Women still face obstacles in pay equity and career development in the corporate world but there are ways to overcome those hurdles, according to panelists convened by NJBIZ to discuss some of those critical issues and others raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In no moment in history have these issue been more apparent than during this pandemic,” said Linda Wellbrock, the founder of Leading Women Entrepreneurs and the moderator for the discussion. “It’s even been referred to now as the ‘she-cession.'”
The panelists, Gillian Bleimann, executive vice president at Berje Inc.; Jennifer Garrard, vice president for human resources at Brother International Inc.; Lisa Osofsky, senior partner at Mazars; and Julie Tattoni, a partner at Windels Marx, emphasized the importance of communicating and building relationships both within an organization and with individuals at other companies.
Toward that end, Osofsky described three types of relationships and how they differ. “It’s a great question because a lot of people think that a coach is going to advocate for them and really a coach is somebody who speaks to you,” Osofsky said. “A mentor is somebody who speaks with you, and a sponsor is somebody who speaks for you really who advocates for you.”
She described a sponsorship program at Mazars designed to retain talented professionals. “We actually identify higher performing women coming up through the ranks and we pair them with a sponsor – a male or a female – somebody in the firm who can advocate for them. And we build a program through that and they work together on goals and expectations.”
Both Bleimann and Tattoni suggested that formal programs within organizations aren’t the only ways for women to find mentors or sponsors. “A mentor is really going to be providing you with support and primarily emotional support, career support, it can be outside your organization, but within your field,” Tattoni said. “The sponsor really has to be in your organization; that’s a person who’s going to move mountains, for you. That doesn’t have to be a woman, often, especially if you’re in a more male dominated field it’s more likely to be a male and might be better to be a male.”
Bleimann recounted her development as a leader and noted that simply observing how other women handle themselves can be useful. “I received information from somebody who said never talk about your personal life, never talk about your kids. I know some of us can probably understand that and they said, especially early on in your career keep that information private,” she said. “And for a few years you try that on for size. How does that fit? And I realized that actually that didn’t work for me. As a leader, I could take that and adjust that and then constantly, through your years, especially as a woman, it’s a bit of a process of what works, what doesn’t work, finding people — it doesn’t even have to be a one-on-one, quote-unquote, mentorship but watching and learning from the strong people around you.”
Mentors can also play an important role in broadening one’s perspective, Garrard said. “The other thing to consider is looking for a mentor that may have a completely different point of view,” she said. “One of the mentors I had earlier in my career was the head of sales. And for me, being in HR and maybe not always being taken seriously as a business professional, having a mentor who challenged how I thought about the business and challenged how I showed up to meetings and how I came to the table with ideas, was a tremendous growth opportunity for me as a businessperson. … So, if you have an opportunity to get a mentor who maybe isn’t exactly aligned with where you want to go but could offer insights into different kinds of companies if they’re external, or different parts of the business if they’re internal, it’s a great opportunity for you to stretch yourself that way as well.”
The panelists agreed on the importance of networking and set forth some advice for how to approach the task. For example, Garrard listed many of the traditional paths – appearing on or attending panel discussions, conferences and trade shows – she also suggested that women think more expansively about opportunities.
“Internally, if you have employee resource groups or committees or projects that you can volunteer for that are not necessarily selected in advance — whatever you can do to broaden your reach outside of your day-to-day job is a great opportunity,” she said. “Because I look at how quickly things change in the world, in the workplace, and where your career path may be headed isn’t necessarily where you wind up a few years down the road.”
Osofsky picked up on the notion of engagement. “You have to raise your hand, you have to engage if it’s within your own organization and participate in whatever it is — committees — opportunities to show that you can execute as well,” she explained. “So don’t just raise your hand and come to the meeting. Raise your hand, come to the meeting and then volunteer to do something to help execute, because that’s a gift that gives you an opportunity — one to be visible to others in your organization. So if you want to start to build a brand to get recognition to be able to elevate your career, you’ll have visibility if you’re participating and more things.”
The idea of networking can be daunting, Bleimann acknowledged, but she added that there are a variety of ways to get plugged in during down time. “It can be a 20-minute Zoom even if it’s somebody you’ve never talked to before,” she noted. “Use those other hours that used to be occupied.”
Wellbrock agreed. “I love that point,” she said. “Listen, if it doesn’t exist, you have the ability to create it. So take these ideas and go create solutions and, hopefully, you can meet some new people within your firms.”
While lunches, happy hours and other events may be enjoyable, Tattoni urged women to be deliberate when it comes to networking. “I think you also need to create a path for yourself to see who are the important people in my industry or who the important people that I ought to be getting to know that I could benefit from and developing that pathway and then sticking to some sort of plan,” she said. “I think it’s a good way to start the year … setting out some written goals for yourself about what’s achievable for you in the first month of the year, and you can plan it out for the 12 months to figure out what things do you want to be participating in so that at the end of the year, you feel like you’ve made some progress in that.”
For some women, starting a business is another option for success and while that path may be difficult, Wellbrock offered assurances that help is available. “The glass ceiling is still very much in effect on the entrepreneurial front, she said. “There are now an estimated 11.3 million women-owned businesses and in the U.S., they are employing 9 million people and generating in the neighborhood of $1.6 trillion in annual sales. So why do less than 3% of them get funding?” she asked.
In fact, resources are available. Tattoni directed women to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey Business Action Center.
And Wellbrock offered to personally assist would-be entrepreneurs. “These are some of my favorite topics,” she said. “If there are people out there who want to connect with me directly I’m happy to give some further advice on this. I know the universities in the state have so many amazing programs for business planning and coaching and mentoring, so I’m here to help any entrepreneur out there who wants to launch.”
Register to watch a recording of the discussion at https://njbiz.com/webinars/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]