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Best 50 Women in Business push for mentorship and valuing brains over beauty at awards gala (SLIDESHOW)

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Anne Evans Estabrook was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at NJBIZ's Best 50 Women in Business event on March 24.
Anne Evans Estabrook was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at NJBIZ's Best 50 Women in Business event on March 24.

The unintentional theme of Monday night's event celebrating the NJBIZ 2014 Best 50 Women in Business was help.

Not asking for it — these women certainly don't need a leg up at this stage of their careers. But giving it.

"I want women in the room to realize that … it's really important to reach behind you on that ladder of success and pull another woman up," said Anne Evans Estabrook in accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work running Elberon Development Group. "None of us ever made it to the top by ourselves."

And the top looks a little different for all the women on the 2014 list.

SLIDESHOW: Best 50 Women in Business A - H

SLIDESHOW: Best 50 Women in Business H - Z

Cynthia Myer took over Ridgewood Moving Services Co. after her husband died and transformed the company. Jamie Kern Lima has grown her company, IT Cosmetics, from startup to more than $80 million in sales in the past five years. Margaret Marcucci purchased IT company Coranet Corp. 10 years ago, accumulating Fortune 100 clients and increasing revenues as the company expanded to outfit everything from corporate offices to data centers.

This year, the list was not limited to for-profit companies. Nonprofits had a strong presence as well, with honorees such as Barbara Kauffman, executive vice president of the Newark Regional Business Partnership; Linda Czipo, executive director of the Center for Non-Profits; and Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO of Choose New Jersey.

RELATED: Adenah Bayoh, Best 50 Women in Business honoree, has amazing story of success

But not every woman reaches that level of success.

In her opening remarks, Jane Navarria, head of New Jersey business banking for Wells Fargo, said that in 2013, women held just 17 percent of the executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies. And just 21 percent of Fortune 500 companies' CEOs are female.

Joining her on stage, Brenda Ross Dulan, the southern New Jersey regional president for Wells Fargo, said that the pay gap between men and women fresh out of college is roughly $8,000, with men earning an average salary of $43,000 and women bringing in just $35,000.

"When it comes to women in the workplace, it's finally time for the playing field in all those areas to be levelled," she said.

RELATED: Women gaining foothold atop banking world

And studies show, Navarria said, companies benefit when women hold high-ranking positions.

"Guess what? Women make excellent leaders," she said.

Getting to the point in a career where women can highlight those leadership skills takes persistence and hard work, Estabrook said.

When she decided she wanted to get her MBA, she interviewed with the head of Cornell's business school. His last question for her was why a pretty young woman like herself would want to pursue an MBA. Didn't she want to get married and have a family?

"And I said, 'Yes. I didn't know the two were mutually exclusive. They aren't for my men colleagues. Why should they be for me?'" Estabrook said.

She passed the interview and got in — and was one of three women in a class of 125.

Now, she makes a point to praise women for their smarts before their beauty, even with her own daughters. And she advises those coming up the ladder behind her to believe in themselves.

"Stay focused on your goals. Choose good mentors and listen to them," she said. "Don't just talk to them; listen to them."

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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