BY Lee Yarborough

Propel HR

December 2023/January 2024

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women held 31.7% of top executive positions across all industries in 2021. The percentage of women in the HR field is even higher. According to Zippia, the HR field is predominantly female. 2019 data shows that 70% with the title of HR Manager are women and 55.9% of women hold the title head of HR in companies. Similar numbers are seen in the benefits and payroll realm. 60% of Benefits Directors are female and 78.7% of Payroll Supervisors are female.

Yet, within NAPEO member PEOs, women hold approximately 19% of executive positions. For an industry with such high levels of female practitioners, it is unusual that the executive levels are not in line with the national averages.

As a young professional entering the PEO world in 1996, I felt the impact of being a young female in a male dominated world. I clearly remember my first NAPEO conference, walking the exhibit hall feeling out of place. Everyone seemed to know each other and there were not many young females present. As my career grew, I continued to go to the NAPEO conferences and began to get involved at a deeper level. I understood that NAPEO involvement was good for my business as well as my own development and I made a choice to be uncomfortable and push myself in the association.

I started at the state level and focused on networking with the other NAPEO members in South Carolina. I served as the chair of the Carolinas Leadership Council Forum for many years. It was not difficult, but it gave me a window into the bigger picture of the industry, and a chance to know the regulators and peers.

In 2011, I was asked to serve on the NAPEO Board of Directors. That first year, there was only one other female on the board. I will never forget the first board meeting, quietly sitting in the room as the other directors talked about certain issues. I was shy and unsure of myself, but I left the meeting determined that I would make sure my voice was heard from then on.

The board position was an entrance into the greater workings of NAPEO. I offered to help wherever I could and served on multiple committees, wrote articles for PEO Insider, and attended conferences. Most importantly, I met many friends, male and female. My network began to grow, and I realized that this network was the most valuable aspect of my membership.

Wanda Silva was one of my new friends. She was the other woman on the board with me and therefore we had a fast connection. Around this time, she gathered other female PEO leaders together for cocktails at the conference. The goal was to meet each other and create an informal network of women in our space. We all quickly became friends and the seed of growing an affinity group of female PEO leaders was planted.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors again and was elected Chair in 2020. I was honored to be the third female to serve in this role. As Chair, I knew that I would have the opportunity to make an impact at the association level and I reflected on my own experiences to determine my initiatives. Starting Women in NAPEO was a natural fit. I wanted other women to feel embraced in the association and have a place of their own.

I reached out to some of my friends to help get it started. Wanda Silva, Monica Denler, Christina Nelson, Wendy Katz, Haley Crum, Kristen Appleman, Celeste Johnson, and Tara Conger all joined the steering committee. Pat, the NAPEO staff and the board were fully supportive of the idea and our committee. We decided on the name, determined our goals, and began to creatively think about programming and ways to connect women in our industry.

The mission of WIN is to:

  • Empower women within NAPEO’s membership both professionally and personally.
  • Engage as a community to share experiences, insights, best practices, and career advice.
  • Encourage women in our industry to be future leaders of NAPEO.

The wonderful thing about WIN is that it just took off! Our first event was a webinar during the COVID days. We had hoped for 30 people to attend, and we had close to 200! Now, we try to have four events per year with a mix of in-person as well as virtual. The program content has varied and has featured speakers from our industry as well as nationally recognized inspirational speakers. We have also created WIN Connect, which is a program where two members are matched and encouraged to connect in-person if possible or at least virtually. It is a great way for women in different parts of the country as well as with different job titles to get to know each other. This one-on-one connection can serve as a type of mentorship, a peer-to-peer talk about issues that impact their PEO, or simply two working moms trying to balance work and home responsibilities.

There is something so important about feeling understood and affinity groups are a way to create a community within an organization. NextGen is another example of a NAPEO affinity group designed for young professionals in our industry. I imagine there will be more groups to develop in the future as our industry and association changes and diversifies.

WIN is also evolving. One of the tenets of WIN is to encourage future leaders in NAPEO. With that in mind, the steering committee and I believe that new blood needs to take WIN to the next level. I am happy to announce that Jenna Marceau of Syndeo HR will be the new chair of WIN and she will work with the WIN Committee for a WINning 2024! If you would like to be involved, please reach out to us via

Our industry has changed a lot since I began my profession in 1996. We have evolved from an industry based on benefits and workers’ compensation savings to a full-service HR solution. Not only has our service model changed; our footprint has increased as well.

And NAPEO has changed. Now, when I walk the halls of the Annual Conference & Marketplace there are many more people and much more diversity. I see old and new friends and I see others who are reaching out and forging new connections. It feels good! NAPEO as an association belongs to all of us. And with the thoughtful NAPEO leadership and groups such as WIN and NextGen, the number of female executives in our industry will change. I promise, it already has!





Voters in Indiana’s 9th Congressional district elected Congresswoman Erin Houchin to serve in the United States House of Representatives in November 2022. In doing so, Rep. Houchin became the first woman elected to Congress from her district. She also holds the distinction of being the only person elected to Congress who has worked for a PEO.Rep. Houchin spoke to PEO Insider about her decision to seek public office, her experience working for a PEO, and the policies she champions.


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