Insightful Discussions
Aug 13, 2018

Achievements and Challenges for Women in Business

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Women continue to make great strides – and achieve stand-out success – in the business world. But even with all the advancements, women still face hurdles. Female leaders and entrepreneurs are often juggling not just career obligations but also responsibilities at home. And women still struggle to earn as much as their male counterparts. We asked four local female business leaders to share their thoughts on such issues, as well as their advice on reaching professional aspirations while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

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What unique strengths and talents do you think women bring to the business world?

MELANIE WELSH: I believe women possess a variety of “natural” strengths and talents that add value to the workplace. We tend to enjoy building genuine and meaningful relationships with others, which is beneficial in facilitating teamwork and inclusiveness.

Having a strong sense of responsibility and accountability – for ourselves and our teammates – is an advantage because we get things accomplished. Whether it’s planning, organization or execution, we like to check items off our to-do list.

Our focus on understanding and caring for others’ wellbeing through empathy is also a key attribute for women. We are inclined to be good listeners and encouragers.

All these qualities are desirable traits for success and growth in business.

LAURA BRANSFIELD: One of the most unique strengths of women is empathy. If we treat everyone as an individual and respect different thoughts, feelings, bodies, family structures, incomes, learning styles, values and aspirations, we can create deeper connections.

People love to be heard and understood, and the ability to connect with others is a quality we often find in great leaders.

KANDRA ROMEO: I believe women bring several strengths and talents to the workplace.

We are natural leaders and value relationships. These skills can help create a strong team environment, ultimately driving a team to success.

What has made me most successful in each position I have held has been my ability to multitask, to stay organized and to be an empathetic listener and strong problem-solver.

CHERYL MOODY: In my opinion, most women are hard-wired to multitask, and we tend to see the big picture.

What are the biggest obstacles for women in business and/or leadership roles?

ROMEO: I think it’s the feeling of not being taken seriously or really being listened to.

MOODY: If you had asked me this question 20 years ago, I would have told you gender bias or our own perception of what we can accomplish.

However, today, I honestly do not believe there are many obstacles. If you work hard, know your business, and are good at relationships, the rest will follow.

However, I may be an anomaly. I tend to have a very strong personality and don’t get frazzled very easily. But, depending on your line of work, there may still be a few gender-biased individuals. I work in the construction industry, so I have seen a few of those during my 28 years of experience, especially in those early years.

I think some women are afraid to take risks, while men are more willing to jump into a new role without being 100-percent comfortable with it. They have the confidence that they can make it work ingrained within them.

We need to ingrain that confidence in our young women. I think this holds some women back from taking those risks that would further their careers.

BRANSFIELD: As a Registered Dietitian, I am in a female-dominated profession, so, thankfully, I do not face some of the same obstacles as other women in business.

However, I would say the biggest struggle for me is quantifying my success or acknowledging how well the company is doing. I am driven by helping people in any capacity that I can, and those successes are quantified more by stories and testimonials and not always directly connected to a dollar amount or other objective measures.

So, my biggest obstacle is remembering that my company is doing important, impactful work in profound ways that cannot be measured by traditional standards.

WELSH: Equality is a huge one! Although we have public awareness of gender disparities with pay and advancement, there doesn’t seem to be a conscious movement or easy solution in overcoming this obstacle.

Although not all of us aspire to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, whatever role or advancement goal we set for ourselves, we want to be compensated equally to our male counterparts. We want to be heard, recognized and rewarded fairly.

What is your advice for overcoming those obstacles?

MOODY: Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” --T.S. Eliot

Consulting is all about helping clients get to their desired outcome in the most economical and efficient way. My best advice would be to cultivate relationships, know your trade, and deliver what you say you are going to deliver – every time. If you make a mistake, own up – immediately – then fix it to the best of your ability.

ROMEO: I would say stay the course and constantly lead by example.

If you are being true to yourself and have a strong work ethic, those around you will take notice and, eventually, you will be looked to for advancement or to work on a project or team.

We, as women, have what it takes inside of us to do anything we put our minds to.

WELSH: Be confident and believe that you can do anything you set your mind to achieve. Remember, if you think you can, you’re right, and if you think you can’t, you’re right, too. Our own self-talk can lift us up to incredible heights or it can hold us back and put limitations on what we desire.

Why do you think women still struggle to advance in the workplace, when compared to their male counterparts?

WELSH: Fear can hinder us from taking that next big step in our career. Is that the case for all? Probably not. But I would say many of us are limited by our own self-doubt or fear – Can I do it? Do I really want this? Do I take the risk? What are the consequences? The questions can go on and on.

Often, we can rationalize the reason for not going after the promotion more easily than we can raise our hand and let it be known that we want to advance.

ROMEO: I feel like we can be our own worst enemy at times, especially when it comes to advancing in the workplace. Not believing we are good enough can be detrimental to advancement opportunities.

Having a strong sense of self-worth and continued education are key. When you believe in yourself and have zero doubt in your knowledge and ability to do the job, you exude an air of confidence, which tells those around you that you are the best candidate for the job, regardless of your gender.

MOODY: Although a successful woman in the business world may be the boss at work, typically, she still holds the roles of wife and mother and all the associated tasks that come along with those roles once she gets home.

They are also the ones who get the phone call at 10 a.m. when their 4-year-old has a fever or at 3:45 p.m. when the 6-year-old gets his tooth knocked out. This dynamic adds another layer of stress and time management to working mothers.

To what do you attribute a continued wage gap?

ROMEO: Personally, I think it is tied to not asking for what we are worth. Do the research on what positions pay in your market and profession. If you have the education and/or experience needed, when asked for starting salary requirements, don’t be afraid to ask for what others are being paid in your market and profession.

MOODY: I don’t have a good answer for this. The only answer I can come up with is one I do not like – there is no good reason for this perpetuation.

Women and men can perform about 95 percent of the jobs out there with equal success. There are those select specialty jobs that only a man (professional linebacker) or a woman (ballerina) can perform but they are few and far between.

WELSH: The disparity in wages has been the norm for a long time. As more leaders address this issue as an important metric to track within their corporate goals, I believe we will see the gap start to shrink.

Women must have a voice, though, in speaking up, even when it’s not the most comfortable or politically correct thing to do. Awareness can facilitate and impact change, so have the conversation.

This won’t happen overnight, but at least it appears that some movement in the right direction is taking place!

What is your advice to employers to close that gap?

MOODY: If a woman and a man have similar education, experience and work performance, they should be receiving similar compensation. Period.

ROMEO: I would ask them to be mindful about the candidates they are reviewing and remove gender from the equation. Base decisions on education, work experience, skills, abilities, accomplishments and references.

WELSH: Be intentional and challenge yourselves by reviewing the data to determine exactly how you rank with gender disparity. Be transparent with the results and have open dialogue with your teams about the impact this has on your organization’s goals and the engagement level of employees.

Then, create a structured plan to start narrowing the gap and track the results as regularly as if it were a business goal because, in fact, it is!

How can women help other women succeed?

BRANSFIELD: Let go of any feelings of jealously and self-doubt. There is enough success available for everyone and we can all get to our goals faster and more easily if we bring others along with us.

WELSH: Be an inspiration and a great role model to others. To me, this is not defined by age or experience but by giving and sharing of yourself, whether it’s your time, talent or treasure.

We all have something of value to share with each other. It may be a kind word or compliment, bits of wisdom and knowledge, something new that you just learned, a great book, a fabulous networking opportunity, a gift, etc.

It’s always great to have the formality of a mentor/mentee relationship, but we can also find small nuggets daily that we can give freely to each other. I am amazed at the inspiration and perspective I get from my 23-year-old step-daughter, Madison. I learn so much from her.

ROMEO: We can help each other succeed in business by sharing our stories – what we have overcome, failures we have endured, and successes we have achieved – and by not being scared to offer up advice.

I think it is imperative that women support each other and raise each other up whenever possible. There is no place for pettiness in the work place is my motto.

MOODY: Women should be lifting each other up, not holding each other back. How does the saying go? – “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

What are your top three tips for achieving work-life balance?

WELSH: I’m confident that most of us place extremely high expectations on ourselves – the house has to be cleaned, dinner on the table every night, work extra hours, take care of the family.

Re-adjusting our beliefs and attitudes about how things “should” be can take some of the stress off us. Understanding that every aspect of your life doesn’t have to be perfect to be balanced is a start. We put undue stress on ourselves in the quest for everything to be “just right.”

By having discipline and structure around normal day-to-day activities, we can prioritize and be in control of the things that help keep our lives running smoothly.

Learn how to say no. Our sense of obligation or not letting others down can guilt us into saying yes when we really want to say no. Recognize that it’s OK to politely decline when necessary. If you’re already feeling stretched or stressed, why take on additional responsibilities that move you further away from your work-life balance?

MOODY: Owning my own business is my best tip for achieving work-life balance. I realize that this is not a reasonable tip for most, but the reason it is on the top of my list may be achievable at your workplace.

Tip number one – Flexible work hours. Granted, I work over 40 hours a week most weeks. But how I spend those hours during the day is up to me. I have four children, so flexibility during the day is important to me.

Tip number two – You do not have to do it all. Get your kids or husband to help or hire a helper to come in once a month to knock out some of the home chores. If you can’t afford it, prioritize. The laundry can wait. Who cares if the floor has not been mopped. Go to the beach! You deserve it. Self-care is very important!

Tip number three – You can’t sweat the little things. Family comes first but work is a close second. Meet your deadlines and do what you say you are going to do. If you can’t, find someone who can.

ROMEO: Learn how to say no. This is a lesson I had to learn head-on. I always said yes to take on more – more tasks at work, more volunteer opportunities in the community, more projects at home. And guess what happened? I burned out hard. Learning to turn down some things is necessary.

Take time for yourself! It is absolutely necessary to carve out time for yourself, whether it is a walk around the block, gardening, reading a book, going shopping, or getting a massage. Whatever it may be, be sure to schedule “me time” a few times a week. This will save you from burnout, as well.

And, last but not least, lean on friends and family and ask for help when you need it. I know, for myself, this is something I need to be better at. I have a really hard time asking for help or opening up when something is bothering me. It is not healthy professionally or personally to never ask for help, and I am working on being better at this on a daily basis.

BRANSFIELD: I will let you know when I figure it out!

My best advice is to surround yourself with people you can trust to delegate tasks, to lift you up when you’re down, and to bring you back to reality when your head is too far in the clouds, and who allow you to be a perfectly imperfect human.

How can women manage the stress of striking that work-life balance?

MOODY: Find a tribe – a group of like-minded friends who stand by you and want to see you succeed. In return, you provide support to them, as well. I have found that these friends push me to be my best self. I am more active, more creative and less stressed because of them.

BRANSFIELD: Stress management looks different for everyone, so I think it’s important to connect with something that feels right for you.

How do you relax and recharge? Are you giving yourself the time to enjoy the things that mean the most to you? Are you making your passions a priority?

For me, managing stress includes spending quality time with like-minded women. I gravitate towards funny, witty, sarcastic women, and I love doing anything that makes me laugh, whether it is watching a funny movie, going to a comedy club, or just enjoying each other’s company.

ROMEO: For me, it is being able to tell myself it is OK to not be perfect and it is OK if all chores are not completed before going to bed.

Being able to utilize good time-management skills has allowed me to balance work and home life fairly well. I make sure I give myself enough time to balance daily tasks.

And if I am feeling the stress and feeling overwhelmed, I refer to my tips above and give myself some “me time,” which usually consists of me spending a day in PJs on the weekend and reading, napping and/or watching movies – my best reset button!

WELSH: It has to start with self-care. If we don’t take care of our own needs first – whether they are physical, mental, emotional or spiritual – we are not going to have the energy and happiness to offer others.

It’s natural for us to want to take care of others and put their needs ahead of our own. When we neglect caring for ourselves, it’s impossible to feel balanced in our life.

Taking “me time” opportunities not only nourishes your heart, body and soul, it also carries through in your personal interactions at work and home. Take the time to prioritize yourself so that your best self shines.

What one book has most inspired or motivated you in terms of your own professional goals?

ROMEO: I have to admit, I read for pleasure and for an escape every evening, so to answer this question is a hard one for me.

Working for the credit union has offered many educational opportunities over the years and I have read many books that have helped motivate and inspire me in my field.

However, one book did pop into my head when asked this question and that book is “Yes Please” by Amy Poehler. Amy is funny and quirky, and her style of writing spoke to me tremendously. Having gone through a divorce with two children and having to remain strong and keep on keeping on has been one of the hardest things I had to do… and am still doing.

Amy’s book made me laugh and cry at the times I needed it most. One of my favorite quotes from Amy Poehler: “Change is the only constant. Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being. See what I just did there? I saved you thousands of dollars on self-help books.”

WELSH: I love the lessons that Jon Gordon shares in “The Energy Bus.” He uses the analogy of a bus ride story to share teachings and principles about the power of positive energy that can be applied to your personal and professional life.

It’s an easy but fun read that will inspire you to self-reflect on how to handle the life and/or work challenges that come your way.

MOODY: My ongoing experiences in the field inspire and motivate me more than any book I have read.

Being involved in projects basically at their inception and being able to work with the client through construction and see the final product – that’s what inspires me. The knowledge that I helped that project be successful motivates me.

I feel as though I have a personal stake in each and every project I work on, which, in a way, I do. It’s my company. How my company performs is a reflection of me.

BRANSFIELD: “The Four Agreements” has allowed me to find so much freedom in my life and in my work. The “Four Agreements” are: be impeccable with your word; don’t make assumptions; always do your best; and don’t take anything personally.

When you follow these agreements, it is really difficult to have regrets, guilt or shame because you are always putting your best, most authentic self out into the world.

But the most important agreement that has helped me is not taking things personally. This was so eye-opening to me because I wanted to learn how to not be personally affected if someone is upset about a scheduling conflict or if a company decides not to utilize our services for corporate wellness. I wanted to learn how to deal with it if and when people don’t like me.

What I learned from this book is that the only opinion about me that matters is my own. And as long as I am impeccable with my word and I always do my best, I can be free from the anxieties of the what ifs.

How has technology assisted women in becoming entrepreneurs or business leaders?

WELSH: Technology has made it possible for women to access and accelerate the gathering and sharing of information, which provides almost limitless benefits.

Through technology we can:
  • Attain technical knowledge in a particular field of expertise.
  • Access resources and tools for professional development in leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • Find guidance on small business start-up, business planning and funding options.
  • Build social connections with like-minded individuals, peers and influencers.
  • Find tools and tips to create efficiencies in organization, time management and work-life balance.
  • Let the world know who we are, what we do and how we can help.
MOODY: I believe that technology has created an environment in which the consumer expects instant access. This, I believe, is actually a hinderance.

However, with that said, technology has allowed easier access to data, streamlining report preparation and submittals.

Offices are no longer a requirement, depending on the type of work you do. Virtual offices, where all your data is located in the cloud, allow for the ultimate in flexibility. You can work anywhere there is electricity and internet.

BRANSFIELD: When I first started Summerfield Custom Wellness, I had more time than I had money coming in, so if there was a free seminar or networking event, I was always there. We take these things for granted, but I would have never known about these resources without listservs and social media.

Because our company specializes in corporate wellness programs, we are onsite all over town at various organizations. We have been able to leverage technology to run completely on the cloud to make our corporate wellness model possible.

And now that I have moved to Raleigh and expanded the company there, technology has allowed me to run our Wilmington operations from afar with relatively no pain on the management side and no interruption in the quality of care that Summerfield provides in Wilmington.

ROMEO: Wow, this is a hard one to answer. Technology is ever-changing. So long as you stay open to new technology entering the workplace and are not afraid to change and grow with it – and even use it to pioneer change in the workplace – you will be ahead of the game.

What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur or leader?

MOODY: Build relationships. Be confident. Stand your ground if you are right. Take credit if credit is due, but don’t if it’s not. Admit if you are wrong. Meet your deadlines. Avoid politics and religious discussions. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

“I can accept failure. Everybody fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. Fear is an illusion.” --Michael Jordan

BRANSFIELD: When I was in my early 20s, I read “Secrets of a Millionaire Mind” and, since then, have been functioning under the “Ready – Fire – Aim” principle that I learned from that book.

When I have a new idea, I immediately start talking as if it is already in the works. I continue to talk about the idea and keep the energy flowing forward, even if only in little bits and even if that idea evolves over time.

Then, I set a deadline for myself and tell people about it. Because I am impeccable with my word, I am always able to deliver the product that I promised, even though it might look a little nuts behind the scenes at the end.

As a perfectionist, there is always one more thing to research, one more addition or one more level of refinement. Do not let the “one more things” of the world paralyze you.

Another piece of advice – which is similar advice that I give to our patients – is to live your life on offense. Live on purpose.

We can sometimes get in a bad habit of just reacting to things around us, waking up in the morning and wondering about the landmines we will need to dodge or giving our lives the power to make our decisions for us.

Look at the things you do that bring you joy and do those things more while trying to do less of the things that steal your joy.

Versions of this life on offense are available to everyone, although it will look drastically different in each setting. Write your own story.

ROMEO: I would say to never give up on reaching your goals. We all get scared; it’s normal. I started a small business as a side project a while back, which became an operational business for my sister to run and use as her source of income.

I cannot tell you how many times I was like, What are you doing Kandra? Are you crazy to think this will work? I didn’t let the fear of defeat get to me, though.

We have to know and endure defeat and failures in order to be successful. It’s all part of the process, I think.
I would also say to use the resources available to you in your community. We have so many networking groups and sources here in Wilmington to help you succeed in business and as a leader.

WELSH: Dream big, set lofty goals and believe in yourself. Be very intentional and clear on what you want to accomplish, and “see” yourself achieving that. Your mind is an incredibly powerful tool that should be leveraged in attaining your goals. Make sure your thoughts and words are positive affirmations that support your vision and aspirations of success.

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