A panel of five women in leadership positions spoke to a crowd of more than 100 about the challenges and societal expectations that women face in the modern business world.
The second annual Women’s Forum was hosted by the College of Business and Public Management in the Campus Center Ballroom Tuesday.
After introducing themselves to a lively crowd, an audience member asked the panel to explain the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in leadership.
“I think there is an advantage of being a woman in a visible position because when you walk into a room, often times you are noticed because you are not like everybody else,” said Shenda Baker, chief executive officer and co-founder of Synspira and president, co-founder and chief operations officer of Synedgen.
“I think the disadvantage for me is that oftentimes, I’ll be in a room and I will have a board member with me or an older gentleman. I’ll say my long spiel and then they will look at him for the answer. I don’t know what to do about that except to just keep working on it.”
Raji Brar, owner and COO of Countryside Market and Restaurants, has had similar experiences on various public and private boards which consist primarily of men.
“There have been a lot of board meetings where I will walk in and there are a lot of confused faces,” Brar said. “You do get noticed, a lot of times its confusion, especially when I go to corporate meetings.”
Brar added when handling her own business, she is often not given credit for the success of her company.
“They assume that the business has grown solely because of my father or solely because of my brother,” Brar said.
Anna Magzanyan, publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Business Journal, believes that the psychology of women provides a valuable competitive advantage.
“We can multi-task differently,” Magzanyan said. “I can do 85 things at once and not be phased. I noticed that in male leaders, they will say ‘I have to do this before I do this.” That’s different, that’s a focused approach…It’s a different type of leadership.”
Magzanyan said that managing both a family and a career is also a challenge.
“It’s hard to juggle family and a career. I am not going to lie,” Magzanyan said. “As a female leader, it’s different, you come home and there is still some responsibilities as a woman that you have.”
Magzanyan said that the key to managing those burdens is to share them with your partner.
“The only advice I can give is to delegate,” Magzanyan said. “Do not be embarrassed that you can’t get everything done. Do not beat yourself up because you can’t get everything done in a household.”
“We are kind of bred to say we are going to grow up and be moms and take care of kids. I went to work five weeks after my first kid and six weeks after my second kid. I have great nannies, I have great help around me, I made sure the family is close. I just get it done.”
Magzanyan said that when handling conflict in the workplace, she has had to reiterate to party members that she would be making the decisions.
“As a woman, you still want the opportunity to have a profession,” said Anita Ron, owner and president of BriteWorks, Inc. “So when I was dealing with it, it was juggling the business, dealing with the kids and a husband who was dealing with his own career. I felt like I was a single mom with a business.”
Ron told the audience to persevere through the challenges.
“By being an entrepreneur, it was going to give me the liberty, the time, to juggle things my way,” Ron said. “If it meant that I was going to be up late at night or early in the morning, with only two hours of sleep, I was willing to do that but I was not willing to jeopardize my little ones.”
Ron also pushed women and minorities in the audience who are business owners to register their businesses accordingly.
“There are certifications that you can get that will help you get business,” Ron said. “So if you are a woman, get certified as a woman-owned business. If you are a minority, get certified as a minority-owned business. That is going to help you get that door open much faster.”
The panel was asked about conducting business in a culture that is becoming more aware of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
Many of them cited zero-tolerance policies that were in place before the recent anti-harassment movements.
“It has always been zero tolerance for us,” said Nicole Enearu, CEO of Williams/Enearu/Harper-Howie Organization. “We are very focused on communication, open door policies. In orientation, we talk about how to get into contact with us.”
Enearu also believes that it is important to be accessible and proactive when dealing with sexual harassment issues.
“We schedule time to be at each restaurant where people can come in and talk to us,” Enearu said. “We encourage people to let us know what is going on. We investigate anything that is going on, any allegation.”
“In the janitorial arena, its always been an issue,” Ron said. “I realized that in this arena, a lot of women were being exploited, men as well. Some people were not even getting checks paid on a weekly or bi-weekly manner.”
Ron said her organization refuses to work with anyone who cannot maintain their ethical standards.
“If you cannot fit the culture, and you cannot respect who’s around you, then you don’t deserve to be working for us or any of the clients that we work for,” Ron said.
“As a woman, I think it is something that everyone has to voice,” Ron added. “Don’t keep things hidden. Say it, so that your organization can help you.”
At the end of the panel, University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman asked the women to provide a word of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
The women’s words were integrity, creativity, perseverance, fearlessness, and ownership.
Christian Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.