Executive Women of New Jersey held its 16th biannual Salute to the Policy Makers awards gala to honor 38 executive women in New Jersey for their professional achievements.Executive Women of New Jersey held its 16th biannual Salute to the Policy Makers awards gala to honor 38 executive women in New Jersey for their professional achievements.
“EWNJ is a very active, working board and this event is literally that in which we pour ourselves into, ensuring that we utilize this evening to target a variety of issues,” said Michellene Davis, gala chair and executive vice president of EWNJ, and chief corporate affairs officer for RWJBarnabas Health. “We especially wish to highlight the fact that there is a wealth of women within the talent pool in the state.”
The event was held Thursday evening in East Brunswick.
“We have a distinguished group of women here representing some of the key companies in New Jersey, and it is wonderful to see them receive this honorary award for the work that they do,” said Maureen Schneider, president of EWNJ and chief nurse officer/operations for Chilton Medical Center-Atlantic Health System.
“I am overwhelmed by the number of people, both men and women, who are here to support our honorees tonight — not only does that represent the number of women who are deserving of leadership positions in their companies, but, also, viewing this event as an opportunity in which to advance women is simply fantastic,” said Barbara E. Kauffman, gala vice chair and chair of the Board Appointments Committee for EWNJ and executive vice president of Newark Regional Business Partnership. “Having men — who are still the majority of decision makers — like Barry Ostrowsky take a pledge and encourage their colleagues to commit to advancing women in leadership is highly significant.”
Ostrowsky, honorary chair for EWNJ and CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health, recently wrote an op-ed regarding the responsibility of male leaders to advance women’s leadership.
“Women have insights and, frankly, in many cases, intellectual prowess beyond men. To keep them out of the executive suite and off boards for nonsensical reasons effectively handicaps business organizations,” Ostrowsky said. “I would like to convince my business colleagues that it’s not about political correctness — it is about fiduciary responsibility to their company.”
RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest integrated health care delivery system and the state’s second-largest employer, was recognized on EWNJ’s Business Honor Roll on Thursday, along with two other businesses — New Jersey Resources, a Fortune 100 provider of energy and natural gas services, and Investors Bank, a full-service community bank operating over 140 branches across New Jersey and New York — that have intentionally created corporate cultures prioritizing the advancement of women to positions of leadership via sponsorship, mentoring, goal setting and hiring initiatives.
“In celebrating women leaders, we have also provided the opportunity to meet with other CEOs and senior leaders for more networking opportunities for women as well,” Schneider said.
“Tonight is a great opportunity to meet incredible women from across the state who are achieving great results,” said Lata Reddy, honoree and vice president of corporate social responsibility and president of The Prudential Foundation at Prudential Financial. “I’ve had some great mentors and supporters at The Prudential Foundation in the form of our chairman and CEO, John Strangfeld, who is here tonight, and our vice chairman, Mark Grier, and my immediate supervisor, (Senior Vice President, Corporate Human Resources) Sharon C. Taylor.”
Mayor of Camden Dana Redd also viewed Thursday not only as a celebratory and opportunistic event, but also as a sign of changing times.
“From a political standpoint, we want to see more women run for public office as well as position themselves for appointed office,” she said. “Women shouldn’t always wait to be asked. We should see ourselves in leadership roles as we network to achieve such benchmarks.”
Wise advice for this year’s 10 recipients of EWNJ’s Graduate Merit Award, including the president’s scholar and event speaker, Traci Ballou-Broadnax, a single mother, who not only graduated with honors from Princeton University but has continued on to earn her doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.
“This amazing award meant that I could fund my dissertation study, apply for my doctoral internship, spend three weeks traveling up and down the East Coast for over 15 interviews, and ultimately match at the site of my dreams, without the uncertainty of how I would afford such phenomenal expenses,” Ballou-Broadnax said. “Thank you to EWNJ and to you all, from myself, from my fellow recipients, and from women like us who will be uplifted and emboldened to continue to pursue their dreams as a result of this award in years to come.”
“We want to make sure that we are still continuing to advance the pipeline of women leadership, not only by having this great event tonight, but by ensuring that there is a fantastic group of women leaders for tomorrow,” Davis said.
The proceeds from Thursday’s gala benefit the largest provider of scholarships to non-traditional women graduate students in New Jersey. Over the last 36 years, EWNJ has awarded over $1.2 million and has assisted over 300 non-traditional women graduate students in earning advanced degrees.
This year, there will be two additional name scholarships awarded: the RWJBarnabas Health Women’s Leadership Alliance Scholarship and the Janssen Cardiovascular and Metabolism Award.
“We are just beginning the betting process for our 2016 scholarship recipients now,” said Mary Clare Garber, secretary and chair of the scholarship committee for EWNJ and vice president of Princeton Legal Search Group.
Garber believes that continued education — as early as possible — is key to closing the gender gap.
“My personal belief is that if we are going to succeed in bringing women to the next level of leadership, we need to do it with men. As the mother of two young men, 25 and 18, it is my responsibility to educate them on how to work with women, to accept mentoring from them as I provide guidance and direction in teaching them how to navigate their careers and life. I have a role in educating young men about their responsibility in the future, which includes working with women,” she said. “Yes, we need to create spaces for women’s own professional development, and we also really need to look at the issue as a professional and as parents — what can we do and what lessons can we teach to the next generation?”
Ostrowsky views the younger generation slightly differently.
“In order to take on some of these (professional leadership) roles, it is a lot of work beyond the 40-hour workweek,” he said. “If there is, in fact, a stronger commitment to lifestyle — which I don’t criticize — then you may find counterintuitively that the younger generations will not correct the gap.
“I meet with younger-generation women in my organization quite often and, for the most part, they are very anxious to put in whatever time and to pursue whatever intellectual curiosity they need in order to raise their level of importance within the organization. But some folks might say, ‘I love being here, but I also don’t want to miss out.’ That’s fine, too. It’s about what’s most important to you.”
Linda Willett, honoree and senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, agrees that leadership these days should be a personal decision.
“Having been in the workforce for four decades now, I always tell both men and women that the best thing to do for their career in their 20s is to sit at the table, listen, observe and look for role models with characteristics in which they can adopt for their own leadership style,” she said. “In your 30s, participate. Join a nonprofit board. Become a director. Sit on the other side of the table to see what it’s like to make decisions. You will then start to train yourself for bigger leadership roles.”
Davis believes that Thursday’s event not only serves to honor existing women leaders, but helps to create future ones.
“We utilize this event as a teaching moment throughout the evening and, quite frankly, throughout the tenure of this organization,” she said. “We want to make sure that we provide education both inside the classroom and out, making sure that young women are armed with the fact that there is in fact an issue with pay equity and with the numbers of women who occupy the C-suite and that they are the answers to these issues.
“There is a persistent misconception that the reason women are underrepresented in top corporate leadership is because there are not enough qualified women to assume these positions. This false perception creates a barrier to women’s advancement, which is why highlighting the multitude of well-qualified women is so essential.”
Christine LaSala, keynote speaker and chair of Willis Towers Watson North America, believes organizations such as EWNJ are also the answer to closing the gender gap.
“I am honored and flattered to be part of tonight’s celebration, with an organization so fiercely dedicated to the advancement of women in leadership roles,” she said.
Speaking on a career spanning five decades in male-dominated industries — including 10 years as CEO and president of the WTC Captive Insurance Company and the only woman partner of Johnson & Higgins in New York — LaSala remained realistic.
“We have a long way to go. The numbers remain daunting. If you look at something as stark as Fortune 500 companies, there are only 22 women leaders,” she said. “We’ve made significant progress in pay disparity and the number of women in mid-careers, but we have made much less progress at the senior levels of organizations.”
Ostrowsky remains undeterred.
“Every woman on tonight’s dais could be an effective board director. But, if in your credentials you are seeking women who have previously been on boards, we are never going to get anywhere,” he said. “I always tell colleagues, if you put a woman on your board who hasn’t been on a board before, they will be the hardest-working board member because they feel as though they have something to prove. I believe that some of my colleagues are worried about putting someone on their board that will be so into it, that will read all of the material, and will want to speak up — maybe that’s not someone CEOs or chairmen running boards want. That worries me.
“I hope that events like this, where we honor and acknowledge women leaders, start helping us think about this issue in a different way.”