At a time when women make up the majority of the workforce, but are often absent from executive leadership meetings, the jury is still out on whether or not the glass ceiling still exists.
But at a recent women’s seminar at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, attendees agreed on one thing: strong networks matter when it comes to advancing women’s careers.
“There’s been so much progress and I think we make that progress through positive example,” said Susan Fox, president of the White Plains Hospital. “You have more women in the workforce now that are willing to be mentors. That increases our ability to move forward and with more speed.”
“I never had a mentor,” she added. “I had to figure it out myself.”
Hosted by accounting and professional services firm Citrin Cooperman & Co. L.L.P., five women executives spoke Sept. 18 about their careers paths and the major challenges they’ve faced as leaders. Each started their careers in “pink collar” positions in education, health care and retail, but now have taken over jobs typically held by men.
In addition to Fox, panelists at the event included Roberta Bernhardt, a Citrin Cooperman partner; Kimberly Cline, Long Island University president; Lori Littell-Pape, Chase Consumer and Community Banking chief control officer; and Dee DelBello, CEO of Westfair Communications, which publishes the Business Journal. The event was organized by Citrin Cooperman’s White Plains and Norwalk offices.
A decades-old brotherhood of working men has provided a support network and camaraderie. But a network for women is just beginning, DelBello said, saying she believes the women have shattered the glass ceiling. Only 15 percent of executive leadership positions are held by women today. But with additional mentoring and time, more women will emerge as leaders, she said.
“God, I wish I was a young kid today,” DelBello said. “I think this next generation of women is absolutely incredible — the opportunities available to them, the courage and stamina of these women. I don’t think they’re going to have much trouble if they have confidence in themselves.”
Both panelists and audience members said it can be difficult standing up as the only woman in the room. But by teaming up with other women and by looking for mentors in both men and women, a better path is being blazed for women in the future, they said. Institutions are starting to take work-life balances and flexible schedules more seriously, too, according to Cline.
Regarding Millennials, Cline said, “The work-life balance for them is huge. It’s important for us to tell them our stories, what happened along the way, to let them understand the importance of hard work. You can leave at 5. That’s your choice. But you’re not going to become CEO.”
Bernhardt candidly recounted that when she graduated with her accounting degree about 25 years ago, there were not many positions open for women.
One hiring representative at one of the largest accounting firms at the time even blatantly told her that, despite her good grades, he couldn’t hire her because she was a women and a little older than the rest of her class.
“‘You know I can’t hire you,’” she recalled him saying. “‘But I just had to meet you. You have a great GPA.’”
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