As women seek to move the needle in populating CEO suites across the country, many people believe that women are the ones who will drive the U.S. economic engine forward. Warren Buffett explained his optimism about America’s future: “Women are the major reason we will do so well.” Buffett — an expert in spotting under-utilized resources — recognizes that women’s leadership is an opportunity for leverage.
The Tampa area has been capitalizing on this resource across multiple sectors. Of the Fortune 1000 women CEOs, two are local: Liz Smith of Bloomin’ Brands and Mindy Grossman of HSN. Robin DeLaVergne, head of the Tampa General Hospital Foundation, has recently taken the gavel to chair the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. In the public sector, Police Chief Jane Castor leads a top-20 municipal police force, and state Rep. Dana Young is emerging as one of the most influential House members statewide.
These examples — among many others — show the growing presence and influence of women leaders in our region. But to build on this momentum of women in power, we must develop the pipeline of leadership of young women. Despite the successes we see in Tampa, only 4.6 percent of the Fortune 1000 CEOs are female, and the percentage of women directors and executive officers in the Fortune 500 has remained flat at 16.9 percent. What can be done to turn the outstanding female talent we have populating our young workforce and citizenry into the leaders who will run our businesses, direct our policy, and work for social justice?
We must create a path for women’s development so that they, too, can increase the skills and capabilities needed to effect change in the community. This path could lead in many directions — whether as a business leader or through nonprofit work or as an advocate in government service. And we believe that the workplace is not the only arena where women can receive this training.
Building this “bench” of talent is at the core of the The Junior League of Tampa’s mission. As the largest organization of women in the Tampa area — with over 700 active members, primarily in their 20s and 30s, and 1,800 women members in total — the League is training the next generation of female leaders in our region. Chamber Chair DeLaVergne is a “Sustaining” member of The Junior League of Tampa, having trained at the League to accompany her professional opportunities.
Even though 85 percent of JLT’s membership works outside the home, League members devote more than 60,000 volunteer hours to the community each year through our projects and programs. And how our members spend these hours is more than just labor: It is a critical part of their leadership training.
The model the League uses enables members to identify partners with complementary missions and goals (the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Feeding America, the Hillsborough County School system, and others) and work with their leadership; conceptualize the scope of the project; organize and inspire our member volunteer forces; measure and communicate impact to multiple internal and external stakeholders; build funds to ensure the feasibility of ongoing commitments to community partners; and play a key role in statewide advocacy and awareness efforts related to urgent issues such as human trafficking and the welfare of foster children.
Each of these areas develops a vital hard or soft skill that is crucial in our new economy and, for the majority of our members, is the most powerful and purposeful leadership development they ever receive.
The next generation of women leaders isn’t shy about wanting the leadership role. These young women crave the ability to make a significant impact and serve their community in the workforce and in their volunteer activities. The challenge for those of us in leadership positions is in supporting women and training them with meaningful opportunities for leadership that they may not be getting in the workplace.
Developing the potential of women is more than the mission of The Junior League of Tampa — it is the ultimate investment opportunity, one that we must take seriously to ensure continued growth for our economy and community.
Lee Lowry is president of The Junior League of Tampa.