Business leaders echo lessons to young women
To succeed in business and management, women must turn disadvantages into learning opportunities and achievements, a panel of industry leaders said at an event on Saturday.
“I look at difference as an advantage,” said Carol Fulp, president and CEO of The Partnership, which supports multicultural professionals. “You’ve been in situations when people have devalued you, … and I always say, ‘Isn’t that unfortunate for them?’ … Use it as a strength.”
“You have to reframe all your liabilities as assets,” agreed Ruth Nemzoff, a Women’s Studies Research Center scholar, former assistant minority leader of the New Hampshire legislature and former New Hampshire deputy commissioner of Health and Welfare.
At a certain point, Fulp added, raw intelligence stops being an asset and interpersonal skills come into play. “It’s those that have EQ, emotional intelligence, that rise,” she said.
Mentorship is an important component of interpersonal skills, the panelists agreed. “None of us get to the position we’re in without a lot of people behind us,” Dr. Rita Hardiman, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Keolis Commuter Services, said.
Hardiman, whose company operates the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail, added that her field is only about 15 percent women.
When looking for a mentor, “someone who shares your values is good,” said Joanne Pokaski, director of Workforce Development at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Nemzoff agreed, adding that she has found not a single mentor to guide her but rather “pieces of mentor.”
“It’s great if you find that Prince Charming in the form of a mentor, … but most of us just find pieces of mentor,” Nemzoff said. “And don’t look for someone who looks like you. Look for somebody who can help you with what you need help with.”
Still, fearlessness and bravery also factor into success, the panelists said. WSRC scholar Edith Coleman Chears, who facilitated the event, circulated photographs of New York’s “Fearless Girl” statue, which was installed earlier this month.
“I would attribute some of my success to being too dumb to be afraid,” Hardiman joked.
She recalled being chastised as a child for wanting to play with “boy” toys — “I was too dumb to know that I was bucking the patriarchy,” she laughed. She also recalled writing a controversial editorial for her high school paper and having the superintendent call her mother and tell her to “‘put a muzzle on her daughter.’”
Even so, fearlessness does not necessarily mean an absence of nerves, Nemzoff said. “While you act fearless, it doesn’t mean you feel fearless,” she said, again emphasizing the importance of a support network.
“You have to know yourself,” Nemzoff said. “Get all the help you can, and it usually doesn’t happen by magic. You have to ask for it.”
Nemzoff added that even “misery” can motivate women in the workforce, explaining that unhappiness in certain roles motivated her to ask herself, “How do I get out of here?”
“Sometimes, the worst jobs leave you in the best places,” Pokaski agreed.
Prof. Shulamit Reinharz, Ph.D. ’77 (SOC), the director of the WSRC, said that women are almost like Weeble Wobbles, a toy that rights itself after being knocked over.
As the panel fielded questions from the audience, Lissandra Lopez, the vice president of Sales Strategy and development manager at Citizens Bank, asked the panelists how they stay confident. Lopez explained that she often finds herself subconsciously downplaying her achievements or shifting credit away from herself.
Nemzoff responded that she has surrounded herself with a good support network in order to feel confident. “I try not to go out there naked, … without a support group,” she said.
Another attendee, Mercedes Hall ’17, explained that she has found it difficult to walk the line between confidence and arrogance when taking charge.
Nemzoff advised her to evaluate her options before acting. “You can’t stand up all the time,” she said. “What’s the most effective strategy? Sometimes it’s being a polite bitch.”
Hardiman agreed, asserting that confidence and self-motivation can be key. Often, “I look in the mirror [before work] and say, ‘You are a badass, Rita,’” she laughed.