent culture to ensure that other talented women build careers at nVent?
A: We’ll build upon Pentair’s “Win Right” culture. We want to win, but we want to do it in the right way, with integrity, respect and teamwork. You can develop a more diverse organization when you have diverse leaders. People early in their career want to be able to look up and see people who look like them, to know that they can aspire to those positions. For me it means encouraging and having programs in place that ask the questions: Are we developing diverse talent? Do we have networking activities? It’s very powerful for women to get to know one another whom you might not know across the business, because those relationships can help you when you come across a problem or when you want to bounce an idea off a colleague.

Q: What do you think are the major barriers preventing more women from making it to the top of corporations?
A: Sometimes women and minorities lack confidence. When I interview candidates for roles, I’ll always ask them what their career ambition is. Typically, men will say, “Well, I want to be the CEO or president or chief financial officer.” I’ll find that women will think just about the current position that they are aspiring toward. They don’t often think bigger. Or even if that is what they want to do, they think they shouldn’t say it. We need to ensure that women feel they have the confidence and the ability to express what they want to do, their ambition, without feeling that that’s received negatively.

From a leadership standpoint, we need to continue to make diversity high on the talent agenda. It’s important that diversity and promotion of women isn’t seen as a women’s issue, but as a business issue—and that men also realize the role that they play in ensuring that they’ve got an environment or that they are networking or creating opportunities for all employees. We also need to have flexibility in our work environments.

Q: In recent months, several men in leadership roles have stepped down over sexual harassment allegations. How do you think sexual harassment has affected women’s ability to advance in their careers?
A: I have a couple of leadership philosophies. One of my sayings is “You get what you tolerate.” If a company tolerates bad behavior, they can quickly let these situations arise. If we are a company that has respect and teamwork, we need to ensure that everyone is living up to those values.

Camille Chang Gilmore, Boston Scientific

Vice president of human resources for interventional cardiology, Global chief diversity officer

In 2014, Chang Gilmore took on added responsibilities to lead the company’s global diversity strategy initiatives. She is Jamaican Chinese, was raised in New York, and spends much of her Boston Scientific time at the company’s Maple Grove offices.

Q: Studies show that women hold only one in five C-suite positions in U.S. corporations. What do you think is holding women back from securing the top jobs?
A: Having diverse teams enables us to home in on high performance and it enriches the workplace, it spurs innovation and it strengthens relationships with customers. One of the obstacles for women that I’ve seen is how they are showing up in the workforce, how they are taking their seat at the table and really even walking in their own value. It is really important that they recognize that they have influence, and their value shows up in a very different way than that of our male counterparts. It is understanding the value you bring to those meetings, to those conversations and demonstrating some courageous leadership to share your opinions and your thoughts so that you can be heard.

I’ve seen in some of the young women I’ve coached that they allow fear to be a mind killer. If you stay in your mind long enough, what happens? You say nothing and do nothing because you are contemplating all of the different scenarios. What if they react to this? What if they say this? What we have to recognize is when we are invited to a meeting, we have value, and people want to hear what we have to say.

Q: As the global chief diversity officer, what do you think are the most effective strategies for advancing women?
A: Within Boston Scientific, we make sure that we are having career conversations with the women in the organization, elevating the conversation beyond “What are you doing now?” but “What do you want to be doing in two to five years?” We have a very robust succession planning program. Our women’s network is a global employee resource group that has mentoring circles and provides support for our women around the world.

Boston Scientific was named one of Working Mother’s best 100 companies to work for. We not only increased our maternity and paternity benefits, but we also created a program for new mothers. When they are traveling, we pay for the shipment of their breast milk if they are breastfeeding. We had a number of women in science, technology, engineering and math who were recently acknowledged at the Women of Color Rising Stars 2017. When young women in the organization see others growing, on the podium and talking about their progression in the organization, it has a ripple effect.

Q: What actions are needed to increase the portion of women at the top of U.S. corporations?
A: It is educating the men in leadership on the value of having diverse and powerful teams. One of the things that Mike Mahoney, Boston Scientific’s CEO, has done so well is showing the importance of leading by example. He just hired his senior vice president, corporate counsel and corporate secretary Desiree Ralls-Morrison, who is a black female. He is saying the key for us is making sure women have mentors and resources available and feel support early on in their careers, so they can move into the pipeline and aspire to the levels we want them to achieve.

Q: Boston Scientific’s executive committee has 16 members, including two women. That is 12.5 percent. Please elaborate on the corporation’s goals for gender diversity.
A: Our CEO recognizes that it is going to be accomplished over time and not overnight. When we talk about the goals, it is about making sure that we make year-over-year progress. We’ve had a lot of great momentum and engagement around diversity and inclusion. But Mike recognizes progress is not as fast as he wants. It is best to move the needle with leaders if we set goals. That includes both strategies and metrics. How as a company are we going to do this? We are going to make sure that we prioritize these things. So your women directors and above, and your women managers and supervisors, and your women of color specifically, we want to know what progress you are making. Do you have a diverse slate for open jobs? If you don’t, why?

Q: How can women of color increase their leadership numbers in corporate America?
A: For the women of color, it really is important to understand and walk in your own value and figure out how to transfer your value into influence. Not just influence for your cause, but also to develop others and pull others up behind you. I think it is my responsibility to exude excellence, because I want to make sure that the footprint and impression that I leave results in another woman of color behind me being seen in that light. Leadership is really understanding that people are watching you. You have to be extraordinary. Look at women like Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, whom I idolized when I was growing up. They exuded excellence and extraordinary will, making sure they were a beacon for the next generation.

Vicki Holt, Protolabs

President and CEO

In 2014, Holt assumed the top job of the publicly traded Protolabs. She previously served as CEO of Spartech Corp.

Q: How did you develop a love of chemistry?
A: I went to junior high and high school in South Bend, Indiana. I always really liked math and science. And I had an awesome chemistry teacher when I was in high school. She made it real, she made it alive. My father was in business, in the bearing industry, and actually was an electrical engineer. He was in commercial roles, and so we moved around with the company that was later bought by Ingersoll Rand.

Q: What is behind the self-confidence and the drive that you developed that allowed you to become the CEO of two companies?
A: A lot of it does come from childhood and how you’ve been brought up. My parents always said you can do anything you put your mind to. And I always felt committed to another piece of advice: Do your best and take a risk. The combination of those things gave me confidence. I was an athlete. I was a nationally ranked competitive swimmer. I swam varsity at Duke. That also causes you to have quite a bit of discipline. I never really thought there was something that was out there that I would be blocked from doing. I never felt there was a ceiling for what I could do.

Q: Why did you start work on an MBA two years after completing a bachelor’s in chemistry?
A: I felt this would give me a broader perspective on business and would prepare me for other roles I’d like to have. But part of the issue was my husband was pursuing his Ph.D. at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, probably working 12 to 15 hours a day. We didn’t have kids yet. So I went back and got my MBA.

Q: What age were you when you had children?
A: I had my daughter when I was 30. We had been married eight years; my husband and I got married right out of college. We’ve been married for 39 years in August. I had my son two-and-a-half years later.

Q: What did you do for child care, and did you step out of your career path at any point to care for your children full time?
A: I never stepped out of my career path. And for both of them, my maternity leaves were six weeks, but I worked through them. It was wild. My child care, when the kids were younger until they went to full-time preschool, I had au pairs. It was fun. We had girls from Europe come live with us.

Q: How did you and your husband juggle two full-time careers?
A: After he finished his doctorate, I followed him to the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. I was able to stay with Monsanto. They found a great role for me out in California and we did that until I had an opportunity to work directly for the CEO of Monsanto. I tried to do that for a year, commuting from San Diego to St. Louis. It was brutal. And I remember one day coming home and my daughter was really sick. I got home on a Friday night at about midnight and my husband opens up the door, and said, “Vicki, this is not working.” I would leave Sunday on a red-eye and I’d be gone all week and I’d come back on Friday. And I had two little kids. And it just was not working. So he left a tenure-track position at Scripps and we went back to St. Louis and he went back to Washington University.

Q: What are some of the sacrifices you need to make to be a CEO?
A: When you talk about the challenges of women in career paths that take the kind of dedication that it takes to get to a CEO role, one of the keys is a very supportive family. You just can’t get there without it. My husband, Curt, has been incredibly supportive all the way through our whole life and our marriage. You can’t underestimate that because any of these careers, for men or women, take sacrifices. And if you are going to select a path to some of these roles, the sacrifice is that you are not there for the birthdays and every game, and you just have to make choices and it’s difficult. If you don’t have a supportive family, it’s hard to do.

Q: What qualities do women need to become CEOs?
A: It takes a degree of discipline and dedication and commitment, but you also have to love what you do. There is a passion that’s in it and it helps you work through the sacrifices you have to make. I love solving business problems and working with teams and taking a business from point A to point B. That passion for the roles that you play is a big, big part of it that allows you to put the kind of energy into making things happen in business. Women represent 50 percent of the intellect that’s out there. And I really want to see more women in leadership roles because I think they can bring a lot to the party. Not having women leaning in means we’re not getting the best of the best.

Liz Fedor is the Trending editor of Twin Cities Business.

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