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Omaha Magazine

Women’s Leadership on the Rise: Omaha Organizations Put Women in Top Positions

Nov 23, 2020 06:16PM ● By Kara Schweiss
associate dean UNO, Lynn Harland, Ph.D

Photo provided

Since her death on Sept. 18, a statement Ruth Bader Ginsburg made in 2012 has been often repeated by media sources and on social media in reflection of her legacy as the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court) and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked,” Ginsburg had said. “But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Business Administration associate dean Lynn Harland, Ph.D., said she could relate to what Ginsburg was saying as a member of a search committee for a new dean last year.

“When we got to the four finalists, all four were women. The search firm—they’ve done a lot of dean searches—had never had a situation where all four dean finalists were women,” she said. “There were some people who did query us to say, ‘Were you pressured to do this?’”

No pressure, Harland said. The committee sought a diverse talent pool, she explained, but did not set out with the intention of choosing a female dean; it happened organically. Faculty and staff welcomed Michelle Trawick, Ph.D., in February.

The news team at KMTV also finds a personal connection to Ginsburg’s sentiment. As of Sept. 28, anchors for all newscasts—Serese Cole, Jennifer Griswold, Courtney Johns, and Maya Saenz—are women. News director Geoff Roth said his objective was not to create an all-female anchor team; it was all about choosing the people best suited for the job.

“What people are looking for in an anchor is someone they trust and someone they know has been in the community, and certainly all four of our anchors fit the bill for that,” he said. “Gender does not matter. I just want the best person possible.”

To his knowledge, it’s the first time KMTV has had an all-female anchor lineup and almost certainly a first for Omaha television news, Roth said. It’s not unprecedented nationally, “but it makes news when it happens. It’s pretty rare.”

Roth said that the all-female anchor team is one of the most visible manifestations of how KMTV, owned by E.W. Scripps Co., is supportive of women advancing into leadership positions. He emphasized that the company is supportive of professional growth for everyone.

“The company is committed to reflecting the diversity of the community and I can’t say enough about how Scripps supports all its employees,”
he said.

Griswold, who’s been with KMTV eight years but in television news since 2001, said she’s seen the makeup of anchor teams become more diverse over time.

“People with different backgrounds may bring different thoughts to the table, and that helps in your coverage,” she said. “I think having women (on the team) and making sure women have a voice is very important.”

She calls the all-woman KMTV lineup “fantastic.”

“I know a lot of wonderful male anchors, but I love that in this setup it’s working to have all women,” she said. “I love that we’re supporting that women can be in this role, that you don’t need to have a man and a woman.”

Griswold said that, as a mother, she appreciates that she and her colleagues serve as highly visible role models.

“It’s an example to young girls, who are able to see women on TV in leadership roles,” she said.
According to Nichols College (Massachusetts) Institute for Women’s Leadership, American women hold 21% of senior leadership positions in corporations, and while they make up nearly half (45%) of the S&P 500 workforce, only 4% are among the CEOs. There have been gains elsewhere, however. Nearly 40% of all managers are women, according to 2016 figures (the most recent available) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in some fields, such as human resources, medical and health services, and advertising and promotions (among others), women managers outnumber their male counterparts.

Enlightened workplaces and educational institutions are key in closing the gaps. UNO’s business curriculum provides instruction beginning at the undergraduate level that equips students—female and male—with the skills to succeed, Harland said. She added that because the same proficiencies are useful to women and men who aspire to career advancement, there are no leadership development classes specific to women.

Over her more than 30 years in higher education at the institution, Harland said she’s seen a shift to more opportunities for female and male students to apply their leadership skills and gain experience in the classroom and through extracurricular activities, including campus organizations and student government. A career center; internships; pitch, business plan, and business case competitions; course projects allowing students to provide pro bono consulting; and networking opportunities also cultivate students’ leadership skills through application. Students are more ready than ever to lead in the workplace.

“Our leadership development opportunities are available to every CBA student,” Harland said. “The approach now is so much more empowering and confidence-building because you’re actually doing things…It’s multidimensional.”

Current statistics show that 43% of UNO BSBA students are female, a slightly higher percentage than the most recent graduating class (40%). Women in the post-graduate programs make up 43% of MBA students and 49% of executive MBA students. In the most recent graduating classes, 48% of MBA earners were female and well over half the EMBA graduates—56%—were female. Those numbers reflect national trends over time; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women receive 47% of graduate business degrees. By comparison, they received 25% in 1980 and less than 5% just 10 years earlier.

As women are entering corporations with training and experience that readies them for leadership, and in greater numbers than ever, logic dictates that corporations should start reflecting that at the C-level. Or as Ginsburg said in 2009, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are
the exception.”

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This article was published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of B2B.

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