StarTribune: Bill George: Strong female leadership sets Twin Cities apart

From StarTribune, September 13, 2014

What makes the Twin Cities so vibrant and progressive? First, great institutions in business, education, health care, government, the arts and social services. Second, extraordinary leaders who built these organizations.

While we have had exceptional male leaders, what makes the Twin Cities stand out are the many women who have built these organizations as CEOs, board chairs and presidents. In no other major city have women leaders had as great an impact.

Many books and articles assert that women don’t have opportunities to succeed in male-dominated organizations. Sadly, far too many cultures systematically deny women opportunities for advancement. Yet a 2012 Harvard Business Review research study found that in evaluations of 7,280 leaders, women were judged better than men in relationships, integrity, developing self and others, taking initiative and driving for results. That’s certainly true of female leaders I have studied.

Twin Cities leadership doors opened to women long ago. Pioneering female leaders performed so well that gender is rarely an issue today in creating opportunities for talented Twin Cities women. In each sector locally there have been extraordinary women who paved the way for today’s female leaders.

On Tuesday, the George Family Foundation will honor these and other women leaders — a total of 84 — before the Guthrie’s preview showing of “The Heidi Chronicles.”

Health care. Minnesota has long been a leader in health care, thanks to Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and Abbott Northwestern Hospital. As chairwoman of Northwestern Hospital for Women, Virginia Piper led the 1970 merger that created Abbott Northwestern. She became a role model for exceptional female leaders like HealthPartners’ Mary Brainerd and Allina Health’s Penny Wheeler, as well as women leading Gillette Children’s, UMN Physicians and UMN Health.

Government. Coya Knutson became the first Minnesota woman elected to Congress in 1954, setting a standard for progressive government carried on today by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Betty McCollum and Mayor Betsy Hodges. In 1977, Rosalie Wahl was the first woman named to Minnesota’s Supreme Court. Wahl’s legal stature gave credence to Kathleen Blatz, the first woman to serve as chief justice; Justice Wilhelmina Wright and Judge Diana Murphy.

Business. The corporate world was challenging to crack until Marilyn Carlson Nelson took over as Carlson’s CEO in 1998. Nelson, who worked as a volunteer and raised her family before joining the company in 1989, transformed Carlson over the past 25 years. Her leadership example inspires the 11 women leading major Twin City companies, including current Carlson CEO Trudi Rautio.

Education. Today local educational institutions are dominated by female leaders. That wasn’t the case until 1977, when Reatha Clark King became president of Metropolitan State University. King, a sharecropper’s daughter, was the first African-American woman awarded a doctorate in chemistry by the University of Chicago. She transformed Metro State from a “school without walls” to pioneer combinations of on-campus and online education. Today women lead St. Thomas, Hamline, St. Catherine, Augsburg, Gustavus Adolphus, United Theological Seminary, North Hennepin Community College and the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools.

Arts. The Twin Cities’ arts scene is admired throughout the country, thanks in large part to women who have led every major arts institution. The pioneers were Nina Archabal at the Minnesota Historical Society; Luella Goldberg as first female chair of the Minnesota Orchestral Association; and Lyndel King at the Weisman. More recently, Margaret Wurtele led the Guthrie-on-the-Mississippi expansion and Patricia Mitchell transformed the Ordway, just as Olga Viso and Kaywin Feldman expanded the Walker and MIA.

Social service. While examining Twin Cities social service and philanthropic organizations, it’s hard to find any that haven’t been led at some point by women. Sara Caruso and Lauren Segal built the Greater Twin Cities United Way, which funds vital social services. Today women lead the Minneapolis YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Social Service, and Planned Parenthood. In addition, most of our leading philanthropic foundations are headed by women.

Twin Cities’ quality of life is indeed much richer because of these and many other women who have led our great institutions.