The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University hosted its third annual Women Entrepreneurship Week conference on Wednesday.Since the event was organized in 2014, Women Entrepreneurship Week has grown to see events hosted in 12 countries, five states in the U.S. and 20 New Jersey locations this year in recognition and support of women entrepreneurs worldwide.
Mimi Feliciano, founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate, kicked off the signature conference by discussing what she learned about leadership in business from competitive ballroom dancing.
“I was a bit of an overachiever and a workaholic, and the problem that I had was that I felt really uncomfortable ever asking for support. I didn’t think that I needed it,” she said. “It became an overwhelming amount of work and I just found myself depressed.
“So I decided to get help. I hired two coaches — one personal, one business — and said, ‘I don’t know how I got myself into this mess, but I need someone to help save me from my own thinking.’ ”
As a result, Feliciano said, she hired five C-suite executives to help lead her team.
“It was very easy to fall into the role of leading and them executing my plans,” she said. “I was able to grow the business even more.”
She even found the time to begin taking ballroom dancing lessons with her husband, Eddie Feliciano.
“The thing that you have to learn and know about ballroom dancing is that you, the woman, are not in charge,” Feliciano said. “He decides where you’re going to go, when and how.”
Feliciano said she would talk to her peers at the Women Presidents’ Organization about a particularly challenging dance teacher she was working with.
“I didn’t realize that I wasn’t letting him lead,” she said. “He would get upset and say, ‘You’re doing it again!’ It was just in my DNA.”
Her peers, she said, were appalled.
“They would say, ‘He really said that to you? Why do you put up with that? That is wrong! You should not put up with that,’ ” Feliciano said.
But another of her peers had a different perspective.
“She said, ‘All the guy really wants to do is make you look good. It is their job to spin you out, dip you, lift you and bring you back. When they win, you win.’ ”
Feliciano realized that in all of her years in leadership, she had never trusted anyone to handle what she had delegated to them.
“Even when I had my senior team and I thought I was leading, honestly, I was still in charge,” she said. “I decided what we were going to do, and they executed. That worked for the company and I — but what I learned about leadership from dancing is that sometimes you simply need to let go. You have to trust in a framework where you both have the same goals.
“Co-creating is at a higher level of leadership than just delegating and executing. In many ways, they want to make a difference; they want to be significant; and by giving up control, you have freed yourself and have allowed yourself true support.”
Here are some additional highlights from speakers at the conference:
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno also spoke at the event despite the fact that she said she — like so many women — does not like to talk about herself.
“But if we do not share our stories, then we will not learn from each other’s mistakes,” she said.
Guadagno used the popularity of her more political Tweets and comments over the past two weeks to be more candid with the audience than ever.
“Could I get in any more trouble than I’ve gotten in over the last couple of weeks? No. So let’s just keep going,” she said.
Despite the fact that women-owned businesses have increased nearly 50 percent over the last 10 years, Guadagno said, women-centric conferences and events like Women Entrepreneurship Week are still necessary.
“You’d think with a conference like this we’d be making progress,” she said. “But I’m a lawyer. And I just read the New Jersey Law Journal this week.
“Inside — because they wouldn’t dare put this on the front page — it said ‘Male Partners at New Jersey Law Firms Make 44 percent More Than Women Partners.’
“This frightens me in the 21st century that this could be happening right under my nose, as an attorney for 30 years admitted to the practice of law in New Jersey, knowing all the women that I know in New Jersey who practice law. It is offensive to me that we have so much further to go.”
Guadagno said she will continue to work with the state of New Jersey to not only provide more accessible career and child care opportunities for working New Jersey women, but to narrow the gender gap.
“I am the 33rd secretary of state. I am the lieutenant governor. And when the governor leaves the state of New Jersey, I am the acting governor,” Guadagno said. “Three jobs — one salary.
“In this room, you better get that joke.”
Jen Slaw, professional juggler and former structural engineer, ended the informative program with an interactive and fun session on how to build the most fulfilling, balanced life while working as a woman entrepreneur.