Accomplished Women are Paving the Way for the Future

These Accomplished Women Are Paving the Way for Future Generations

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 20, 2018

How many of us have ever paused to reflect on the societal changes that have occurred over time and the courageous women who have broken through barriers to advance professionally into leadership positions, fighting for the opportunities to pursue their interests, whatever those may be?

On March 15, I attended a luncheon panel discussion at the Union League of Philadelphia headlined, “Female leaders walking on broken glass.” The panelists were Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line; Diane Allen, former deputy minority leader of the Senate of New Jersey; Madeline Bell, president and CEO of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Binney Wietlisbach, president of The Haverford Trust Company and Joan Carter, former first female president of the Union League.

Listening to these very accomplished women share their challenging journeys to the top leadership positions in their organizations caused me to pause and reflect on the journeys of many women, including my two daughters-in-law, and the paths they are paving for future generations, including my two granddaughters.

What made this luncheon panel discussion so special for me were three of the women sitting at my table whom I invited as my guests to this event, all very accomplished in their own fields, serving as inspirational role models for other women. All three, as well as the four panelists, have worked hard to achieve their success.

These three women were Donna De Carolis, founding dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship of Drexel University; Emily Bittenbender, managing partner of Bittenbender Construction and the first female president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the General Building Contractors Association; and Karin Copeland, executive director of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia.

There was a time when women were not permitted to join many clubs, including the Union League, excluding them from business and networking opportunities available to men. The five panelists who spoke at the luncheon are members of the Union League, as were two of my guests. My third guest is in the Union League membership process.

Clubs that are open with respect to gender, religion and race are vibrant places and enjoy both financial and reputational strength. These are the clubs people want to join.

Just think about the social progress that society has made over the years. It was only 100 years ago that women won the right to vote. Women established their rightful place in the workforce during World War II. It was only a few decades ago when help wanted ads became gender neutral. Slowly but surely, women have progressed. Our country is the better for it. We are all better for it.

The recent film “Hidden Figures” depicts the societal and racial barriers that existed within NASA and U.S. society during the late 1950s, a time when the U.S. trailed the Soviet Union in launching a man into space.

The film is about African-American NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, engineer Mary Jackson and computing supervisor Dorothy Vaughan, who with courage and grace, earned the respect of their white male colleagues and played important roles in space exploration.

In 2016, Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to the space program. In 2017, she was again honored when a new NASA computer center in Langley, Virginia was named the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.

To win the space race, NASA needed the best and brightest our country had to offer. To win in the global marketplace, businesses need the best and the brightest individuals, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

A company with an organizational culture that tolerates a hostile work environment and turns a blind eye to wrongful practices sends signals to certain current and potential employees that they are not welcome, valued and respected. The recent #MeToo movement has shined a light on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and it hopefully signals a cultural change.

Those organizations that provide advancement opportunities to all employees based upon their skills and track record of accomplishments will experience long-term sustainable competitive advantage. Those companies that don’t will fall behind.

I want my two granddaughters to be able to pursue any career that they desire, have the same opportunities as their male colleagues and not have their journey hindered due to their gender. The women I wrote about today are blazing the path for them.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

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