Women helping women: Female executives offer lessons in leadership

Caroline Gosselin, a longtime real estate executive who recently was named Executive Leader of New Jersey for the C-Suite Network, was eager to jump in on the question: Why are women underrepresented in the top positions of leadership in companies across the state?

“I feel really strongly about this topic,” she said. “It is time we all acknowledge that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business. The numbers don’t lie. Companies who want to evolve, innovate and thrive need to make diversity, equity & inclusion one of their key areas of focus.

“A diverse and inclusive workforce fosters greater employee engagement, which in turn increases financial returns and market share. Engaged employees tend to feel more energized and connected to their organization, and they are often willing to go the extra mile to maximize productivity.”

Gosselin feels just as strongly that woman must be leaders in addressing and correcting the issue.

“It is so important for the women who are in the C-suite positions to be intentional, give back and do what they can to inspire and support those who need an advocate,” she said. “Companies need to recognize and incentivize those that do this.”

Gosselin, the founder and CEO of the Experience NJ Team at EXP Realty, was speaking at a recent leadership retreat sponsored by Leading Women Entrepreneurs.

The retreat, led by LWE board member Anne Marie Almasi (the president of Almasi Cos.), also included Sharon Mahn (managing director, ZRG Partners), Mary Pisarkiewicz (founder, MSI Media Group) and Micheline Nader (CEO, Jesra Foundation).

Each was asked five questions regarding female leaders in workplace. Here are some of their responses:

Q: Let’s talk about females as leaders. At the start of the pandemic, women were touted for their ability to be calm in a crisis — everyone from New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichelli to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was lauded. Is there truth to this? Does a seemingly innate ability to have more empathy make women better leaders in a crisis?

Career advice …

For those entering the workforce

  • Anne Marie Almasi: Set your boundaries early. Always remain a lady. Remain true to yourself.
  • Caroline Gosselin: Invest in yourself: Go to that conference, take that course. Keep learning.
  • Sharon Mahn: Women don’t stand up for women enough. Don’t just talk a big game — truly walk the walk.
  • Micheline Nader: Focus on the facts. When you are triggered emotionally, you tend to be reactive. Try to bring it to a ‘thoughtful action.’ Every single trigger is an opportunity for you to grow, understand ‘the why’ behind your actions and grow.
  • Mary Pisarkiewicz: Don’t feel like you need to respond to things right away. Give yourself time and space to answer — it helps remove the emotion.

For those in the middle of career

  • Anne Marie Almasi: Keep building your confidence. Find the right mentors.
  • Caroline Gosselin: Consistency and discipline are key to leveling up. A mentor once said, ‘The market will discipline those that don’t discipline themselves.’
  • Mary Pisarkiewicz: You know more than you think you know. Have confidence in that knowledge. And get a loan before you need it.

Micheline Nader: Women do have an innate ability to feel empathy, and this gives us an advantage to develop our emotional intelligence. According to author Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence is the key quality of great leadership. 

Caroline Gosselin: In times of crisis, more stereotypical feminine qualities like being collaborative or having more empathy are seen as particularly important. The two women you mention certainly possess these kinds of social qualities. I think women work more by consensus and collaboration — this helps transcend a crisis. 

Q: On the other hand, a supposed knock against women is that they are too emotional as leaders. Is there any truth to that — are women showing emotion viewed negatively, while men who do so are viewed positively?

Sharon Mahn: Studies have shown that employees view male bosses differently than their female bosses when it comes to how scenarios are handled in the workforce. A male can be mad, but, somehow, that is more forgivable than a woman being mad — as the woman may be labeled a bitch or menopausal — it’s an unkind knock against her character simply for displaying an emotional response, even if an angry response was warranted. 

Many women believe that they need to be measured in their responses to various workplace situations or they will not be taken as seriously as their male counterparts — or as respected. 

Mary Pisarkiewicz: Men see women as a threat. If men are emotional, it is viewed positively because women’s emotions are viewed negatively … essentially it is a cycle that feeds itself. Emotions project your human side and it’s important to have a whole 360 view of who you are and have a better understanding of where you are coming from.

Q: All studies show that more women left the workforce during the pandemic than men. And by a wide margin. How much did this set women back in the workplace? Or did it? Was this a temporary issue or a permanent one?

MN: My daughter had to resign from a demanding job during the pandemic because she could not juggle working full-time and homeschooling. The pressures were too high. But this was a temporary reset for her and not a setback. She regained the workforce shortly after and found it easier to work from home. 

The pandemic made us all reevaluate the way we work and design our own working style. The hybrid model of working from home and, when necessary, from the office, is very appealing to many. It is allowing women with young children to regain the workforce as long as they can set boundaries for themselves and create a certain discipline and a routine that works for them.

SM: Maybe all of this was not a setback at all. Maybe it can be labeled as a reset. Further, additional new jobs were created in the aftermath of the pandemic, including chief culture officers, chief mental health and wellness officers. Although some may have lost their jobs in the pandemic, other opportunities were created as well to counter the loss. 

Q: Here’s a flipside: Is there anything about the pandemic that benefited women more than men? For instance, now that ‘working from home’ is a norm that’s not going away, will this make it easier women to remain in the workforce while they balance child care or elder care responsibilities?

Anne Marie Almasi: As a leader in a family business, I was not a proponent of working from home before the pandemic. But, as time went by, I saw the value of working from home adding to work-life balance for most employees. 

SM: Although women may enjoy the benefits of being home to care for family and other personal needs, this may create a slippery slope of lost business opportunities and promotional benefits if one is not in-person at the office. Being fully remote could be a setback for women. It could lead to women being passed up for opportunities if they aren’t present at the office to network, collaborate with their colleagues, enjoy business dinners and office events, etc. 

Much of business is relationships and bonding, meeting up outside of the office — this experience cannot be created merely on a Zoom call. 

Q: The workplace has (finally) had some tough discussions about the microaggressions that women (and people of color) face in the workplace. Has it helped? If you are a woman who suffers any type of injustice or inequity in the workplace — and, for some, it happens on a daily basis — how do you weigh when to speak up and when to let it go?

MP: This is a tough question and needs to be dealt with on an individual basis, but, clearly, there is always some risk for a woman to speak out, because of the way our society is organized — and it is awful. Our society and support system for women needs to change. The #MeToo movement has helped, but it’s not enough.

AMA: This also speaks to the #MeToo movement. I think it is very important for women to learn to set boundaries with men at the beginning of any and all relationships. We have to raise our sons and daughters to be aware of these proper boundaries.