Danae Columbus: In 2018, women made progress — but very slowly

Print More

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise shares a laugh with the new president of Loyola University, Tania Tetlow. (UptownMessenger.com file photo)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

With the inauguration of Mayor LaToya Cantrell and assertive female City Council members along with election of 125 women members of Congress and governors across the U.S., 2018 was another milestone year for women. Power is shifting, albeit slowing. There is no going back. But we wouldn’t call 2018 the “Year of the Woman” because gender inequality is still so prevalent.

Congratulations to all the women who had the courage to speak out because of President Trump’s ongoing voracious rhetoric or the long-overdue #MeToo Movement. Congrats to the companies who took a hard look at their #Me Too failings and made changes. Congrats to Mayor Cantrell for her strength, for outing men accused of sexual harassment at City Hall, and for creating an Office of Youth and Families.

With the recently released statistics that show a reduction in crime, women and their families should feel safer at home. Yet, none of those things really matter if women don’t have a fair opportunity to reach the top of their chosen field and earn enough money to support their families. In addition, young women still believe gender bias limits their career options, especially in high-paying STEM fields.

The gender pay gap in Louisiana is still the widest of any state and may not change anytime soon. Nationwide, the number of female CEOs is extremely low because women get stalled on their rise through the ranks. While progress is being made to close the wage gap, a new strategy is needed to get women – especially women of color – out of low-wage jobs where systemic sexism and racism is the norm.

A cursory look at how women work in New Orleans shows where we stack up. There are many successful women executives in our area who are at the pinnacle of their careers, but there are an ever greater number who are unable to break through the perpetual glass ceiling. When we look at the top public and private companies in New Orleans and the people who run them, men rule.

Still there are standouts like Saints and Pelican owner Gayle Benson. She easily tops Louisiana’s female executive list with such diverse additional holdings as Dixie Brewery and Mercedes-Benz New Orleans. Benson had a head start building her empire, but surely will take it to new heights in 2019 and beyond. Phyllis Taylor is also still a major player, having worked with her late husband Pat Taylor to accumulate vast holdings in oil and gas. Other women leading the way are Cynthia Pazos of Diabetic Management and Supplies, Jackie Hughes of Pel Hughes Companies and Nanci Easterling of Food Art.

There are more than 50 hotels in greater New Orleans and a female lodging association chief executive – Mavis Early. Ranked by number of rooms in the 20 largest hotels, we find only one woman, Jennifer Gohagen, with the “hotel manager” title but working under a respected general manager, Jim Cook, at the New Orleans Sheraton. Women owners are more prevalent in the restaurant industry, where Ti Martin, Lally Brennan and others in this generation of the Brennan family continue to make great strides along with Katie Casbarian, Jo Ann Clevenger, Susan Spicer and the dean of female restaurateurs, Leah Chase.

Angela O’Byrne (Perez) and Lisa Roth (Montgomery Ross) are the only female owners among the 10 largest architecture firms by size of staff. There are only four female managing principals of engineering firms. Only Laura Donnaway and Loretta Rabb rise up among female-operated property and casualty insurance agencies. Maria Toups Landry leads a major life insurance company. Taking over a business developed by family members has always been a good way to get ahead. Anne Teague Landis and Dana Stumpf run family-developed major construction companies that gross more than $25 million annually.

While too few area women sit on bank boards, Iberia Bank’s Holly Callia shines as a local female banking executive. Women are also underrepresented on savings and loans boards. Several area women do command credit unions including Sonya Jarvis (ASI), Judy DeLucca (New Orleans Firemen’s FCU) and Janet Sanders (GNO Federal Credit Union). KPMG’s Lee Anne Sciambra, Harris T. Bourgeois’ Monica Zumo and PwC’s Kathy Neiland are standouts in the local accounting industry but as managers not owners. The employment agency industry is another area where women have assumed major roles. Local leaders include Teresa Lawrence, who owns Delta Personnel, as well as Linda Castanza of Adecco Employment Services and Diedria Joseph of Topp Knotch Personnel , both franchisees.

Information technology is a growing industry in New Orleans. But few local women have risen to the top. Females work for — but  don’t own — many of the new software companies that call New Orleans home. Women like Gertrude Gardner, Eleanor Farnsworth and Jackie Clarkson have always excelled in real estate sales but few have the financial resources to become real estate developers. One woman who has succeeded in that arena is Tara Carter Hernandez. Health care – especially nursing – is another field where women can succeed. Dr. Takeisha Davis leads the New Orleans East Hospital and P.K. Scheerle has long provided nursing agency services in this market.

Women also lead in the education field. Tania Tetlow, recently named President of Loyola University, Southern Chancellor Lisa Mims-Devezin, and Nunez Chancellor Tina Molero Tinney have all reached the upper levels of achievement as well as have numerous elementary and secondary school executive leaders.

Finally, in the area of law disparity continues. Though serial entrepreneurs like Darleen Jacobs and Lynn Luker pave their own way, most female lawyers must be satisfied to work up to partner at their respective firms. Only one firm among the 10 largest, Baker Donelson, has a female managing partner, Nancy Degan, at the helm.

As women play a larger role in government at all levels, barriers that prohibit access to training and quality jobs should slowly wash way providing more females — including women of color — the opportunity to become successful leaders in their chosen fields of endeavor. Here’s to a more vibrant 2019.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell., City Council members Jared Brossett and Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Sheriff Charles Foti.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.