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Find your voice, make time & negotiate: lessons from women in business

Paula Ferreira has always been gutsy enough to ask the right questions, putting superiors’ feet to the fire when opportunities passed her by without reason or when her previously flexible job was en route to inflexibility after she had a baby.

“I had my daughter right after 9/11 and I started working a flex schedule before they were cool. I started working from 7 to 3, and my boss came to me and said, ‘people are saying you should be in the office more.’ I said ‘aren’t I getting everything done?’ and he said, ‘yes, but I think they just need to see you here more,’” Ferreira relayed. “I had to have the confidence in myself to say ‘if I can’t do this schedule, then I think I have to leave and find somewhere else to go.’”

Ferreira, a tax accountant, had her daughter in March, but worked tax season that year anyway. She parted ways with that firm and called it one of the best decisions she’d ever made. That’s when she joined Mazars, where she’s found flexibility and success for 18 years and is now the office managing partner at Mazars USA LLP New Jersey.

‘Find your voice’

As Ferreira found her voice, so too did Janet Duch, president of the XFL team New York Guardians and the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s NJBIZ Women in Business Symposium at the Doubletree by Hilton in Somerset, where Ferreira and others spoke on panels about finding opportunity and cultivating success in the second half of a career.

“Find your voice” was one nugget of advice Duch shared, adding that a boost of self-confidence naturally comes along with finding one’s voice in a professional environment and thus leads to effective communication and leadership skills.

Duch is the only female president of New York Metro’s 16 professional sports teams, and one of two out of eight in the newly relaunched XFL league.

“Communication is a key part of being successful anywhere, work, home, wherever, life.” Wells Fargo Senior Vice President of Wealth Advisor New Jersey Stacey Roman said about speaking up and being honest. “Just be yourself, be authentic, and if they don’t like it, so what who cares?”

Finding your voice won’t just help you, but those around you, noted Archer Greiner PC Partner Lori Grifa.

“When someone passes you the mic, that’s your opportunity to speak for somebody who’s not going to have an opportunity to be spoken for,” Grifa said.

She was the third female partner at Archer Greiner in 38 years, and when the firm changed its rule that those on a part-time track – or the mommy track, as she said it’s sometimes called – could be up for partner as well, she called her colleagues out for not nominating a single woman on a part-time schedule for partnership.

The move did not make her that popular, she joked, but it was effective. The meeting was adjourned without a vote, and when they reconvened, a list of fresh nominees included at least one of those women, and said woman became partner after that.

A time for everything

Along with finding your voice, make time for yourself to find balance.

“One of the most underrated aspects of healthy leadership that I had a lot of resistance to accepting was finding the right balance of work and personal life,” Duch explained in her keynote. “ This was difficult for me in much of the early part of my career due to the corporate environment at the time and some of the pressures of the job.”

Finding the time for a pilates class or a walk is as important to the happiness of her loved ones as it is her general health and leadership abilities, Duch explained.

Even on a plane, panel moderator and Wells Fargo Regional Managing Director of New Jersey Amrit Walla said, someone’s at the front of the airplane reminding you to take care of yourself first. How does someone do that in day to day life? Kivvit General Manager Laura Matos meditates twice a day for five minutes minimum, sometimes forcing herself to, and Gibbons PC Real Property Director Jennifer Phillips Smith also meditates nightly. After downloading the Couch to 5K app, she also started running, and then spinning.

“It’s the thing that keeps me together,” Smith said. “If I’ve gone two or three days and I haven’t squeezed a workout in, I’ll say to my kids ‘you have to let mommy do this, I have to work out right now, and I will be much butter person an hour from now. So I’ll see you in an hour. Close the door, and nobody bother mommy on the bike.’”

Judith Sheft, associate vice president of strategic relationships and external affairs at New Jersey Institute of Technology, goes to sleep in clean exercise clothes to stave off any morning workout doubts. She said it’s “kind of like pajamas,” and then the “it’s too cold to change from pajamas into workout clothes” excuse evaporates.

Who runs the world?

Hester Agudosi, New Jersey’s chief diversity officer and a panel moderator at the symposium, shared statistics on the success in women-led businesses. Companies that have higher numbers of women in their workforce have gained higher financial profits and productivity when compared to companies that have fewer women employees, Agudosi noted, and four out of 10 U.S. businesses are women-owned.

“During the period of 2007 to 2018, the number of women-owned businesses surged 58 percent while all businesses increased only 12 percent. That’s a significant, very telling statistic,” she continued.

The total employment by women-owned businesses rose by 21 percent while it declined by 0.8 percent for all businesses, she shared. And, the total revenue of women-owned businesses increased by 46 percent during this period while all businesses only increased by 36 percent.

“We know the value that we bring but it’s also important that we have some constructive and courageous conversations about how we navigate ourselves to be able to bring that value add,” Agudosi said.

If women help the productivity and profitability of businesses, salaries should reflect that. Chief executive of franchise consultancy FranServe, Alesia Visconti spent much of her career coaching salary negotiations. There are two things anyone should remember when negotiating salary, she explained: one, a company always knows its budget before the conversation comes up; and two, go on as many interviews as possible to learn, keep options open, and stave off nerves that come from hanging onto one opportunity.

When a potential employer asks a candidate about salary, Visconti recommends flipping the conversation and asking the employer about the salary range.

“They’ll want you to spit it out first. They’ll push it, and they’ll push it a little more, but ask it again. Hang tight. Don’t give in. They eventually will come around and tell you what the position pays. When you’re there and sweating, you have to stay cool,” Visconti said.

She recommends doing research beforehand on salaries for the open position.

“Just know your value because it’s the deal going in. When you negotiate a salary that’s less, you are going to be resentful. And don’t believe in six months we’re going to review you,” Visconti said. “It’s the deal going in.”