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Business Women Seize the Opportunity to Adapt

In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, three female industry leaders share their stories of vision, determination and success.

As countless businesses were shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, many female executives and entrepreneurs had to transition to working from home, or they lost clients due to the unexpected changes in the marketplace. These and other challenges continue today, as women juggle their professional responsibilities and family life.

Although women business owners and C-suite executives have continued to make headway in every industry imaginable, issues of equity, fairness and work/life balance still exist, and it seems the pandemic shined a new light on many of these issues. However, New Jersey business women seized the opportunity to adapt their operations and devise creative ways to remain profitable even in a year as tumultuous as 2020.

“One of the biggest challenges, pandemic or not, is that you can’t get a doctor’s note for being a mom,” asserts Mayra Linares-Garcia, vice president of public affairs and communications at Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages. “If you’re up all night with a sick child, you just have to make it work … and it’s a lot easier said than done.”

The daughter of the first Dominican-elected official in the US, Linares-Garcia was hired within the New York Governor’s Office in 2011 as the director of Latino affairs, where she led efforts to set up a new trade and tourism office for New York State in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “I really wanted to make sure I was being as sensitive to the culture and politics as I could,” she explains.

She asked a family friend who had done lobbying work in Puerto Rico to meet with her and talk strategy. “He was working for The Coca-Cola Company at the time, and he knew they were looking for a director of public affairs and communications for New York and Puerto Rico,” she says. “I took my first phone interview [with Coca-Cola] in the parking lot of a Duane Reade pharmacy with my two young children in the back seat,” she recalls.

Though Linares-Garcia continued to work remotely through the pandemic, she had her children at home learning virtually as well as her parents, who were also trying to figure out how to work remotely. “I was juggling meetings and calls with internal colleagues and external stakeholders while sitting next to my kids who are taking classes and helping my dad figure out how to present virtually. I felt like I had to act like everything was okay to keep it together for my family, my company, and myself,” she says. “We [as women] put a lot of pressure on ourselves to begin with, and the pandemic only exacerbated that.”

Although technology has helped many women continue to do their jobs from outside of their normal workplace environment, Linares-Garcia notes that the constant accessibility has led to other challenges. “I think this new Zoom world has the potential to take over our lives, and make it seem like we’re available to be anywhere all the time,” she warns. “It’s great that we were able to use technology to fit a need when we couldn’t be together in person, but we just need to be sure to manage it in a way that we don’t lose ourselves – and this is especially true for women.”

The good news is that there seems to be an increased appetite for more women-owned businesses in the Garden State, and that’s especially true now that many women are seeking new ways to more efficiently balance a family life with a successful career.

“Over the last year, many women have found themselves having to choose between their career and their family,” confirms Lynn Donaldson, CEO of ConnectA Pharma Resource. A February article in Forbes magazine stated that without significant action, such as additional employer support and training programs, there is a real danger that female labor force participation could face its steepest sustained decline since World War II.

Female workforce participation has already dropped to 57%, the lowest level since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Meanwhile, according to a 2020 Women in the Workplace study co-authored by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, one in four women are now considering leaving the workplace or downshifting their careers.

“While stressors aren’t limited to parents, a massive increase in caregiving responsibilities at home and at work may jeopardize women’s ability to stay in the workforce and progress,” Donaldson explains. According to the survey, 40% of mothers (compared to 27% of fathers) have added three or more additional hours of caregiving a day to their schedule; the equivalent of a part-time job.

“I see women-owned businesses exploding. Many women who leave corporations start their own businesses to work around challenges such as childcare, and they’re discovering that they can still have a successful, fulfilling career,” Donaldson says.

Donaldson has been involved in the pharmaceutical industry for her entire working career. During a time of mergers in the industry, she made a career move to work in medical devices – all the while completing her MBA. “I have always approached situations strategically: ‘This is where I am. This is where I need to go. How am I going to get there?’” she says. “It’s all about having a resilient mindset, setting your goals, and working on your strategy to achieve them. If you can’t go straight, go around.”

This mindset remains particularly important for women in business because despite the great strides that have been made towards equality in the workplace, female executives and entrepreneurs still struggle to achieve the same opportunities and pay as their male counterparts. “I, like many women, faced the glass ceiling. I would get something up and running and then a male colleague would be brought in above me,” Donaldson says. She launched her own company in 2012 because she wanted to better serve clients. “I love supporting companies to achieve successful product launches, ultimately so that patients can gain access to the pharmaceutical or device products they need,” she adds.

Joetta Clark Diggs (who goes by Joetta) is a four-time Olympic track and field gold medalist, NJ Hall of Fame inductee, and motivational speaker and author. “I believe track and field parallels life; the skill sets I developed as an athlete are what help me to be successful in business,” she says. This is all highlighted in her book, Joetta’s “P” Principles for Success: Life Lessons Learned from Track and Field.

A business owner for the past 25 years, she notes that many women-owned businesses don’t last long enough to celebrate their five-year anniversary. And 2020 led to an array of challenges that made it hard for many female-run enterprises to stay afloat. “As women, we learn to weather all storms, and remain relevant and successful even in a year like 2020. The ability to transform, adjust and continue to grow is key,” she says.

According to Joetta, the biggest challenge for women remains getting out of their own way and eliminating the ‘I can’t’ mentality, despite the fact that there are so many more opportunities for women to succeed due to the heightened focus on gender equality, diversity and inclusion. “It might mean restructuring your business or lifestyle, or coming up with a new plan all together, but we have to be prepared to take advantage of all of these new opportunities to be successful as women in business,” she says. 

NJBIA’s Women Business Leaders Forum

Hybrid event offers numerous breakouts sessions and keynote address by media giant Joanna Coles.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association will host its Seventh Annual Women Business Leaders Forum from September 22-24. This year’s hybrid event, with an in-person cocktail reception at the Palace at Somerset Park, is traditionally the largest professional women’s conference in the state.

WBLFThis forum brings together large corporations, entrepreneurs, not-for-profits and students to get inspired and empowered, to form an agenda that will increase diversity in corporate leadership, and to build successful businesses.

This will be achieved by virtual breakout sessions that will include branding, confidence, STEM, creativity, mental health and work-life balance, COVID-19, career paths and finance. The event will also feature more than 40 speakers, including media giant Joanna Coles who will deliver the keynote address. Coles is the former chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, board member of Snap, Inc!, producer of The Bold Type, and author of Love Rules.

SEPTEMBER 22-24, 2021 | TO REGISTER: NJBIA.ORG/WBLF2021

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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