Betsy Duke – Chair of Wells Fargo Bank

As a struggling actress in a dinner theatre, Betsy Duke needed a second job. She got a part-time waitressing job but the dry cleaner where she applied didn’t hire her, so she settled for a part-time job as a teller at a local bank. And the rest of her life began. She became so enamored with banking that she supplemented her bachelor’s degree in drama with an MBA at Old Dominion University and kept moving up the ladder.

I believe the work women learn in their homes makes them good candidates for management positions. They learn to multi-task to the max and are able to handle the complexity and pressure of managing others. Likewise, they learn to clean up messes and Betsy Duke has helped clean up plenty of them.

When Betsy Duke’s business partner died suddenly, she took over management of the Bank of Tidewater. It was 1991 and almost a third of the savings and loans in the United States failed. Duke acquired failing branches and grew her bank’s position.

In 2008 Duke joined the Federal Reserve board. She warned that lenders didn’t have enough capital on hand, but Lehmann Brothers fell before adequate action had been taken. She was left to assist the Federal Reserve in righting the financial ship.

Now she has taken the helm of Wells Fargo Bank, the world’s second-largest bank in market capitalization and the third-largest in assets in the U.S. The problem is that Wells Fargo was caught in a public scandal several years ago, opening accounts for “customers” who had not requested them–another mess Duke must attempt to clean up.

Being a woman at the top is never a cakewalk but Duke has additional burdens. First of all, she does not automatically have the support of some other powerful women. Both Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Representative Maxine Waters of California have criticized the choice of Duke to run Wells Fargo. They argue that Duke had been on the Board of Wells Fargo and that leadership should have come from outside the institution.

Since Duke was only on the board a short time, and came on the board after the scandal, this argument does seem to be a bit overblown. If the past is an example, Duke will not let this criticism deter her. She will do the job she was hired to do and she will do another job as well.

Duke has not always embraced an obligation to be a role model for other women. When she became president of the American Bankers Association in 2004, the First Woman heading the organization in its then 129-year history, she downplayed her gender. She did not want others to think being a woman had any part in her obtaining the position. Now she regrets that choice and is committed to seeing herself as an example for other women. “It’s really important,” she says, “to embrace being a role model of high-visibility positions for women.”


Women in Business: Good News and Bad

Within the last week, the Seattle Times included two articles about First Women in business. They highlight for me the importance of celebrating women’s achievements while placing their accomplishments in perspective.

Laurie Stewart was the First Woman to lead a local financial institution here in the Seattle area. She is currently President of Sound Financial Bancorp, and has been for 28 years. She was actually the second choice of the bank’s board, but the man who was first choice turned down the offer.

Stewart believes moving up the ladder should be a “simple progression,” with women rising naturally to the upper levels. But it is not. “It’s still a tough, tough glass ceiling,” she said.

Irene Rosenfeld is another First Woman who garnered attention in the newspaper last week. She is CEO of Mondelez International, a multinational company with an annual revenue of around $30 billion. With sites in 165 countries, Rosenfeld is responsible for 107,000 employees.

Mondelez’ products include chocolate, biscuits, gum, confections, and powdered beverages. Although the company name is not a household word, many of its products are. Some of the most popular are: Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Triscuit, Toblerone, Sour Patch Kids, Cadbury, Chiclets, Halls, and Tang. I wonder if Rosenfeld gives out free samples.

So, I celebrate these women, and other CEOs, but am sobered by the realization that only 6% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies last year were women. There are probably many reasons. One is the lack of diversity on public company boards. Of the people who hire CEOs, only one in five is a woman. Also, women tend to be hired in human resources and marketing in public companies and most CEOs often have financial and operating officer positions.

There is still much work to be accomplished in the business arena, but there has been progress. In 1995, just 22 years ago, there was not a single female CEO among the Fortune 500 companies. Unfortunately, progress for women in business still moves at a sluggish pace.

Salaries for Women CEO’s

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

THE GOOD NEWS: Women CEO’s appear to earn similar salaries to their male counterparts, although it might be noted that the top earner started out life as a man

THE BAD NEWS: The number of women CEO’s has stalled. They hold only 14.6% of executive posts overall and 4.9% of CEO positions in the 1,000 largest companies. Consequently, they are only 5.5% of the top 200 earners.

Want to read more? Check out the New York Times article.

Mary Barra – CEO of General Motors

          “I guess you could say she broke through the steel ceiling, not the glass ceiling.” [Hillary Clinton]

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 1.59.19 PMMary Barra is the daughter of an autoworker. She is also the CEO of General Motors, the first woman to head a global automaker. In 2013, Fortune magazine named her one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” and Forbes magazine listed her in the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”

Her career began as a co-op student when she was 18, with General Motors, the same company that employed her father for 39 years as a die maker. Given the chance to attend the General Motors Institute (now re-named Kettering University), Mary Barra pursued and earned a degree in electrical engineering. General Motors later assisted her when she earned an MBA from Stanford University.

She moved up through the ranks of General Motors and, when the federal government bailed out General Motors, they approved her to run the company’s human resource division. After that position, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, second in the hierarchy at GM. Her duties included engineering, design and quality control. Much has been made of her gender, but she assures others that “my gender doesn’t really factor into my thinking when I come into the room.”

As head of the world’s second-largest automaker (after Toyota), Mary Barra brings a different style of leadership to the company. She relies on team-building and consensus, but can also make the tough decisions. One colleague said, “She’s an outstanding listener. . but when it’s not coming together, she gets concise and she’s pretty decisive.” Although one of her goals is to have 500,000 General Motors vehicles with at least some electrification by 2017, her favorite cars are the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird.

Mary Barra was invited to join Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address this past week. After the speech, in which the President mentioned her (although not by name), the die maker’s daughter  said “. . .it was touching for me because it referenced my father who I’m so proud of.”


Read her biography on the General Motors website:

Read comments about Barra’s inclusion in State of the Union address in the Detriot Free Press:


          Which other women do you know who achieved something through perseverance and loyalty?

Pat Mitchell –CEO of PBS

          Pat Mitchell has worked in front of the camera and behind it to improve the lives of women, both in the media industry and outside it. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 4.53.08 PM         The first woman hired as President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, Pat Mitchell was also the first producer and journalist to hold that position. Never afraid to wander into new territory she had previously been the first woman to syndicate her own show.

Pat Mitchell received her Bachelor’s (magna cum laude) and her Master’s degrees from the University of Georgia, in the state where she was born. She initially pursued an academic career but, as the women’s movement began, she moved away from academe, heading to Look magazine. Her excitement at being hired by the magazine was short-lived as the magazine soon closed its doors. She moved to Boston to work at WBZ-TV and from there to Washington, D.C. In 1977 she won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk Show Host. She worked for three broadcast networks and for cable channels, as a reporter, talk show host, White house and special correspondent, and producer.

In the early 1980’s Pat Mitchell created, hosted and produced a radio show, the first to be syndicated by a woman. The program, “Woman to Woman” treated issues that are still relevant today but, at the time, had received less attention in the media. She considered menopause (before and after), surrogate motherhood, parenting gays, contraception, infertility, marital rape, and more. The program was awarded an Emmy for Best Daytime Talk Show in 1983-84.

In the 1992 she was hired as Senior Vice President, in charge of original productions, for Ted Turner’s cable channels. As executive producer, she created documentaries and specials that garnered thirty-seven Emmys, five Peabody Awards and two Academy Award nominations.

She was hired as the first woman President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System at the turn of the century and is currently CEO of the Paley Center for Media. At the Paley Center she has created special events and programs to honor women who “made it,” and used the media in influential ways.

Her awards are numerous. Newsweek included her in its the list of 150 Women Who Shake the World in 2011. The Huffington Post named her one of the Most Powerful Women over 50 and Fast Company included her in The League of Extraordinary Women.  The Women’s Media Center honored her in 2012 with its first Lifetime Achievement Award. In the future the award will carry her name.

After a career filled with a focus on women’s issues, such as infant mortality, child-labor abuses, inequality in the workplace and women in war, Pat Mitchell continues to work for issues pertinent to women. “What ignites me,” she says, “is the word No.”


For more about her work at the Paley Center for Media:

To hear her passion for ending violence against women:

To hear her views on women’s roles:

List of “Woman to Woman” shows preserved in the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University:


          Pat Mitchell’s grandmother told her “Falling on your face is a forward movement.” This led her to be willing to take risks. Did anyone ever support your risk-taking?