A panel of businesswomen answered questions about the workforce and offered advice Feb. 6 at an event titled “Are you Prepared for the 21st Century Workplace? Insights from Successful Women CEOs.”
On behalf of the LeBow College of Business, Donna DeCarolis, founding dean of the newly announced Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, moderated a panel of four professionals, all of diverse business backgrounds. They gave the audience in Behrakis Grand Hall insight into their business success, what it took to reach their positions and what their companies look for in the new generation of workers.
“As the next generation of leaders, which you are, you face a marketplace and a career that’s quite different than what your parents experienced,” DeCarolis said as an introduction to the discussions. “Companies large and small … are competing in a time when adding [technological] change, an imperative to be global, a mandate to be ethical, sustainability and environmental concerns are on the strategic agenda of so many big companies. … With all of these changes in the external environment, … one thing really remains constant: … the importance of you, human capital.”
The panelists were Suellen Torregrosa, president of Milton Roy Co.; Christine Montalvo, president and general manager of L-3-SPD Electrical Systems; Susanne Svizeny, executive vice president of commercial banking at Wells Fargo and Co.; and Shelly Boyce, founder, president and CEO of MedRisk Inc. DeCarolis asked questions to each of them, including what they look for in a person when hiring, what it takes to stand out in a workplace, and how they felt the new generation of employees were effecting the workplace.
“When we’re interviewing people, … everyone is technical-qualified,” Montalvo said. “But we look at, ‘Will they fit into the culture of our company?’ And the culture of our company is one that … we hold our employees to the highest ethical standards; we expect them to be leaders.”
The panelists all agreed that finding the right culture for a candidate in a job is just as important for the individual as it is for the company itself. If an individual new to the workforce takes a job and finds that the culture isn’t the right fit for him or her, the panelists said to try to learn as much as possible before leaving the position. Such employees should learn about the company and those who work there so they have a better grasp on what it is that they would rather do.
“It often doesn’t happen right away;” Torregrosa said, “so don’t be afraid to keep looking for the company that has the right fit.”
Montalvo said her company is looking for employees who are willing to leave their comfort zones and take on challenges. Montalvo said that her mentors would constantly force her out of her comfort zone, which in the long run supplied her with knowledge and experience that she would have otherwise lacked.
When first entering an organization, Torregrosa said that it is also important for new employees to demonstrate how they can contribute to the company and show superiors ways that they can help meet the company’s overall goal.
“How does your work contribute to the overall goal of the company, and how do you understand the company’s vision and then work toward that goal?” Torregrosa asked. “Then you start working on setting goals for yourself and [your] project, reaching your goal.”
When it comes to standing out in the workforce, Svizeny explained the process in what she called the “Five C’s”: clarity of purpose, collaboration, creativity, having a coach, and commitment.
Working with others to make connections, having mentors who aren’t afraid to tell the truth, bringing creativity to the table to expand on new ideas, and committing fully to the company both inside and outside the building are ways, Svizeny explained, that will allow someone to stand out and climb the career ladder.
“The best opportunities for learning and growth are jumping into the job and trying to figure it out as you go,” Svizeny said. “The key is to not be afraid to make mistakes, and look to your leaders to help guide you.”
Additionally, Boyce said that the new generation of employees, those who are graduating now and are fresh to the workforce, has changed the culture of her company, giving it a “freshness of light” that she said is invigorating.
“The new workforce is bright, articulate, they ask good questions and are coming up with new ideas fresh into their positions,” Boyce said. “They are also, for the first time, coming in expecting career growth and change. They like to have fun and get to know people they work with, which is a change to who [MedRisk Inc. and I] are.”
Reflecting on their own success and what it took to get them to where they are today, the panelists described starting small and getting as much experience as they could.
“When you want to go to a new company or a small company … you know, there is no right answer,” Boyce said. “It may not be right the first time, and that’s OK. I mean, nothing lasts forever! … It’s about taking some time to self-reflect about what’s important to you.”
When given an opportunity to talk to upper management or those in positions that seem interesting and new, the panelists encouraged the audience to ask away. Boyce found that when she asked her employees what they were working on, they were more than happy to share, and she was able to gain a better insight into the overall functions of the company.
The panelists also seemed to be in agreement that members of the audience should find their voices, speak up and take new opportunities, as scary as it may be. Being visible within the company, they found, is not good enough anymore. Employees need to become engaged and learn from their coworkers.
“Be a risk taker. You will make more mistakes than you will succeed at, initially, and that’s OK because from every mistake you’ll learn a lesson and you’ll do better the second time,” Boyce said. “You will be better because of your mistakes than you will be because of your successes.”