BRAC speaker: Women accomplishing more than ever, but hurdles persist

Business Report

While women are accomplishing more than ever in today’s business world, there still seems to be limits on their success, says U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Women in Business Executive Director Roberta Zenn Phillips, who was the keynote speaker at a BRAC Signature Speaker event today.

To better inform the business community on how to reflect gender balance among executive officer positions and boards, the CWB has created a “practical guide” identifying the best practices of 12Fortune 1,000 companies that have a history of promoting women at the executive and board levels. Phillips shared the findings from the report, titled “Advancing Women to the Top,” at today’s lunch event and highlighted common themes among the 12 companies studied.

She noted that gender diversity is often personal for the CEO, and so companies with leaders who are passionate about advancing women are more effective at doing so. Phillips also emphasized the importance of a diverse, inclusive and family-friendly company culture, but added that it may be more productive to focus on only a few initiatives at first, such as allowing employees to take sick leave when their children are sick. Such cultural changes take time, however.

“We found out that the best-performing companies had one thing in common: They’d maintained their women at the top for a longer amount of time,” Phillips says.

Following Phillips’ presentation, a panel of regional female business leaders answered audience questions and gave advice about how women can succeed in business. Here are some of the pointers provided by the panelists:

Del Dugas, project development manager and business planner at ExxonMobil: “Reach out to mentors, find one, but also be willing to take the benefit of what you’re learning and share that with others.”
Teri Fontenot, CEO of Woman’s Hospital: “Don’t be victimized by being female … Just be gender neutral in your thoughts and actions and try not to think about it as being victimized.”

Kimberly Robinson, partner at Jones Walker: “One boundary I’ve set is that family always comes first. That’s not always easy, but family always has to come first.”

Terrie Sterling, COO of Our Lady of the Lake: “Put your own oxygen mask on first. We sometimes feel guilty about taking care of ourselves … but it’s your health, exercise, things you need to do in your personal time .”

Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, CEO of Center for Planning Excellence: “The most supportive people of me and my career have been men, and I’ve noticed that women are the ones that undercut their peers and even those that are above them. So I’d like to challenge all of you to not be one of them but to be the support to lift up other women, because that’s where I’m finding the problems are.”

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