Experts Address Issues Women Face in Business at NJBIZ Panel Discussion

Women have come a long way in the workplace over the past three decades, but still face challenges in realizing their full potential.

Women make up 47 percent of New Jersey’s 4.2 million workforce. Although slightly more women than men (41% vs. 40.5%) have a bachelor’s degree or higher, they still earn less.

In addition to being outnumbered and underpaid, women often encounter gender-based discrimination in the workplace and in business transactions.

While significant gains have been made in educational instruction, health care and community service, women have not made as much progress in other fields, and many industries are still dominated by men, such as natural resources, construction and maintenance (98.8%); law enforcement (86.9%); Architecture and Engineering (86.7%); and Transportation (85.7%).

Women’s labor force participation in the state has largely recovered in the wake of the pandemic, but thousands are still sacrificing full-time jobs, higher wages, health insurance and other benefits for the flexibility to care for young children and aging parents.

And, as New Jersey’s economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, there has been increased focus on what types of changes need to be made to better support women moving forward.

During the Dec. 14 NJBIZ virtual panel discussion, female executives at New Jersey companies spoke about their experiences and provided guidance for the next generation of women entering business.

Moderated by NJBIZ Editor Jeffrey Kanige, the panel features:

  • Elene Costan, Chief Human Resources Officer, Berje Inc., a Carteret-based flavor and fragrance industry leader
  • Kate Janukowicz, Director of Commercial and Criminal Litigation and Director of Professional Development, Retention and Associate Recruitment, Newark law firm Gibbons PC
  • Masha Sherman, Chief Financial Officer, Greek Development Inc, a vertically integrated, industrial-focused real estate company headquartered in East Brunswick

During the 90-minute discussion, the panel delved into how companies are getting more women into leadership roles, how to retain them, how virtual work environments can impact women’s advancement in the workplace, facing adversity and setting boundaries to maintain work-life balance. balance.

NJBIZ Women in Business Panel Discussion

Clockwise from top left: The Dec. 14 NJBIZ Women in Business Panel Discussion, moderated by Editor Jeffrey Kanige, with Kate Janukowicz, Gibbons PC; Elene Costan, Berjé Inc.; and Masha Sherman, Hellenic Development Corporation – Nanjing Business District

One of the most important pieces of advice involves not only defending yourself, but also defending other female colleagues. While each of their companies offers some type of formal mentoring program, executives also talked about the importance of informal mentoring opportunities.

At Gibbons, the firm has a large mentor group made up of members from different practice areas, as well as a smaller mentor group, Janukowicz said.

“It’s really an open communication, checking in and constantly saying, ‘Is this where you’re headed in the right direction? Is this what you want it to do? Years from now you’ll be thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing? Is this what I want to do?'”

Sherman said: “It’s about giving back. I personally love coaching — formal, informal — because I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am today, and if I can inspire anyone and give them ideas on how to be professional Practical advice for success in your career…that’s the least I can do.”

Costain echoed that sentiment, saying, “We need to support each other in our lives and in our workplaces.”

Janukowicz agrees: “I think the women who do best here are a support system and supporters. There’s no competition…it makes you look better; it lifts everyone up…if you’re too brutal, look It doesn’t look good.”

recruitment and retention

Each executive highlighted the processes used to hire employees, which vary from company to company.

Says Janukowicz: “One of the initiatives we’ve taken at Gibbons is to get Mansfield Accreditation – over 100 law firms across the country have signed on to that. One of the things we started doing with me during the hiring process was we Ensure that at least 30% of candidates interviewed for lateral positions are employees above grade 3 — women, people of color, LGBTQ, and disability attorneys.”

At Greek, Sherman says the focus has been “to try to make some key processes in promotion and hiring as objective as possible, and to set the same standard for everyone, regardless of their background.”

“I’m a firm believer that it starts with the hiring process. What we’ve done with the department is we’ve developed different tests depending on the role. The tests are very objective and we give everyone the same test based on the role, regardless of their previous experience. where in the real estate industry, or whether they’ve been out of the workforce for a while or a couple of years,” she said. “Tests are designed [to measure] Thinking Skills – analytical skills, critical thinking and resourcefulness. Making the process as objective as possible and having everyone take the same test has worked really well for us. “

Janukowicz urges job seekers to “do as much research as possible, learn as much as possible about potential employers” and ask themselves “Is this right for me?”

“It’s your career too. Don’t get lost in the fact that you want to be drafted. It’s your show, you know it,” she said.

Replay: NJBIZ Panel Discussion: Women in Business

Click to register to watch the full panel discussion!

Executives say retaining talent is just as important as attracting it.

“As it’s often discussed, it’s a question of … making sure you keep these people,” Janukowicz said, going on to highlight some of the company’s retention initiatives, which include offering “more permissive or flexible work schedule” and “flexible work environment”.

“Sustainable leadership is really not just about the environment, it’s more about what you’re doing to sustain people,” Costan said. “It’s about gender, it’s about generations, it’s about race. Many companies require us to be certified to Demonstrating the hard work we’ve put into recruiting, retaining and training to make sure we do have diversity. So, I think it’s up to both partners — the employer and the employee. You have to commit to each other to make it work.”

Sherman agrees that it’s “definitely a two-way street.”

“It’s really about communication. Everyone should know their manager and communicate with that, especially if they’re motivated to go to the next level… On the other hand, we have a responsibility in management to really recognize those who are People who work really hard when they offer promotions have a hard time, but may shy away from asking the question,” she said.

Executives also spoke about the importance of continuous professional development.

Says Sherman, “Sometimes what it really takes is to push your boundaries — your personal boundaries — and get yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s their responsibility to pay attention, it’s a two-way street.”

Costain urged women to “get yourself a coach and invest in yourself”.

“Make sure you never stop learning…make sure you know what your skills are and are open to criticism and improvement. Imposter syndrome never goes away and that’s not a bad thing. It keeps you learning, “she says.

While every company conducts some type of employee review, executives believe employees should also track their accomplishments and how they relate to their overall career goals.

In the business world, men are often promoted “based on their prospects or potential,” while women tend to be promoted “based on their accomplishments to date,” Janukowicz noted.

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“In the early days, it was more difficult, especially in an industry like ours, where employees were assigned things to them … they didn’t have a lot of freedom there,” she explained. “So, one of the things we’ve been advocating is to have your business plan and remember everything you do – whether you think it’s tangible or intangible. Go to events, go to panel discussions and stuff like that. You’re working with People meeting, you’re getting yourself out there. All of those are things you can do in addition to having a substantially good product.”

She added, “Get yourself out. Get the company out. Be a great ambassador for your company.”

Sherman said, “We started Greek self-censorship a few years ago… [and] I’m a big proponent of it because it’s an opportunity, not just to show your manager what you’ve done [or] to your team.It’s really about sitting down and thinking critically about what you’ve accomplished during the year…it’s also an opportunity to think critically about setting goals [and] Communicate them to your manager, your superior. “

“To me, it boils down to something relatively simple: first recognize your own worth, what you can bring to the table, and recognize the value of each of your teammates, regardless of their gender or background,” Sherman said. . Because we all have unique skill sets, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.”

Costan says Berjé’s approach to critiques is similar to Gibbons’ process, centered around questions like “Where do you see yourself?” and “What do you need us to do to help you achieve your goals?”

“We’re providing training and mentoring…not everyone wants to be a manager, but it’s great if they do. It’s about going through their career path with them, listening and not just once a year evaluation,” she said. “Having two-way communication and really listening and trying to do this is really helpful in developing employees who can and need.”

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