Friday, October 19, 2012

Gender Matters

As a mother of three boys, I often simply smiled when my friends who had girl children would say, “gender matters”.  As far as I was concerned raising kids was pretty much gender neutral and I had my hands full!  But as I have risen to the leadership ranks at UnitedHealthcare, I realize that gender does in fact matter.  So much so that the focus of the Forum of Executive Women’s 2012 Leadership Breakfast, that I attended earlier this week,  was on the  need to intensify efforts to bring more gender diversity into boardrooms and executive suites. 

The issue of women and leadership always takes center stage at this annual event, during which the Forum releases its Women on Boards regional report. The 12th edition shows that while there has been some progress for women, a year-over-year look at the numbers continues to show the difficulty of bringing about change in the upper ranks. There are indications both regionally and nationally that efforts to increase the influence of women in corporate America are gaining traction, but it is a slow progression. Encouragingly, even as the number of board seats and executive positions decreased at area companies over the past six years, the proportion of board seats held by women increased by nine percent.  During that same period, the proportion of female top executives rose by 25 percent and female top earners by 53 percent. So, while things are happening for women in business, it’s clear that more work can be done to increase the number of women leaders across the Pennsylvaia region and the country.

Our special guest, Mayor Michael Nutter, agreed, saying that diversity is not about including women or minorities merely as a token, but realizing that it is what a company truly needs to be successful in this age of globalization.  And this year’s keynote speaker Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont – a company where a third of its directors are women -  made a point I hope becomes more common as we move forward. Ellen noted that she never felt like a “woman leader” until someone pointed it out. As far as she was concerned, she was just doing her job. 

I am proud to represent UnitedHealthcare as a member of the Forum of Executive Women. UnitedHealthcare is commited to advancing women in the workplace.  One of the most visible demonstrations of this can be found in the state of Pennsylvania where 72% of the 2,600 employees are female and women make up 52% of the leadership population.  In addition, the leader for each of our major business lines is a woman.  These women ascended to the top of the nation’s largest health insurance company, a company that provides a work environment that allows women the flexibility they may need to meet the demands at work and home.  And our commitment isn’t just to the women we hire, over 62% or our 2011 spending with diverse suppliers went to women owned businesses.

Organizations like UnitedHealthcare, the Forum for Executive Women and role models like Ellen Kullman, are essential to increasing the number of women in leadership positions for decades to come.  Gender does indeed matter.

Sue Schick and the next generation of leaders

No comments:

Post a Comment