Three female CEOs leading diverse companies in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region talked with The Daily Record to discuss their paths to success, share their business wisdom and look ahead to the direction of women in the workplace.
The CEOs: Murthy Law Firm President and CEO Sheela Murthy’s first steps were taken in north India where boys were viewed as gifts, and girls as liabilities, she said. From there, she immigrated to the United States, graduated from Harvard Law School, founded a top-ranked immigration law firm based in Owings Mills and worked with husband, Vasant Nayak, to establish MurthyNAYAK Foundation, a nonprofit that supports projects that empower children, women and immigrants in India and in the United States.
Design to Delivery CEO Molly Gimmel and Diana Dibble left jobs at Deloitte Consultancy to start their own business in a matter of weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the course of the world around them. Now, the firm that helps the federal government manage acquisitions, contracts and projects, has been named to the Women Presidents Organization’s 50 fastest growing woman-owned businesses list. Gimmel is the 2016-17 board director for The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
It was a series of challenging lateral moves and an eye for maximizing opportunity that drove Laura Gamble to gain the experience needed to take the helm as regional president of PNC Bank, Greater Maryland. Gamble worked for 23 years at Bank of America—seven of which as president—was founding partner of Skipjack Partners, LLC, a woman-owned business consultancy and is trustee of several area organizations, including the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Sheppard-Pratt Health System and Mercy Health Systems.
Here’s what these three executives had to say. Gimmel and Gamble spoke with us on the phone. Murthy responded over email while traveling abroad. Some responses were edited for length.
Q: What challenges do you think women still face in the marketplace (or in your field) and in what ways are you working to help overcome those challenges?
Gimmel: “A lot of challenges. The same challenges we’ve always faced: Not taken seriously, not being paid as much as men, having to prove yourself above and beyond what a man has. They’ve not gone away. What are we trying to do? Something like 75 percent of our employees are women. A lot of my team leads are women. We’re acknowledging (women’s) accomplishments and the things they do well.”
Murthy: “Luckily, women have been successful in the U.S. in most fields, including in U.S. immigration law. There is always room for greater advancement and opportunity for women to lead in more ways, but so many women have done well and continue to lead in the field across the U.S. I feel like we have all, by working together, helped create the perception (and hence the reality) that women can lead and do it differently, maybe better, in many ways, as we bring along others along the path to leadership.”
Gamble: “I think women still have challenges in the marketplace, because as long as they continue to do the majority of the childcare and work at home, it’s an uneven playing field—until as a society, we become as accepting of men taking time off to be with their families. Frankly, we’re not there where it’s equally acceptable.”
Q: What personality trait do you possess that has helped propel you most in your career, and how has that benefitted you in your present role?
Murthy: “The common personality traits of most successful leaders is the ability to work hard, work with great focus and look at roadblocks as opportunities, rather than as challenges/difficulties. Having found in my work a purpose bigger than myself that motivates and inspires me to do more, it is easy to work hard, sometimes like a maniac, since we are serving others.”
Gamble: “I don’t know if it’s been the most, but one of the most significant ones I think is the ability to communicate, whether being able to communicate to a client or communicate internally about what clients needed and what we needed to do with them, and through my management career, communicating with employees and making sure everyone understands what the goals are and what we need to do.”
Gimmel: “Persistence. I think that’s key because you have to be able to be knocked down and get back up and keep going because that is going to keep happening. The other one that has been successful for me is even-temperedness. I’ve been told that I’m very even-tempered across the board and I think that helps especially when you’re in a lot of stressful situations.”
Q: Why do you think there aren’t more women CEOs and what do you think can be done about that?
Gimmel: “It is changing. Women are starting companies. Women are starting businesses at an unprecedented rate. In terms of CEOs at bigger companies, I think it’s because a lot of people are opting out to start their own businesses. They don’t want to be tied into the old structure, the politics, and they want to start their own companies.”
Gamble: “You’ve got to have a very active pipeline, right? I think there are a lot of women in middle management and not as much in executive management. I think the key is women on boards, because boards hire women CEOs. Historically, people tend to hire people who look just like them and we’ve got to break that chain, because we’re not always getting the best people for the job. Women boards hire women CEOs, in general. You want that board to be as reflective of the community. If you have a diverse board, you’re going to have a more diverse outcome.”
Murthy: “I believe that we don’t have as many CEOs because historically women tend to open doors for other women or need to find mentors who bring them along and it’s been a slow process. Once we reach a certain mass, then like the multiplier effect, the change will be dramatic, as women generally tend to work more diligently and with greater care. It helps for women to think like men and similarly for men to think like women to achieve greater success. We are on track. We just need to reach the tipping point.”