Ignoring women leaders fouls the region’s economy


Grand Rapids Business Journal adds its salute this week to new General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Theresa Barra, from the land of automotive suppliers. 

Almost 100 percent of the national business publications have focused on the dearth of women in C-suite positions at Fortune 500 companies. They number 23, including Barra. In terms of percentages, the Michigan corporate record is among the worst in the country.

In September, the Business Journal reported on Inforum Center for Leadership’s bi-annual research, provided by Wayne State University School of Business Administration. The 2013 Michigan Women’s Leadership Index showed women hold 11.5 percent of the board seats of the state’s 850 public companies; just 12.6 percent of executive officers of those companies are women.

Of the 16 Fortune 500 companies in Michigan, just 10.6 percent of executive officers are women, and just 17.4 percent have female board members. The results of the 2013 survey show declines over previous years. Women represent three of the 87 most highly compensated officers at those firms, down from 4 in 2011.

Mary Barra’s promotion is not only significant in changing those numbers but especially for her accomplishments in the field of engineering and corporate leadership in a decidedly man’s world headquartered in Michigan.

The Business Journal not only lauds GM’s decision and offers congratulations to Barra but also points out — especially to those in the industry here — that such examples must become the “norm.” 

To that end, the Business Journal continues to spotlight women in the West Michigan region who are more than qualified for corporate boards and C-suite positions. To ignore the most striking leaders is the folly that fouls the region’s economic growth.

Cascade Engineering is among the few area companies breaking through the box of tradition: A few months ago, Cascade named Judy Bland vice president of manufacturing, responsible for providing strategic leadership and direction for all aspects of manufacturing for Cascade Engineering companies.

The Business Journal lens focuses on the Top Women Owned Businesses and the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Amy Proos, owner of the 94-year-old engineering and manufacturing solutions company Proos Manufacturing, was named 2011 Top Women Owned Business in the $7 million and up category. Linda Vos-Graham, owner of Vos Glass, won that berth in 2013. 

This year, Proos was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Michigan and Northwest Ohio Region. The award recognizes outstanding high-growth entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. Proos purchased the company in the depth of the Great Recession in 2010.

Judy Brown, Perrigo’s chief financial officer, was among the Business Journal’s 2012 most Influential Women in West Michigan. She, along with Stephanie Leonardos, Amerikam Inc. president and CEO, and Nancy Ayres, general manager of Flexco, are among the dozens of women leading businesses from the executive suites in West Michigan.

Grand Rapids Business Journal is committed to reporting on all the talent apparent — and not so apparent — in the West Michigan region, and exhorts business owners to tap into the fuel of this economy.

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