Climbing the Corporate Ladder Is Still a Challenge—But Are the Rungs Getting Closer?

Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

The many West Michigan women and men who interact with Inforum know us best through attending events, joining affinity groups, enrolling in our Learning Labs and leadership development courses, and using our app, among other personal interactions.

Lesser known, perhaps, is the research that we do. For two decades, Inforum has been biennially publishing the Michigan Women’s Leadership Report, original research about the status of women in Michigan public companies. We recently released our 11th report, created in collaboration with the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University.

The quick takeaway is this: The number of women on Michigan corporate boards continues to increase—26% of directors at all companies, nearly a third at the largest companies—driven by companies’ desire to strengthen their governance by considering a broader, deeper pool of qualified candidates.

Even so, progress has been slower in the executive ranks. Women are only 18% of named executive officers (NEOs) and 23% of executive officers. NEOs comprise the CEO, CFO, and the three next most highly compensated company officers; executive officers include individuals who perform policymaking functions and/or are president or vice president in charge of principal business units, divisions, or functions.

And only six women lead Michigan public companies: Andi Owen, MillerKnoll; Sara Armbruster, Steelcase; Mary Barra, General Motors; Melinda Whittington, La-Z-Boy; Ann Marie Sastry, Amesite; and Laura Prieskorn, Jackson Financial.

The data is important—and we encourage you to check out the full report—but we also wanted to learn more about the insights of women corporate leaders, so we invited these leaders to participate in a conversation led by WGVU’s Shelley Irwin:

  • Dani Brown, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Whirlpool Corp.’s global information systems, and a board member of Corewell Health and PRA Group.

  • Ileana McAlary, executive vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary for SpartanNash, and a member of the Davenport University Board of Trustees.

  • Shoran Williams, a Grand Rapids private-practice attorney who serves on the boards of Mercantile Bank, Cherry Health, the International Cannabis Bar Association, and the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association.

The conversation was fascinating. It was inspiring to witness the diverse perspectives shared by these accomplished women. Their stories challenged our views and underscored the importance of embracing various paths toward workplace equality.

They emphasized that developing a diverse workforce depends on fostering a culture of equality across all levels, not just as a check-the-box exercise. So, intent and purpose matter—goals should drive actions. Leaders need to actively support, develop and uplift others, regardless of societal barriers.

And for all of us, wherever we are in our leadership journeys, there was this advice:

  • If you are going to be a leader, feel confident in your role and have a voice. You are there for a reason. Show everyone why.

  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

  • Extend a helping hand to uplift others. Bring others along with you.

  • If you don't know something, find someone who does. Being a great leader means knowing the strengths of those around you as much as you know your own.

  • Be an advocate, even if you are the only advocate in the room.

  • Making a difference starts with community involvement. Prioritize contributing to meaningful change over building up your resume.

At Inforum, we are privileged to work with more than 120 companies—public and private—that support our vision of a culture that embraces women leading and succeeding. And although we know there is progress to be made, we are optimistic about the future.

WMW BeckyHeadshot 


Written by Becky Wood, Vice President of Corporate and Member Engagement for Inforum. Contact Becky at @[email protected].


Courtesy of Inforum.

Main Photo: Speakers (left to right): Shelley Irwin, WGVU; Ileana McAlary, SpartanNash; Shoran Williams, attorney; and Dani Brown, Whirlpool. Photo Courtesy of Created with Bri. 


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