Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Women Need Not Apply

Led by MGIC, seven of Wisconsin’s top companies are men’s clubs, with no women in the executive suite.

By - Dec 18th, 2012 09:29 am

You might argue that MGIC was started as a kind of retort to bigotry. It was founded by attorney Max Karl in 1957, at a time when Jews were typically excluded from the boardrooms and top corporate law offices of America. So Karl raised $250,000 from friends and supportive investors and started his own company, Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation, whose success would make him a multi-millionaire and whose resulting clout helped open doors for Jews in Milwaukee’s power structure.

So it is more than a little ironic to see the company he founded has the worst record in the state when it comes to promoting women in the executive suite. Among the top 50 companies in Wisconsin, seven companies have no women serving as executives or on the board of directors, including MGIC. But MGIC has the biggest board, with 11 members, and thus the most opportunity to appoint women.

This information comes from the latest study by Milwaukee Women inc, which has been tracking women in the boardroom since 2003. During that time, the study found, the percent of women directors in Wisconsin’s Top 50 companies increased from 9 percent to 14.4 percent – a net increase of 22 seats. “Of particular note over the past ten years,” the study reported, “is the number of companies that have two or more women Directors. In 2003, there were only five of them; today, there are 16 – representing 32% of the companies.”

Still, the progress is pretty slow, and there’s little sign this will change. The group’s 2011 report noted that companies in recent years have had a “relatively high number of opportunities to transform the composition of corporate boards,” but year after year, as new board positions open up, 70 to 90 percent of all newly elected directors are men. “Unless and until companies take concerted action to reach out and seriously consider qualified women for these positions, there is unlikely to be any real change in board composition for decades to come,” the study warned.

Often, for every step forward, the company takes one back. MGIC, for instance, had one female director in its history: Mary K. Bush, who served from 1991 to 2008. But she was replaced by a man.

The new study found that nine of the state’s Top 50 companies have 25 percent or more women directors: Alliant Energy Corporation in Madison (50%); Journal Communications, Inc. (38%); Wisconsin Energy Corporation (33%); ManpowerGroup (31%); Green Bay’s Associated Banc-Corp (25%); Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. (25%); Madison’s MGE Energy, Inc. (25%); School Specialty, Inc., located in Greenville in the Fox Valley (25%) and Sensient Technologies Corporation (25%).

“We have found that we have greater success in affecting change when we work with companies who already have one woman director on their board,” says Mary Ellen Stanek, steering committee member for Milwaukee Women inc. “This will be a key part of our strategy in growing the number.”

In short, if you have one woman member on the board, she can advocate for others. Stanek seems to have been quite a force in that regard. She serves on the board of Journal Communications, where three of eight board members are women, Wisconsin Energy Corporation (three of nine) and Northwestern Mutual Insurance (three of 21).

Of course, it also helps if there are some men advocating as well. A 2006 Milwaukee Magazine cover story, “Breaking Barriers,” credited three men for helping diversify the boards Stanek sits on: Journal Communications Chairman and CEO Steve Smith, former Wisconsin Energy CEO Dick Abdoo and former Northwestern Mutual Life CEO Ed Zore.

That story focused on the leadership of Dennis Kuester, CEO of what was then M & I Bank. In just three years, from 2002 to 2005, Kuester increased the number of female senior managers at the company by 88 percent, and added several women to the company’s board of directors. M & I has since been purchased by the Canadian-based company, BMO Financial Group, but it also appears to be forward-thinking on this issue: BMO’s 13-person board of directors includes five women, a percentage (38%) higher than 48 of the top 50 Wisconsin companies.

The story also pointed to Greater Milwaukee Committee executive director Julia Taylor for her work adding more women board members to the GMC. However, even as the GMC board has become more diversified, it’s power seems to have declined (though that had been happening even before Taylor was hired).

The real old boys club has been the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, whose huge board was 96 percent male in 2006. It’s much different today: about 15 percent, or 11 of its 75 members are now women, and they are all executives with corporations, top legal firms or major health care systems.

Milwaukee Women inc. is part of a national association that tracks advancement in many states and metro areas. Wisconsin’s record looks slightly better than average: worse than in Minnesota or the New York metro area, but considerably better than in states like Texas, Florida or Kansas/Missouri.

The excuses for not having women in the executive suite are getting increasingly threadbare. The supply is certainly there: Women now get 51 percent of the nation’s PhDs, 60 percent of masters degrees and 67 percent of college degrees; they are 51 percent of business school applicants and were more than 70 percent of 2012 Valedictorians. They hold 51 percent of all management/administrative/professional positions. The supply of talent seems large, but there doesn’t seem to be enough demand by company leaders to promote women board members.

The impact on companies who make such promotions seems quite positive. A Wall Street Journal article noted that profits at Fortune 500 firms that most aggressively promoted women have been shown to be 34 percent higher than industry medians. And the stock value of European firms with the highest proportion of women in power rose 64 percent over two years, compared with an average of 47% for all businesses, according to a McKinsey & Company study. (Interestingly, Fortune 500 companies have a higher percentage of women executives on their boards than smaller companies in America.)

Phyllis M. King, PhD

Phyllis M. King, PhD. Professor/Associate Vice Chancellor Associate Director, Center for Ergonomics University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Milwaukee Women inc. has set a goal for public companies to reach 25 percent women directors by 2014, and works with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the GMC to refer qualified women for open board slots. Phyllis King, chairwoman of Milwaukee Women inc’s research committee and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at UW-Milwaukee, says the group intends to be proactive with businesses on this issue.

The key, she says, is to raise their awareness of how gender diversity can strengthen these companies. “A more diverse board improves financial performance, leverages leadership talent, reflects the marketplace and builds reputation. Board diversity leads to better problem-solving and increased creativity,” she adds, “and has been shown to positively affect innovation. I could go on and on with evidence from research reports.”

The obvious candidates for such a campaign are listed below, including the 11 Wisconsin companies with no women board members and the seven companies with even worse records: those, like MGIC, that have not one women executive or board member.

The Men’s Club

Companies with No Women Directors or Executives

Companies with No Women Directors or Executives

Companies with No Women Directors

Companies with No Women Directors

Categories: Murphy's Law

23 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Women Need Not Apply”

  1. Rich Meeusen says:

    Mr. Murphy’s article on women in board positions makes some very valid points. Too bad he couldn’t resist taking a very unfair swipe at Julia Taylor with a backhanded compliment:

    “The story also pointed to Greater Milwaukee Committee executive director Julia Taylor for her work adding more women board members to the GMC. However, even as the GMC board has become more diversified, it’s power seems to have declined (though that had been happening even before Taylor was hired).”

    For the record, Julia Taylor has made significant accomplishments as head of the GMC, including being a key driving force behind BizStarts, the Water Council and MiKE. She is a recognized leader in our community, willing to take on challenges that nobody else wants to tackle.

  2. Wis. Conservative Digest says:

    How many have Polish and Irish directors? that is the real test.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Rich, thanks for your note. Those who defend Julia Taylor could also point to the fact that she was selected as one of the city’s top ten leaders in the January 2012 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. My point was certainly not to offer a definitive take on Taylor’s leadership but rather to note that the diversifying of the Greater Milwaukee Committee might have counted for more back when it was seen as the city’s key group of behind-the-scenes power brokers.

  4. Ian Abston says:

    The GMC is doing a great job of connecting Milwaukee’s business leaders, the startup community, and the next generation of business professionals.

    Thanks to Julia Taylor, Milwaukee is in the top 20 for the Bloomberg Challenge and emerging as an innovative city on a national scale.

  5. Wis. Conservative Digest says:

    Julia Taylor and the GMC. Please list me their achievements the last ten years???? MMAC list their achievements??? Milwaukee is slowly sinking into Detroit. Schools get worse every year. Doyle and democrats did nothing in 8 years, Barrett did less.
    The only thing on the board is that silly choo choo train.
    How Milwaukee has sunk since I came here in 1964 to area. I thought for sure that the race problems would be gone after the Open Houusng marches. Schools were not too bad, but John Reynolds and LLoyd Barbee fixed that problem. Now only 30% of tenth graders can read. Great future for them.
    All of these, less than good, accomplishments have been accomplished under the hand of the Milwaukee Journal and the mismanagement of the Liberal democratic wing who worries far more about the death of one poor brother than the scholastic deaths of hundreds of thousands of kids.
    Turn the policing of the inner city over to the neighborhoods, let them elect their police chief and let them solve their own problems. Split up the schools and let the neighborhoods solve the problems of their kids not reading.

  6. Jesse Hagen says:

    Wis.Con.Dig: I get the feeling that you believe Breier was misunderstood, is that right?

    Anyway, tell me all about Scott Walker & republicans’ plans for MPS? I’d really like to hear about it… I’m sure it’s just more ‘liberal bias’ that is keeping it out of the news, so please enlighten us all about those plans.

  7. Wis. Conservative Digest says:

    When did Harold Breier advocate turning the policing of the inner city back to the people of the inner city??? when did any of the Libs want to give up the power of the MPS to turn out kids that cannot read? When has anyone wanted to turn back the schools to the parents in the inner city?
    I asked for the accomplishments of GMC and MMAC and you were right, they are now on some list. Sum total of their accomplishments?

  8. Julia Taylor and her leadership at the GMC have made remarkable strides in attracting young talent and keeping them here in Milwaukee through the MiKE Initiative and many others. Without her creative vision for the city and her unending ability to collaborate, our semblance to Detroit and other post-industrial cities would be far more realized. But Milwaukee stands apart from those comparisons as a hub for innovation and creativity that draws national talent; largely due to the work that Julia and her agency perform on a daily basis.

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What baloney. Attracts some people??? How come the population keeps going down and the businesses all left? Only one moved from Glendale to Milwaukee that I know of, the others are going to Waukesha county.
    What is the unemployment in the Inner city??? 57% of kids below age 30, I think. Are those the people that Taylor attracted??
    Waukesha county is where the kids are going with exception of those that are going to a few colleges. If not for them Milwaukee would be a ghost town.
    Ruling Liberals hate the 1%, they criticize businesses every day, chase away Wal-Mart and other companies that then go to Waukesha county.
    Milwaukee whines all day long about not having enough money, for schools, when at the same time they aren’t educating the kids. The educrats get all of the money, not the kids.

  10. Michael Krenn says:

    Wisconsin Conservative Digest says: “How Milwaukee has sunk since I came here in 1964 to area.” So, Wisconsin Conservative Digest, please move away and let Milwaukee rise again. No, really. You only fuss and complain and make no effort to improve the area. So, just go away.

  11. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I did move out of Milwaukee quite quickly when I saw thw quality of the governance in the 60’s to WA then Tosa. And since then have worked hundreds of thousands of hours in many organizations to improve this state.
    And I have greatly improved parts of it through some very good governors like Knowles, Tommy and Walker plus many service organizations..
    In the meantime I have watched Milwaukee slowly disintegrate, the schools becoming the worst in state. In 1974 I suggested in my political columns that we split the schools in 18 parts. Liberals fought it. They still get the gold, the kids get the shaft

  12. Dean Amhaus says:

    Interesting to read the discussion of the role and impact of the GMC and, more specifically, that of Julia Taylor. I believe that over the years of Julia’s leadership there has been an important and appropriate shift from bricks and mortar to addressing critical economic issues that will benefit Milwaukee. Taking on this assignment is not for the faint of heart. There is no question that a change in a community’s economy is more challenging, complex and requires more time than constructing a building.

    While some would suggest that Milwaukee’s future is headed “south,” I think the argument can also be made that the tide has clearly shifted. A case in point being Northwestern Mutual’s recent decision to invest in Milwaukee’s downtown. I will never know whether Julia, in her typical fashion, quietly spoke behind the scenes to the decision-makers with this company to make the case for Milwaukee but I do know firsthand of her role in building an economic cluster known as the Milwaukee Water Council.

    As renovations currently occur on a 106-year old warehouse to convert it into a global showcase for water technology its impact is being seen throughout a neighborhood and reaching across the world.

    While many people and organizations have had their hands in the work of the Water Council and building a cluster which is symbolized in one building; what is often forgotten or unknown is that Julia’s fingerprints were all over the initial idea and ongoing formation of this cluster. It is this type of behind-the-scenes work that Julia provides that is currently and will in the future be responsible for changing a neighborhood, a city and a region.

    Articles such as the one written by Bruce Murphy are valuable reminders that all of us need to do much more than talk about having women such as Julia Taylor in leadership roles in our businesses and civic organizations. We as a community must act as we are all better off with having the most talented individuals working on our behalf no matter their gender or race.

  13. Mike says:

    The topic is Women in positions of power at Milwaukee Corporations, not what ever ax you’re trying to grind WCD.

  14. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Wow, take credit for a 100 year old business in this community expanding and a water council. All of that in the last 30 years. Take a look at West Allis and how they have completely changed over. that is progress. Look at the growth in Waukesha cty.
    When I first came here Milwaukee had 25 Assembly districts with 18 in Milwaukee. Care to see how many now?
    Waukesha had 4, now 10, I believe. That is growth and progress.
    Worst, the most important part of any community, to progress, is to have schools that work and keep families here.
    Milwaukee and the GMC, MMAC are total flops the last 20 years.

  15. Edith Wagner says:

    Please help me here! Wisconsin Conservative Digest does not seem to be a person but rather an organization. But since you keep using the first person singular, could you please share a name? Who are the “I” in Wisconsin Conservative Digest?

  16. Stacy Moss says:

    “Thanks to Julia Taylor, Milwaukee is in the top 20 for the Bloomberg Challenge and emerging as an innovative city on a national scale.”

    That incredible!!!!!!!


    Me thinks thou protest too much.

  17. Jeremy Fojut says:

    Things upsetting about this article:
    1) Bruce Murphy has no idea what goes on behind the scenes and the positive impact Julia Taylor and the GMC bring our city. This is obviously from a lack of research or his ability to understand vision. This is common in most journalism these days.
    2) An attempt to bring a spotlight on women in leadership, Bruce Murphy shows his true colors by taking a dirty swipe at those who he disagrees with.

    Things upsetting about Conservative Digest:
    1) It’s nice to know the Conservative Digest writer hides behind a name and won’t revile his or her identity. A true leader always hides.
    2) Offers no real solutions only idiotic posts about the 60s and 70s
    3) Probably hasn’t been downtown in 20 years
    4) Doesn’t understand the topic of Women in Leadership (thinks it means schools)
    5) Posts on Urban Milwaukee because no one comments on Conservative Digest or has heard of it under the age of 60.
    6) Clicks notify me of follow-up comments because he or she has too much time on his or her hands.

  18. Bruce Murphy says:

    Jeramy, I assume you’re saying I took a “dirty swipe” at Julia Taylor because I disagree with her. I’m not aware of any issues where Julia and I disagree and I’ve explained in my earlier response the rationale for my comment.

  19. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Q simple google would tell you who I am quite quickly. I am a political activist/writer/editor of the Conservative Digest. Ha ve been writing political columns, published in every major new media in this country for 50 years. The Wis. Conservative Digest is read by over 100,000 people ever 4 months or so.
    Have known Bruce for years, he is one of the best poltical analysts around for fraud and misbehavior even though his ideology is quite thin. silly sometimes.
    Have been a clinical pharmacist for over 50 years, real estate developer, campaign manager in over 100 campaigns including several presidential. An officer in the CofC, Rotary, many pharmacists societies, many more service organizations and have drawers full of awards. Big Deal Huh.
    Most important I have known and watched all of the political leaders around here for 50 years and have closely watched Milwaukee go down hill for that same amount of time.
    The jobs in the inner city have disappeared, mostly due to the idiocy of Liberal leadership, same with the schools. When only 30% of the tenth graders in MPS can read you have some big problems and that plus lack of leadership by the Mayor’s office has steadily eroded the job base, the cultural base and the kids futures. Anyone with any sense, in business has gone to Waukesha or other places long ago.
    watching the discussion here I can tell that there is little hope for the futre in the city of Milwaukee, some hope for the Milwaukee Cty. suburbs, WA has really come back, in the future. If you do not even realize that 57% unemployment for the youth and schools that are virtually non-existent in teaching kids, Milwaukee has little future.
    You need some serious entrepreneurs to lead GNC, not some Social butterfly. Same with MMAC. Membership has gone down there, from 4500 to 2,000 as businesses have gone west.
    Merry christmas Bruce, am heading for my daughters: Olympic Silver Medalist, Dr. Darcie Sharapova.

  20. Juli Kaufmann says:

    I appreciate Mary Ellen Stanek’s leadership on this issue. I also appreciate efforts to shine light on the subject. I think we all would agree that corporations have significant power and significant impact on all of our lives. In my view, representative leadership, not only on corporate boards but in all areas of life, is important to creating the world we all want and need.

  21. Jerad says:

    Don’t feed the troll.

  22. Sally says:

    I don’t really find all this finger pointing about who is most liberal or conservative in this dialogue to be interesting or fruitful. The thing that I find troubling is that neither I nor any of the intelligent, motivated, hard working women that I know have the slightest chance of moving ahead in the corporate landscape in Milwaukee. This also means that our daughters will likely not be able to move into the highest levels of our corporations either. Things really have not changed in this city in the past 75 years.

  23. Wis. Consrvative Digest says:

    While the issue of whether women move ahead or not is very large, I worked hard with my daughters to get to medical school and college, the bigger issue is far mor important. Unless you push these dummies that led Milwaukee cty governments to fix the schools and get jobs here you best move to Waukesha.
    Bad schools, no jobs, no future. Look at all of the other cities run by the left the last 100 years.

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