Westmont Magazine Getting Women on Board
What keeps women from breaking through the corporate glass ceiling — and how can they overcome that barrier? Catalyst, a non-profit research and advisory organization, offers some solutions. Its mission is working with business to advance women and enable them to achieve their full professional potential while helping employers capitalize on women’s talents and abilities. Since 1992, Donna Dillon Manning ’63 has worked with Catalyst to place more women on corporate boards.
“While the number of women holding top management positions or serving on corporate boards is small, it is growing,” notes Donna. “Our approach is praising companies that make a serious effort to recruit more women at the top. With the tight job market and need to keep good people, many are anxious to be known for their support of women executives.”
According to Donna, one of the leading problems facing women is the lack of female role models who have reached the top. That makes it much more difficult for women to find influential mentors or network with people at the highest levels. Women also tend to get — and sometimes choose — assignments that lack high visibility and don’t lead to top executive positions.
Female executives who succeed do so by consistently exceeding expectations. “It’s still true that women have to be smarter and work harder than men to get promoted,” Donna states. Successful women develop a style their male managers find comfortable. Seeking out difficult assignments and finding an influential mentor also help.
After practicing corporate and securities law in New York City for six years, Donna knows the corporate world well. She also has extensive experience as a member of both non-profit and corporate boards. As chair of both the national board of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and the board of the Institute for American Universities in Aix en Provence, she has recruited female members.
The first person in her family to go to college, Donna began breaking down the barriers in her own life when she spent a year abroad in France at the Institute for American Universities. “That experience changed my life,” she recalls. “I met people from all over the world, and they greatly broadened my perspective. The good thing about studying abroad is that it makes it so easy to go back.”
After Donna graduated from Westmont with a degree in literature, she lived in Switzerland for a year as a private tutor for a Swiss family. She spent the next year in England teaching at an Air Force base near Oxford.
Back in the United States, she earned master’s degrees in education and French at the State University of New York, New Paltz. Her international experiences continued when she traveled extensively with her former husband, who was president of the Council on Foreign Relations and an international lawyer.
Then at the age of 34, she went to Columbia University where she earned an M.B.A. as well as a J.D. After six years as a corporate securities lawyer, she decided there was more to life than working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so she accepted the role of strategic planning consultant for the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
Her next job was managing the liquidation of a New York City family partnership. After that she went to Catalyst, and she is now looking toward retirement. She and her husband, Larry Horner, have built a home in Mexico and want to spend more time there. He is a former chairman of KMPG who now runs numerous operations for a large Taiwanese firm.
Donna draws on her personal and professional background in placing women on corporate boards. Not only do they benefit from this membership, but they bring much-needed diversity. “It’s a great learning experience that offers rewards as well,“ Donna notes.
“I have met some of the most extraordinary women in America — and many outstanding CEOs,” she says. “And it is exciting to see some change in the corporate world.”