As I look back over the past 25 years, I have seen a cycle emerge here in South Carolina. Women leaders rise to prominence here before making an exodus to positions elsewhere. Some may say “that’s just business.” But in actuality, it’s much more.
Today the light is dimmer with Duke Energy South Carolina President Catherine Heigel’s move to the Midwest where she will be a vice president of American Transmission Co. in Wisconsin.
Women have made countless impacts on business in our state. While there are many more, three iconic women immediately come to mind who have led with standards exemplified by Heigel. They are Anita Zucker, Jodie McLain and Pamela Lackey.
Anita Zucker is the chairperson and chief executive officer of The InterTech Group, as well as an active part of the Charleston community. She has managed the company and its holdings through both personal heartbreaks and tough economic times, and remains resilient through it all. Anita is a woman entrepreneur and philanthropist, a rare jewel in this state.
Jodie McLean is president and chief investment officer of EDENS, which manages an estimated $4 billion in assets.* In her position, Jodie fostered a work environment that was honored in 2011 as one of the best for working moms. Not only is this an economic benefit to the state, but women creating environments where others can be successful is one of the critical reasons to increase the female presence in company board rooms.
Pamela Lackey is South Carolina president for AT&T. In an interview with MidlandsBiz, Pamela mentioned the positive reception she received when she was named president, “If this helps inspire more bright young women to stay in South Carolina, then we will all benefit greatly.”
And indeed, the benefits are infinite.
In order for women to reach the boardrooms across South Carolina, we need success stories. Statistics say that women hold top positions in 15 percent of American corporations despite making up 46 percent of the workforce. But, the greatest concern is that these figures have remained stagnant for more than a decade. There are various hypotheses: there is an ambition gap, success and likeability are negatively correlated for women, and women don’t network effectively.
But where are the solutions?
Solutions lie in our everyday lives and communities; in our young women watching and learning from mentors with whom they relate right here in our state, including Catherine Heigel.
Catherine Heigel, a native of Darlington and a University of South Carolina Gamecock, served on a litany of organizations and boards within the state, from the industry-promoting Palmetto Business Forum and S. C. Manufacturers Alliance, to those enhancing the cultural lives of each of us, such as the Palmetto Conservation Foundation and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. What’s more, as the president of Duke Energy South Carolina she led the state operations of one of the largest power companies in the United States.
While working to provide aid for distressed South Carolina communities as a board member of The Original Six Foundation, Catherine concurrently advocated against and forecast the effect of the federal government’s recent efforts to increase regulations on her industry.
The balance of community, work and family cannot be taught in a classroom or seminar, but, as Pam Lackey has expressed, through watching and learning from others. This is why it is so imperative that South Carolina and its business community work and encourage women leaders to remain and prosper in the Palmetto State.
The aforementioned women showcase the value in balancing career and family, demonstrate to young professionals that, despite the numbers, success is possible.
However, it is clear an additional influx of women professionals is needed. This generation of female mentors will play the most critical role of shaping the next generation and the state and our communities as well. In not rising to the challenge to foster environments conducive to women’s successes, South Carolina will place its communities and families in jeopardy of falling behind, a cycle into which we must simply refuse to fall.
The lights are a little dimmer here now that Catherine Heigel will leave. Her departure will leave quite a few empty board and committee seats.
The question is, just who will fill them?
Karen Floyd is the publisher of www.palladianview.com, a digital magazine for the conservative Republican woman.
*CORRECTION - Jodie McLean was originally listed as the president and chief information officer at EDENS. The sentence has been changed to include her correct title.