Mindy Grossman, CEO of the formidable St. Petersburg TV/online shopping and catalog retailer HSN Inc., remains a rare commodity.
Much to her chagrin.
She's a female chief executive of a large and growing public corporation. It's a position — despite decades of calls for ending the "glass ceiling" impeding women's rise to the top corporate ranks — that remains ruled by men even as women make up a growing majority of today's work force.
So it comes as little surprise that HSN is the only larger public company in Tampa Bay — one of just a few nationwide — that's obliterating gender barriers to the top.
"Four out of five of our corporate officers at HSN Inc. are women and, specifically at HSN, 45 percent of our senior executives and 61 percent of our directors are women," Grossman says with pride. This is a passionate topic, and she's pushing for faster change in corporate America.
Her goal, she said in an interview, isn't to hire women over men (though she admits women have good insights into an HSN customer base that's 85 percent female). Her mission is to build a business team that has a strong gender mix. Diversity, she argues, improves businesses.
A review of management teams at nine area public companies suggests women still have a long way to go.
At the nine companies, only 11 women are listed as senior managers on company websites. That representation is reflected in national data. Numbers from nonprofit research firm Catalyst show that 136 of the Fortune 500 firms have no women among their top five executives.
How did the nine area companies fare? No senior women are listed by Clearwater's Tech Data Corp., Lincare or St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit.
At Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, chief administrative officer Angela Biever is the sole woman in the senior ranks. At Tampa's Sykes Enterprises, human resources executive vice president Jenna Nelson stands alone, as does MarineMax vice president and legal counsel Paulee Day in Clearwater.
Some area companies list women as executives, though they hold only vice president titles. That's the case at Tampa's TECO Energy where three VPs — Karen Mincey, Deirdre Brown and Sandra Callahan — hold key positions.
Companies involved in staffing, HR work or health care seem more likely to have women in the higher ranks. That's true at Tampa's Kforce (Kristin Ellis, SAM! Farrell, Kye Mitchell) and WellCare Health Plans (Christina Cooper and Ann Wehr).
At HSN, Grossman said her greatest mentors were men: CEO Phil Knight at Nike, where she was the top-ranking woman, and, before that, designer Ralph Lauren. Both stressed the importance of diversity — in gender, in race, in backgrounds — in strengthening business performance.
Still, Grossman feels frustrated when she rattles off women's puny gains. Just 15 percent of corporate officers and less than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.
Senior ranking women bear a responsibility to foster change, Grossman argues. "They need to make it part of their DNA to talk about with other companies," she says.
As CEO, Grossman's got a rare bully pulpit and isn't afraid to use it for the cause.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.