Solution Series: Leading as Women: How Women are Increasing Productivity and Changing Business

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Fedcap recently held its 12th Solution Series – Leading as Women: How Women Are Increasing Productivity and Changing Business.  The event took place on October 11th at Mutual of America and drew an overflow crowd of Fedcap supporters, and business and political leaders from the community.  Hundreds of people in multiple states watched the event via live stream.

A distinguished panel of leaders led a fascinating discussion about the impact of women in the nation’s boardrooms and C-suites. The panel included – 

  • Ana Oliveria, President and CEO NY Women’s Foundation
  • Denise Barges, Board Member Blue Cross/Blue Shield & Financial Portfolio Manager RI Commerce Corporation
  • Gina Berndt, Board Member and Managing Director, Perkins + Will, a leading architecture and design firm
  • Sarah Carson, founder and CEO of Leota, a fast-growing fashion design and merchandising firm.

Fedcap CEO Christine McMahon said the topic was one that was near to her heart. “Having served as a leader in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years, I understand the challenges women face as they aspire to leadership positions that have historically been held by men,” she said.

The panelists offered insightful comments about women’s contribution to leadership and the barriers they face in getting there. Ms. Berndt noted that the growing number of women entrepreneurs is related to historical barriers to leadership positions in the corporate world. If you’re talented as a woman, your leadership skills are much easier to leverage when you’re on your own. Speaking to surveys that show businesses with more women leaders are more philanthropic, Ms. Berndt said that women understand how philanthropy strengthens communities, and that from a business perspective it makes sense to connect with and understand the communities your business serves. 

Ms. Barges talked about the importance of having diverse viewpoints in leadership as women and men take different approaches to management, networking and collaboration. A co-founder of the Emerging Women in Business Conference, Ms. Barges decried the inequity in funding for entrepreneurial women; women receive approximately five present of bank loans and federal contract awards, and about seven percent of venture capital funding. As a result, women have learned how to do more with less. Despite not being taken as seriously by lenders, women must have confidence in themselves and learn to take risks.

Sarah Carson left a promising career on Wall Street, where the male-dominated culture wore on her, to start her own business. She spent years envisioning the type of culture she wanted – one of autonomy, empowerment, and personal and social responsibility. Her company’s success is driven in large part by Ms. Carson’s commitment to “hiring from her weaknesses;” she readily admits when she is wrong, and surrounds herself with people who know more than she does. This ensures that while she makes mistakes, she never makes the same mistake twice.   

Ms. Oliveria emphasized the importance of mentoring, and building a pipeline of future women leaders. But mentorship is not enough; women entrepreneurs and leaders need sponsorship as well, sponsors who will invest in them and take risks on their behalf. To that end the NY Women’s Foundation views women as assets, and is committed to giving grant support to women entrepreneurs who work in their own communities.

Fedcap board member Lynn Morgen closed the session by thanking the panelists, members of the business community who were in attendance – Clifton Hotels, Restaurant Associates, Eataly, and Mutual of America for hosting the event.