Defining power

Virginia’s businesswomen gain more top slots and lead in diverse areas

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

What makes a businesswoman powerful? Rank, of course, is one measure. The brains and money to start a venture are held in high regard. Or perhaps power, as defined by Tami Kozikowski, chief development officer for Advance Auto Parts, is simply “the confidence to make a difference.”

News “I think it is confidence that lends the power,” she says. “It causes people to listen and ultimately to react. If I could give my three daughters anything, I would want them to have the gift of confidence.” 

The past year has been one of confidence building for women.  A third woman and the first of Hispanic origin, Sonia Sotomayor, just began her first term on the U.S. Supreme Court. Women now head two of America’s most powerful financial regulatory agencies: Sheila Bair serves as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Mary Schapiro holds that same post at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Barriers also continue to fall in the C-suite of some of the country’s largest publicly traded companies. Today, women run 15 Fortune 500s — up from 12 in 2008, or about 3 percent of the total companies.

In Virginia, the closest a woman has come to this rarified air is Gracia Martore.  Martore, CFO at Gannett, served as the media company’s principal executive officer from June through mid-October of this year while CEO Craig Dubow was out on temporary medical leave following back surgery. An examination of the proxies of 32 of the state’s largest public companies — with annual revenue of more than $1 billion — shows that 14, or 44 percent, have a woman in a top position, although no one is a CEO. These numbers have increased since Virginia Business checked the public records several years ago.

For some women, the ultimate power is to turn a passion into a private business. That’s what Sandy Lerner did after successful stints as a co-founder of Cisco Systems Inc., one of the world’s largest makers of computer network equipment, and as founder and chairman of Urban Decay, a cosmetics company. Lerner’s love of farming and support for the humane treatment of animals led to a new business venture in Virginia’s hunt country.  Click here to read Sandy Lerner’s story

Then there’s Bonnie Shelor. The longtime human resources executive has helped shape a workplace that’s nationally recognized as family-friendly.  Click here to read Bonnie Shelor’s story

While pay parity for women remains a challenge — in 2008 women earned 77.1 cents for every dollar earned by a man — some of Virginia’s top women execs earn hefty six-figure salaries. As this report shows, their sphere of influence is wide with women heading up everything from a billion-dollar health-care system to an alternative energy unit at a major power company. It’s hard not to feel inspired by that. 

Click here to view a chart of the most powerful businesswomen by rank at Virginia’s largest public companies

Click here to view A power walk with four top executives: Four executive women weigh in on what power means to them.

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