Follow the Leaders
– From Connie Bruce, CAE, Director of Operations & Member Services
When my youngest child, who’s now a recent college graduate, first put on her backpack to head out the door to kindergarten, I started my own journey at Virginia Council of CEOs. As she grew in her school career over the years, I grew in mine as well. Along the way VACEOs has also grown — and recently in one key way.
I loved my job with VACEOs from Day One. I knew right away our members and sponsors were special. Our CEOs share a willingness to share and learn from each other. I also noticed our group of wonderful CEOs was mostly men. I sensed we were missing the voices of women CEOs in the sharing and learning.
Early on, VACEOs was fortunate to have some strong women CEOs as members — shout-out to Gail Johnson, founder of Rainbow Station now LeafSpring Schools, Elissa Mast, CEO of E&R Sales, and Connie Hom, founder of Buckingham Greenery. However, even as VACEOs grew, the percentage of women CEO roundtable members consistently hovered around 16%. I recall joking with Executive Director Scot McRoberts that we needed to “pink” the group up.
While golf and baseball are not gender-specific, they tend to be stereotypically associated with men. Both were common member activities at that time in VACEOs’ history. It wasn’t that we needed to not do golf, it was that we needed to do golf plus other events and activities to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted us to become more focused on reaching women CEOs, in order, to broaden the experience share for our members.
Back in 2018, Debbie Fisher, Associate Director of Graduate Programs at the Robins School of Business, was having similar thoughts about their MBA Program. Debbie and I connected to co-host an event exclusively for women business leaders, called Future-Proofing Your Career, that proved extremely successful. Seeing more than 140 women connect to discuss the challenges they faced in business was exciting. The event was so successful we repeated it.
In 2019, our VACEOs roundtable leaders started asking us to add women CEOs to their groups. I was thrilled our member CEOs recognized that diversity was an advantage, but we struggled to find enough new members to fulfill the request.
To meet the challenge of attracting more women CEO members to join our group, we strategically appealed to women CEOs in our marketing, in the speakers and topics we offered, and in the special events we developed. Slowly, our percentages of women CEOs began to tick up — and we reached 18% by 2021.
This year, something bigger happened. As of August 2023, our percentage of active roundtable members who are women is now at 19%, the highest it’s ever been. Even more exciting is that 46% of new VACEOs members this year are women! Now we are starting to provide more diversity in our roundtables thanks to the intentionality of looking beyond our traditional member.
Maybe it’s the influence of the Barbie movie, but I’m feeling like we should add pink to our logo.