Women at the Wheel talk millennial workforce

By Aleesia Forni

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Work hard, be confident and seek out new opportunities. Those were just a few pieces of advice a group of female millennial panelists had for their peers in the workplace during the “Driving Your Business: Women at the Wheel” event on Sept. 21 at the Westchester Country Club.

“Sometimes we get some flack because people say we don’t want to take direction or we’re lazy, but I think that’s very much not the case,” said Laura M. Belkner, a trusts and estates litigation attorney with The Law Offices of Kevin H. Cohen in White Plains. “We’re very driven as a generation.”

“I think a lot of the things we ascribe to millennials are actually just signs of the times. Technology, social media, none of us are immune to that,” said Nell Derick Debevoise, founder and CEO of Inspiring Capital, an organization that helps business professionals find jobs. “Millennials are native to it. They were born with screens in their hands.”

While entering a workforce that places a high value on experience can be daunting for young professionals, panelists noted the importance of finding other ways to make up for their lack of work history.

Belkner told attendees of the conference, which was presented by Citrin Cooperman & Co. LLP, that at the start of her career as an attorney, she was “terrified.” To make up for her lack of experience, Belkner said she “absolutely felt that I needed to be the most prepared person in the room.”

Sarah Jones-Maturo, president of commercial real estate services company RM Friedland, echoed that sentiment. “I felt that I worked harder than all the other sales associates,” she said of the start of her career.

But Derick Debevoise cautioned that becoming too caught up with overachieving can sometimes lead young women to miss out on certain opportunities. “Perfect is the enemy of the good,” she said.

The panel advised young women in the workplace to target not only their strengths but also their flaws.

“Know what your weaknesses are so when you’re faced with a challenge, you can work towards improving on those weaknesses,” Belkner said. “Without having those failures and those slipups, I would certainly not be in the position I am today, because those are certainly the most valuable lessons that I’ve had in my career.”

With the millennial generation constantly plugged into social media and other distractions, panelists stressed the importance of time management.

“I block out periods of time every day just to do one thing, and during that time, I shut down my email,” Belkner said. “I put (my phone) in my desk drawer, and I’ll only take it out if I need a mental break for two minutes.”

“It’s about maximizing every single minute of my day,” Jones-Maturo agreed, whether that’s making necessary calls in the car on her way to the office or getting in her workout at 5 a.m.

The panel also advised young women to look to older generations in the workplace for advice.

“Find a mentor whose opinion you respect and who you trust and ask them all of your questions,” Belkner said.

Those mentors can also share tips with respect to networking and forming connections away from a computer screen by “teaching them the value of those in-person connections, and also how to do it, because it’s terrifying,” Derick Debevoise said. “It’s hard and awkward and uncomfortable for the vast majority of us.”

The panel also discussed ways older generations can assist in bridging the gap between themselves and millennials.

“The bad news is that companies aren’t doing the right things,” Derick Debevoise said, adding that companies should look for ways to show their employees the value of their work.

She also encouraged senior leadership to embrace flexibility within the workplace.

“Millennials don’t understand why, when I have this device that’s a mini-computer in my hand all the time, do I have to be sitting next to you in an uncomfortable chair with neon lighting?” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want me to be doing that from the comfort of my home where I’m actually super-focused and ready to be on?”

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About the author

Aleesia Forni
Aleesia Forni covers transportation, tourism, nonprofits and residential real estate for the Westchester County Business Journal. She previously worked as a financial reporter for the online newsletter Prospect News. She started with the Westchester County Business Journal in April 2016.
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