Phyllis Shapiro Sewell, a pioneer for women in the corporate world, graduated from Wellesley with a degree in economics in 1952. Sewell entered the business world as a junior analyst for Federated Department Stores, and she remained with the company until it was purchased by Campeau Corporation in 1988.
Sewell rose through the ranks at Federated Department Stores fairly quickly during the 1950s, from junior analyst, to analyst, to project director, and then to research director, where she tracked the buying habits of the baby-boom generation. She took a brief leave of absence from Federated after the birth of her son in 1963, but she soon returned to work on a part-time basis. She continued to progress through the company, as she was promoted to operating vice president, then to corporate vice president, and finally to senior vice president in charge of research and planning in 1979. At the time, Sewell was the lone female in many meetings.
In addition to working for Federated Department Stores, Sewell has served on various corporate boards, such as Lee Enterprises, Inc.; U.S. Shoe Corp.; Sysco Corp.; Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati; and the United Way. She was the first female director for several companies, and as of 1995, she was one of only 104 women sitting on multiple boards.
Sewell’s accomplishments have been recognized by the business world; she was named one of the top 100 corporate women in Business Week Magazine in 1976, and she was named one of the top 85 women business executives by Industry Week Magazine in 1979. She received the Alumnae Achievement Award in 1979 and was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982.
Sewell, in an interview with Women & Business Cincinnati, reflected on the importance of having women on corporate boards: “It’s a signal to the organization that it is open to women at the highest level and that they can go as far as they want to.”
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