Find Your Fearless: Female lead

Women, especially Millennials, are charting their own unique course. A dynamic panel of thought leaders offered real-world, honest advice for attaining goals at this Zeno-sponsored event in New York City.

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Panel

Jennifer Fleiss, cofounder and head of business development, Rent the Runway
Jenna Goudreau, associate editor at Entrepreneur.com
Kathleen Griffith, director of new business, Mcgarrybowen
Alexandra Lebenthal, president and CEO of Lebenthal & Company
Christine Osekoski, publisher, Fast Company
Barby Siegel, CEO of Zeno Group
Leontyne Green Sykes, CMO, IKEA US 

Career goals of Millennials
Bernadette Casey (PRWeek): Goals are very different for every woman. A recent survey by Zeno Group shows that only 15% of Millennial women want to be the number one person at a company. It would be interesting to hear some of our panelists share ideas on career goals as some are Millennials and others supervise Millennials.

Kathleen Griffith (Mcgarrybowen): I'm a Millennial. I also manage a team of Millennials and there's no manual for that. What I thought about a lot was just looking at myself and asking what are all the things that historically matter to me. Where are my strengths? Where are my weaknesses? I'm curious. I'm a great multitasker, ambitious, and I know that things matter to me beyond money. I have all those textbook Millennial qualities, but I lack structure and am not particularly good at that. So, I was looking at weaknesses and asking how can I structure these things for my team. How can I work on cultivating those weaknesses myself so I can provide those things for a Millennial group?

You want to create in-depth quarterly reviews and performance evaluations. Millennials yearn for real-time feedback and want to know how they are doing right now in this moment. My team gets daily, real-time feedback.

Jenna Goudreau (Entrepreneur.com): I, too, am a Millennial. I would love to have a top job one day. I'm wise enough to know that I'm not ready for it yet, but some day I hope I'm ready for it and have that challenge. Among my friends what I probably hear most is "I want to find a steady job that pays well and makes me happy." It is important to this generation to do something that they enjoy and to not think of work as drudgery. I don't know that they are thinking about climbing the ladder so much as they are thinking about finding something that has meaning to them.

Jennifer Fleiss (Rent the Runway): I chose not to be CEO at our company early on and have been happy with that decision. Part of that is knowing myself, knowing what makes me happy, how I like to spend my days, and how I don't like to spend my days.

The other thing was just knowing my cofounder very well and feeling like she would be the better choice for that role. Because I wanted what was best for our company, that was the right decision. Fifteen percent of women wanting the top leadership role is not a negative thing. We shouldn't discount some of the other areas in life where we might be leaders.

I have a daughter and a husband. I work out every day. That's important to me and makes me happy. For me, being a leader in life is having about five different things that are important to me and being good at all of them. When young women ask me questions, it's not as much about how you start a company and how many people are you managing, it's how did you meet your husband and decide to have a child? How do you balance that part of your life? Some of the questions we're pushing in research sometimes discounts these other important things that women get to do and to be leaders in.

Alexandra Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Company): One of the interesting things is if you're a woman of my generation, which is the tail end of baby boomers, there is an assumption on our part that younger women must automatically want what we wanted. It was a big shock for me and my business partner when a girl who worked for us quit and moved to Pittsburgh because she said she didn't want to be like us. We were like, "What do you mean? We have this fast-paced life, we're fun. We have children, we manage it all." She said, "No, it seems like a miserable existence." As a CEO you have to be conscious of the different needs and goals of all employees.

Christine Osekoski (Fast Company): The world and the economy Millennials have grown up in is much different. Technology is everywhere. You're constantly connected. We're more in a creativity economy and you're watching a lot of people yearn to have a startup. It feels like ideas and exploration have become more important.

Give Millennials projects they would love to do and enable them to have time in their schedules to be able to explore different things. Everybody on my team who is a Millennial has something else going on. They're not eating, sleeping, and breathing Fast Company and that's okay because it makes them more creative and happier. The focus is not so much on money, it's on what ideas have hatched or how fun is it to collaborate with teams. How have I contributed to the bigger picture?

Don't get me wrong, they're asking me for raises all the time. They should get them and they deserve them, but at the same time, there's a lot of believing in this collaborative environment.

Leontyne Green Sykes (IKEA US): It's also important to take advantage of them and what they can bring. I envy them a little bit. I have moments where I reflect and say if had known then how happy I would be to focus a little more on my personal life, how would that have influenced some of the decisions I've made.

I love the fact that at a very young age they're not pressured to do what someone did before them. I never wanted to be in the C-suite, but I would have never said that early in my career because I didn't think it was acceptable. Now I'm encouraging them. I think it's great. Do all of those things because I think it gives you an opportunity to become truer to yourself much earlier than I feel I became true to myself. It's just a different perspective.

Choosing the best path
Casey (PRWeek): Career paths are no longer a vertical climb, rather they are a jungle gym. The best paths often involve being open to new directions. Can some of our panelists talk about where they found themselves at a crossroads in their career?

Fleiss (Rent the Runway): I started my career in finance. I worked at three different investment banks and kept trying to switch companies thinking that would be the solution. Once I realized that probably wasn't the right fit for me, I went to business school as kind of a reset and just learned about a lot of different industries. Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

When we started Rent the Runway, I was suddenly no longer an analyst at an investment bank. I was running a fashion-technology company. It was definitely a jungle gym. I ran our warehouse for two years and our technology team for six months. I now oversee business development. I love learning and doing different things. That's part of my skill set and what I derive pleasure and success from. For me, it has certainly been a jungle gym. I find that more fun and engaging.

Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Co.): I definitely reached a crossroads, which actually brought me back to my roots.

I ran my family's business, which was a municipal bond firm that my grandparents had started, for many years. I sold that company in 2001 and I worked for the parent company until we were sold to Merrill Lynch. I was actually quite miserable working for the parent company and there was a parent company above that. Then another parent company came along as well. I just was not the type of person who belonged in a corporate environment. You're supposed to stay in your box and I always got into other people's boxes and got in trouble for it because I really was an entrepreneur deep down.

When the sale to Merrill happened, I had an offer to go to Merrill. At first I thought I'll just go and do that because this is the track that I'm on, but I came to this crossroads where I asked myself, "Why are you now in this corporate landscape where you don't belong? Why don't you go back and build a new company?" So I embraced my entrepreneurship and started a new company in 2007. Today our company is very different than what it was. We do different things in the financial services world.

It's interesting how I had this long journey that brought me back to the family business, but brought me back in a very different way.

Griffith (Mcgarrybowen): I graduated college in 2004. I remember looking around and my first job was in advertising. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I felt like such an imposter. I came across this quote from Diane von Furstenberg and she said, "I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew the sort of woman I wanted to become." I literally went home and I wrote down the sort of woman I wanted to be. How do I want to feel in my life? What are the things I believe in? What are the things I don't believe in? How much conviction do I want to have or not?

I've been in advertising, launched my own startup, and now I'm doing business development. I did account management. I have zigged and zagged and jungle-gymed and everything in between. It's been all over the place. I just gave myself permission to do that.

I actually had a meeting with von Furstenberg in her office and it was just such a full-circle moment. I truly felt like I am exactly who I wanted to be.

Goudreau (Entrepreneur.com): I have been in my current role at Entrepreneur.com for about two months. Before that I was at Forbes reporting specifically on women, so I've talked to lots of women at different career levels. One of the challenges I heard again and again was getting an opportunity in a different city, state, or country. That was a big pain point for a lot of women because if they were to move it would mean either being away from their families or relocating them, especially when it comes to a different country as that can be enormously challenging. Some very powerful women, CEOs, heads of state, and nonprofits said how important it is to get international experience today and how vital it is to be flexible and to move if an opportunity comes up.

Osekoski (Fast Company): It's become a movement. Our editor writes about gen flux of people regardless of your age, how we are all exploring new avenues.

One of the people that's freelancing for our marketing director is a comedian who's doing events and project management. So who knows where your different talents will lie and where you want to pivot and start something new? You don't have to do everything for life or even stay within the same space.

The right balance
Casey (PRWeek): There was one point in Lean In where Sheryl Sandberg was talking about an internal meeting when she was asked about juggling family and work. She said she made a point to be home whenever possible for dinner. This gets on social media and spreads like wildfire. One of her friends commented, "Sheryl, you would have made fewer headlines had you murdered someone with an axe."

Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Co.): For years I've gone to conferences and been on panels and the topic of balance has come up. We always wait with bated breath to hear the secret answer that is going to give us all the ability to balance everything. Years ago I was at dinner with my family at Shanghai Circus watching acrobats on unicycles throwing cups and bowls onto each other's heads and staying on the bikes. Sometimes they were standing on top of each other. Once in a while they fell, but nobody really minded that they fell.

I realized that balance is never meant to be permanent. You get it for a moment. You manage to get the bowl on top of someone's head. Sometimes you fall and it's okay because people usually say, "God, I can't believe you did that much to begin with."

I learned to appreciate those days when I would make it all happen and I would just say I had a total supermom day. It's not going to happen every day. Just giving ourselves a break is part of the secret answer to balance.

Osekoski (Fast Company): I was at South By Southwest where Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer of Cisco, was speaking. She has more than a million followers on Twitter and she said something so profound, not only to women but to men in the audience. Warrior stated that she hates the word "balance" and asked why do we strive to have this balance? Why can't we just be happy? Can you be happy and imbalanced? Absolutely.

She also further pushed this conversation about digital detox. I have found that the reason I'm unbalanced is because I'm on the iPhone, whether it's emails, texts, or on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. It's tough. I work at a magazine that is all about technology. I cannot digitally detox every weekend or every night, but just find mini sabbaticals so that you don't always feel like you're completely out of control and im-balanced. Even if it's just an hour you can take and focus. I'm a big advocate of not using the word "balanced" because you feel like you have to tip the scale or not tip the scale and you have to choose. Why do I always have to say if I choose work that means I don't choose family?

Fleiss (Rent the Runway): I agree. I think the term "balance" implies that it's two separate things that can't be integrated. At Rent the Runway, I was one of the first women there to have a child. Seventy percent of our staff are women, most of them are 25 to 35 years old and they have started to go through this phase.

My daughter comes to work almost every day. I know not everyone can have that, but it was also me saying what works for me. I have times in the day when I need a mental break. That's when my nanny comes over and I can spend 20 minutes with her.

It is also great because other people get a break from what they're doing to play with her and interact with each other. You don't have to draw total lines between your personal life and work. There are ways female-run companies can challenge that fact and be proactive so that it isn't as much of a black-and-white line.

Barby Siegel (Zeno Group): I'm not going to do a digital detox anytime soon as my team knows. One of the things that I try to do is be very open and transparent with the team about when I'm doing something with my family.

A couple of years ago we went to celebrate my father's 87th birthday. I remember very distinctly telling the team, "I am going to celebrate my father's birthday. If the world is coming to an end, call me but I'm going to go off for two to send a signal to them that it is okay to do that. The vast majority of people at Zeno are Millennial women, many of them have young children. I feel as the CEO and as a working mother I want them to see that's okay.

If something's going on in my life I talk about it. I don't pretend it's perfect. I work from home on Fridays. We live in a mobile workforce and don't all have to be sitting at our desks. If I can do it, they can do it. It's about trusting people to get the work done wherever that may be.

Green Sykes (IKEA US): It's important to be in an environment that will allow you to do that. I feel very fortunate because I'm in that. I have a 16-year-old son. High school track starts at 3pm. As much as possible, I want to go and I try not to be shy about it. I walk through the office and say, "Bye. I'm going. I'll see you tomorrow." It's important for me to have that balance.

It is about being able to also show that you can be suc-cessful and still take care of your family. I tell people all the time, my God-given job is my son. But being a woman and being fulfilled by what I do and what I'm able to contribute is also very important to me. I don't want to make any sacrifices when it comes to that.

There's many opportunities for us to become empowered and to empower each other to support those personal decisions that are really what's most important for us.

Former Cosmo editor Kate White Shares her strategies for success

Bigger, better, bolder, and more bad ass. That's what should be incorporated into every project you're working on, says Kate White, former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief for 14 years and best-selling author.

White opened the PRWeek and Zeno Group Find Your Fearless: Women, Ambition & Leadership event with an inspiring speech about her strategies for success.

The four Bs were part of White's first strategy – go big or go home.

"You cannot do just what you're told to do," she adds. "You have to go to the max, go to the burn, push it, and come up with bold, innovative ideas and solutions that no one has asked you to do in your job."

It's okay to break the rules and fight that inner voice that tells us that our ideas are stupid or reckless because they may turn out to be brilliant, explains White.

Renowned fashion designer Kate Spade once told White a story about the launch of her handbag company. Spade was getting ready to go to a trade show with her black nylon bags, and as she looked at them, she thought they needed something else. She opened them up, cut out the inner tags, and sewed the logos on the front of the bags to represent her brand. White says Spade took a chance and asked herself the four Bs.

The second strategy White shared is that you have to stop wondering whether people like you or worrying if they will judge you. "As women, we often have the need to please, the need to be liked, and we sometimes feel we're imposters," she explains.

Ways to get over these feelings of self-doubt include getting out of your own head, making little changes in your body language, and creating a mantra that you use, such as "I have something good to share today."

Aside from being anxious or uncertain feelings, the notion of wanting to be liked hurts the most in women's pocketbooks.

Studies show that women negotiate for salaries and raises far less than men because they feel they won't be liked or that they'll seem "needy or greedy."

The way White learned to overcome this was during what she calls her "$50,000 moment of truth."

When she became the editor of Working Woman, she was promised equity in the company. She gave the papers to her accountant and he told her that the documents needed to be more specific. More importantly, he told her that she had to ask for $50,000.

At first, White laughed, but her accountant said to her, "Kid, if you don't do it, you're a chump," so she confidently went to her meeting, asked for the money, and got it.

White's last strategy is to focus on the big picture, as well as the day to day. She says during her time at Cosmopolitan, she would take an hour out of every week to think about new projects for the magazine or about reader mail and what women are thinking about.

"Sometimes we get so caught up in doing our jobs well, that we don't manage our careers," she explains. "You need to be the relentless architect of your own career."

This one-hour chunk of time goes for your personal life, as well. White says it's just as important to take time to savor things or think about dreams or goals. When she took this time, she decided that she wanted to write murder mysteries. Now she's a best-selling author.

  

Leadership roles
Casey (PRWeek): Even though women are rising to leadership roles, is there something internal that still holds us back? Are we sometimes feeling like imposters and how can we shake that?

Green Sykes (IKEA US): I do. I fluctuate. I was excited to come to this event and came from outside of Philadelphia. I heard the weather report and it sounded like it was going to be a mess. I decided I was going to wear jeans. I struggled with it a little. I didn't want anyone to think I was dismissing the event or not taking it seriously. I had to check myself and say if people are more interested in what I have on than what I have to say, then I probably shouldn't be there. I share that because most days I don't feel like an imposter, but I have my moments.

I had one today when something as simple as what was going to be most comfortable for me to come here, have fun, learn, and share. I ebb and flow with it.

Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Co): It's one of the hardest things for us as women. I do a lot of TV and I always remember the one thing that I wish I'd said differently.

I'm trying to teach my 17-year-old daughter not to be that way, but I can already see the patterns starting. I'm not sure how we change that.

Griffith (Mcgarrybowen): Elizabeth Lesser [author and cofounder of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the US] talked about this idea of you saying, "Hi. How are you doing?" Everyone says, "Good. How are you?" It's actually one of the most dangerous things you can do. I operated that way for so long where it was this façade of perfection, everything is always great.

I said I'm going to experiment and say I don't think I'm doing well. Was that okay? Because I felt like an imposter there. The second I started to do it there was this camaraderie that started to happen within my own organization. Everything felt much less heavy and overwhelming, nothing was high stakes anymore. I'd encourage people to play around with that a little bit because it honestly single-handedly changed my life.

If you had one piece of advice to tweet

Jennifer Fleiss:
I would focus on your relationships and not let that part slide. That means taking the time to get to know the people you work with and the people in your industry.

Leontyne Green Sykes:
It's so important to be true to yourself and really allow that passion to energize you.

Kathleen Griffith:
Don't let the word ‘no' be a part of your vocabulary.

Alexandra Lebenthal:
Make sure every time you leave a meeting you've said something, asserted some point of view, had your voice heard right or wrong.

Barby Siegel:
Find your passion and don't be afraid to step out of your box or your comfort zone.

Christine Osekoski:
I would say #unplugged, #digitaldetox. Great to think about as we start the summer, #healthy.

Goudreau (Entrepreneur.com): There's this great book and I encourage everyone to read it. It's called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young. Men do experience the imposter syndrome, which is feeling like you did not earn your position and that you fooled people, but women experience it more. Young believes part of that is because society doubts women. Why wouldn't we doubt ourselves? There's still a bias against women's competence. We feel that and we internalize that.

Top women feel this – Tina Fey, Sonia Sotomayor, and Sheryl Sandberg. I hear it among Millennial women. One of the things that can help is just admitting it and saying I have doubt about this.

Something else I heard that really struck me was that women enter every meeting feeling as if they're being tested and as if they have to prove themselves when really, if you are invited to a meeting you belong there. You're there because you have ideas and you have value. If you can just try to remember that and bring in the solution rather than focus on "Am I going to mess up," then it brings your mindset to a different place.

Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Co): What you said about society doubting women is so important because it's clear that still exists right now. We just had the whole Paul Tudor Jones [founder of Tudor Investment] situation. For those who might have missed it, he basically said women cannot be good traders because as soon as a baby touches their breast, they lose any ability to have any good ideas.

The fact that this can be said in a public forum is outrageous. I do think as women, whether you're younger or older, we have got to speak out any time there is something that's said against us because we're the ones who are really going to bring all of us up.

That's something that I've been really passionate about my whole career and I've been lucky enough to have a platform, being a recognizable woman on Wall Street. We're all sisters in this.

Inspirations and mentors
Casey (PRWeek): Let's talk about some of the mentors that you had in your lives who inspired and guided you. Are there programs in place at the companies where you work that focus on career development for women?

Fleiss (Rent the Runway): We just launched a mentorship program at Rent the Runway. The head of HR said, "Do you want to be on the mentorship program?" I really struggled with it. I feel as though mentorships happen naturally and organically and I have been a mentor to many people.

In my life, I've always experienced mentorship like that where someone is in a panel or speaking and I talk to them afterward and then I end up emailing them with a question a few months later. There's a natural connectivity where they know they can help and provide something to you and that feels good and rewarding and they want to do it. A personal connection takes place, whereas being assigned a mentor I feel sometimes it's forced and the personal connection isn't there.

Osekoski (Fast Company): I agree with that. I find that the people I might think of as mentors have been very spontaneous. I have been really lucky in my publishing career to have a couple of strong men guiding me through the process. But sometimes people think mentors are somebody whose title is higher, who's much older, or has more experience, and that's not necessarily the case. It's much more comfortable when it happens organically.

However, the caveat is I work in a smaller company. It's very entrepreneurial and a group of women run it so it's different. Whereas in larger companies, especially places such as Wall Street and the legal industry, there's very specific things where it would be great to have some formalization just to be sure you are on the right path.

Siegel (Zeno Group): I would just add, particularly to the Millennial women, if you feel like you want a mentor or you're still young in your career and you may not have the networks to have this spontaneity, speak up. Say I want someone to be able to go to. We did it at Zeno on a spot basis and that really works.

But as Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, it's also a two-way street. It's about bringing solutions and ideas. You should have somebody you can call when you just don't know what to do or you want to check something. But you should speak up and ask for it if it's something you want.

Lebenthal (Lebenthal & Co.): I had a great mentor who actually worked for me. He was 25 years older than me and he had so much more experience than I did. I had become president of our company and CEO when I was 31 and just didn't have the experience. He came in to run our sales department.

He basically said to me, "I'm going to teach you all the mistakes I made." We talked multiple times a day. Even after he didn't work for me anymore, I still talked to him for a couple of years after that. At the end of my career, I still will look back and say he had one of the greatest effects on my career.

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