‘It is better to fail unconventionally than to succeed conventionally’


Grand Rapids Business Journal this week provides a focus on women who lead businesses, corporations, governments and nonprofits in West Michigan, and while 50 are profiled, there are dozens more who choose not to be a part of the nomination and selection process.

Their talents and those of the female gender, in general, are underutilized. The proof is in the numbers.

A study conducted last year by the Inforum Center for Leadership and Wayne State University’s School of Business Administration showed women hold just 11.5 percent of the 850 board seats in Michigan’s 100 top public companies — an increase from 2011 when they held 10.4 percent of board seats. Just 12.6 of all executive officers of those companies are women — down from 13.3 percent in 2011. In Michigan, Mary Barra became a heroine across the country after breaking through the steel ceiling of the automotive industry as General Motors announced her as its new CEO. She is one of just 23 women chief executives of Fortune 500 companies.

International Women’s Day, March 8, this year is known as a unified effort among women — and especially the GRBJ 50 Most Influential — to reach out to other women and girls and intentionally bring them into leadership circles and C-suites.

Event keynote speakerReshma Saujanitold the Business Journal last week: “Basically, my argument is that we are in a different place in terms of feminist leadership, where it’s not about sexism, it’s not about men; it’s really about what we as women can do to elevate one another’s leadership.” Saujani noted that while women make up the majority in college, in the work force and at the ballot box, they have yet to learn how to harness that power.

“We need to start acting like the majority,” she said. Two of the key themes she will talk about are why women haven’t been able to harness that power and the fear of risk and failure.

Interestingly, Saujani learned something unstated during a bid for election to the U.S. Congress: “I really saw, from a policy perspective, that these are what the jobs are going to be — period,” she said. She is the creator of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, which works to close the gender gap in the fields of technology and engineering.

“If we are really going to elevate female leadership, we need to get prepared. We need to see what is coming on the horizon and the types of jobs that are coming on the horizon, and prepare women to fill them.”

About a half-dozen of the women represented on the list of influential women are in technology fields; another 15 represent STEM careers.

The Business journal in just the last two weeks reported a rise in those ranks: Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber recently elevated Kerri Miller to the position of principal; Meredith Bronk, who’s been with Open Systems Technologies since 1998, will step up to fill the position of president; Susan Cotts, a client account manager at technology consulting firm C/D/H, was named the first female partner. They are among 11 percent of the women holding executive technical roles at privately held companies in the U.S.

Saujani wants women and girls to know: “It’s better to fail unconventionally than to succeed conventionally.” Perhaps that is a good corporate model for all.

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