Closing The Gap

Taylor Morrison Homes CEO Sheryl Palmer says it's 'a tragedy' when women don't support each other

Arizona-based Taylor Morrison is the nation's seventh largest publicly traded homebuilder by revenue. Its leader, Sheryl Palmer, is the first and only one of her kind in those ranks, a female CEO. She has been at the helm for nearly 12 years and took the company public in 2012.

CNBC sat down with Palmer in her Scottsdale offices and at a nearby building site to find out how she competes, counsels and inspires in her role.

Sheryl Palmer, CEO, Taylor Morrison Home Corp.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Sheryl Palmer, CEO, Taylor Morrison Home Corp.

Why are you "the only one of your kind?"

I'm not certain that this was an intentional path for me, but it's one that's felt right. I've been in this industry for 20 years. If I was looking for an easy career, there's a lot of other things I could've done, but at the end of the day it really does come down to forming relationships, and I think that would be in homebuilding, I think that would be success in any business, in working with people, appreciating the different types of personalities that you surround yourself with, getting the best out of those relationships, and it's actually served me pretty well. I did actually have some really important role models in my career.

But you said yourself you don't think there is enough female mentoring on a corporate level.

When I look at business today, and I look at our industry, and at probably any industry…women just don't tend to be there for other women, and I don't know if that's a result of, there's so few slots at the top that people feel like they have to compete. I'm very hopeful that as the industry develops, and as we see more women in the space, that women take the opportunity to embrace the need and help other women as compared to pushing them down. It's a tragedy.

Do you promote women more as a leader of this company or do they just come to you because of what the company is?

I think we promote certain skills that are required, and we have a culture that I think attracts certain types of people around personal development and the passion and the higher purpose of what we as a company stand for. We actually don't have any affinity programs for females.

Now what I would hear from my people services department is that having me in this seat does attract other women. I think it gives hope. I think there is a belief that, god if Sheryl could get to this seat, and then you look at statistically around our organization, about 50 percent nearly 50 percent of our workforce is female. Nearly 50 percent of our managers, that first level management is female I think it's about 49.2 percent…That's incredibly rare!

When I look at my leadership team, or I look at our division presidents, it's about a third. That's unheard of in our industry. We didn't go to promote female division presidents, but what we always do is make sure we put the best person in every seat, and there are just no biases; it's about skill, tenure, experience and who is going to be the most successful in that seat.

I will tell you I think it makes us a better company because to get that diversity of thinking at our table on a corporate level, at the division table, it's really critical. Think about who the buyers are today out buying houses, and to miss the opportunity to have the female thoughts and kind of lens and voice would be shameful!

When you're at the table with the other publicly traded CEOs, have you ever felt minimized and if so how?

For sure. Early days, I think if I were to share a view, I almost think it kind of glassed over. I just had to continue and I knew that my positions, my views on the business were right. I would say the group of CEOs had to get to know me, and now, I think it's an equal playing field, but it took time.

Since there are so few women in business in senior leadership roles, I think so much of it is people have to get accustomed to — am I supposed to act different? Are there different expectations of me than the other peers at the table, and are they uncomfortable? I don't want to be treated different than they would treat anyone else.

You are a mother of three and a grandmother of five. How do you manage the roles?

Balance is hard. I would tell young women today, don't think it's easy. No one is going to hand it to you on a silver platter. Hard work is real. You've got to fight for it, you have to believe in it, and you have to have the confidence and the courage to go for it.

The female DNA strand around confidence and how easy it is to talk ourselves out of 'am I good enough?' Does somebody else have better experience? Will they be more successful? And I think that level of humility and vulnerability is good as long as it doesn't take over. So use it there, to manage the message internally but make sure the stronger voice of what's in your heart and what gives you the fire in your belly is what leads you and guides you, and then make the personal choices that are right for you and your family.

What about the criticism of working mothers?

My conscious conscience is really good. Believe me, I know, I wish I could have been there more, but believe me I also know my children know how much I love them and how I wanted to provide for them, not monetarily, but it actually made me a better parent if I could be whole inside, so that's just noise, and I choose not to listen to it, to be really honest.

I choose not to listen to anyone's thoughts on how I got to where I am today. I know what got me here and the hard work and the journey that I went on, and so I think that's hard for many people to kind of, in some places put yourself in a bubble, box and say, really? You just can't let that get in your way.

Any advice for young women in any business?

You've heard the age old, if I say, if a female says something it's kind of ignored and 10 minutes later it can be repeated by a male and it's the best idea since sliced bread. I just think you have to have some thick skin. I think you have to continue to realize that it's kind of a game of whack-a-doo...you just knock 'em down one at a time, but don't ever let it get the best of you and don't ever let it change who you are. That's been my motto, and it's actually worked very, very well for me.

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