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Bonding Agent

Liz Rappaport

Liz Rappaport says the camaraderie and support she has received from other mothers in the PWC will make leaving her baby daughter Ellie easier when she returns to work.

The Women’s Professional Chamber of Commerce is like most of the organizations with those three words in their title. But it is different in one important respect — the membership shares common challenges, issues, and emotions as they go about trying to balance work and life. This makes the WPC not only unique in character and mission, but also quite effective in providing needed support to members.

Jenny MacKay has not forgotten the first Women’s Professional Chamber (WPC) meeting she attended three years ago in Springfield.

It was a luncheon with a moderator and panel of speakers that included top female executives from Smith & Wesson, Columbia Gas, and Health New England.

An employee-benefits consultant for the Gaudreau Group in Wilbraham, and also a 2016 BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree, MacKay had attended events sponsored by many other local chambers, but this one was decidedly different.

“It was interesting and so inspirational to hear how these women talk about how they learned to balance the same life challenges I was facing or will have to face in the future,” MacKay said, adding that today she is a member of the WPC board of directors. “They talked about their biggest issues, which were things other women could relate to, and it was inspiring to hear that having a family won’t hold you back, that you don’t have to choose between a job or children. I’m afraid of what having kids will do to my career, but being part of the group makes me realize I am not alone.”

Liz Rappaport has also found the personal support she needed in the PWC.

The manager of Century Investment Co. in West Springfield and a 2014 BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree, she joined the group three years ago and said it has taught her invaluable lessons.

“Other women have told me you can never be perfect in your family life or on the job, but if you do your best; you can balance things out,” she noted, adding that she gave birth three months ago to a daughter named Ellie, and the advice she received helped her understand the challenges that will confront her when she returns to work this month.

“I’m eager to return to the PWC and talk to working moms because I have different questions now for my fellow cohorts,” she said, noting that she is the secretary of the group. “It helps knowing that they are juggling multiple roles, and if they can do it, I can do it, too.”

It was interesting and so inspirational to hear how these women talk about how they learned to balance the same life challenges I was facing or will have to face in the future.”

The PWC is a division of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, but is its own entity. Its 300 members are at different stages of life and career, and their jobs encompass a variety of professions in diverse fields. But they share a common theme: trying to balance their work with their personal life and obligations, a task most women struggle with on a daily basis.

Membership makes it easy for them to find other female professionals who can share stories and helpful hints about how to maintain a balance as they strive to fulfill their own expectations about being the best business professional, best mother, best wife, and best daughter, while playing an active role in their community and doing volunteer work.

It is this quality that sets it apart from other chambers. Women tend to network very differently when they are alone with their peers than they do in a mixed-gender group, and personal stories and situations are shared as readily as business cards. Although membership in the PWC can help them succeed in business through connections that are made, the ones they form usually result from bonding through intimate discussions.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we take an inside look at the PWC and the ways in which women benefit from belonging to a group where dealing with personal and professional issues that intertwine is something they all relate to.

Appreciable Differences

The PWC was formed in 1953, and although its name changed from the Women’s Division of the Springfield Regional Chamber to the Women’s Partnership before it was given its current moniker in 2010, the group has always provided services to the community, local businesses, and its members.

Jenny MacKay

Although Jenny MacKay belongs to many local chamber groups, the Professional Women’s Chamber is the place where she gets the most support.

Education has always been paramount, and scholarships have been granted annually to non-traditional women students since 1965. The recipients are often returning to the workforce after years of being at home, and three individuals have each been selected to receive at least $1,000 in recent years.

The calendar runs from September to June, and since the chamber’s officers and members of its board of directors know how difficult it can be for a woman to juggle multiple roles, two meetings feature speakers who share first-hand accounts of the personal struggles and roadblocks they hit along the road to success.

There are also evening events, which are usually held at local retail establishments that allow members to shop while they network in a relaxed setting.

The year begins with a kickoff luncheon in September, which features a compelling speaker, followed by an After Hours Ladies Night in October and a PWC-produced luncheon event at the Western Mass. Business Expo (slated for Nov. 3 this year). A second Ladies Night is held in December.

The new year is heralded with a Tabletop Luncheon; there is a third Ladies Night in February, and the second headline speaker luncheon is held in March. A fourth Ladies Night is scheduled in April, and the year culminates in late May with an event held to honor the Woman of the Year.

“The Ladies Nights are held at local shops; we’ve gone to Cooper’s Gifts in Agawam, Kate Gray in Longmeadow, and Added Attractions in East Longmeadow,” said MacKay, naming a few noteworthy outings and adding that the shops provide wine and hors d’oeurves.

“We try to schedule things that women like to do that can provide them with some stimulus as well a break from the stressors in their lives,” Rappaport said, noting that the evenings help women achieve an effective work/life balance. “Networking can be mundane, but these nights out are a nice distraction, and we realize that if a woman is going to carve out time to attend a meeting, we had better make it worth her while.”

But while networking does occur during the Ladies Nights, business introductions and connections that are formed are secondary to the personal relationships that evolve when women are in an atmosphere they find fun and enjoyable.

“What someone does for business is not as important as the fact that you have made a new friend; we talk to each other and find commonalities,” Rappaport explained.

MacKay concurred. “Our Ladies Nights don’t involve the commitment of a sit-down dinner for two hours every month. We don’t want to add more commitments to a woman’s to-do list because we understand how busy women’s lives are,” she said.

The PWC also has a six-session mentorship program called Reaching Goals, aimed at giving students from Springfield Technical Community College the professional and personal skills they need to succeed in their chosen careers.

Rappaport is a mentor and has worked with women ranging in age from 18 to 38. She has spent time with some outside of the meetings and says that, in some cases, the program has resulted in a student landing a job due to the connections she makes.

Gender Issues

The majority of the group’s members are over the age of 40, so Rappaport and MacKay plan to reach out this year to Millennials who may not know about the PWC and what it has to offer, while continuing to provide programs that interest women of different ages at different stages of their careers.

MacKay says this initiative is important because Millennials are trying to establish themselves in their chosen careers, and many are experiencing conflicting emotions as they struggle to create a healthy work/life balance.

“They’re working hard, planning important events such as weddings, and also trying to figure out if they can handle having a child without fearing that something will suffer,” she said, adding that the benefits of membership are priceless and the relationships women form with each other are much more intimate than those that result from other chamber groups.

MacKay works in a male-dominated occupation, and has gotten valuable advice from PWC members about how to deal with a variety of situations as well as strategies for communicating with male co-workers, since they relate to each other very differently than women.

In addition, the group teaches women that failure isn’t an end and can lead to a new beginning, which became apparent during a luncheon where Tracey Noonan was the keynote speaker.

The founder of Wicked Good Cupcakes, who successfully won her bid for a partnership on the popular TV series Shark Tank, shared her story of how her business evolved after she started baking cupcakes in Mason jars with her daughter Dani in their South Shore kitchen in 2011.

“She was a single mom who took a baking class in order to bond with her daughter,” MacKay said, recounting how Noonan shared the hardships of being a single mom, what is was like to start a business — who she got help from and who refused to help her — and how success has affected her life.

The story resonated with women on a variety of levels, as did the personal tale told by Lisa Ekus of the Lisa Ekus Group LLC. The Hatfield entrepreneur, who represents cookbook authors and food products, spoke to the PWC in March about the struggles of balancing her personal and family life.

Other speakers have addressed issues of equal pay and the lack of qualified candidates to fill jobs in precision manufacturing, and what women can do to help fill the gap, and Rappaport says she has learned many valuable lessons, including the fact that each woman is her own best advocate.

But feeling and projecting confidence is not easily accomplished, because many women are self-deprecating, and even getting a compliment on one’s clothing can lead to an embarrassed answer and insistence that it was purchased on sale.

“Women don’t want to be thought of as pushy or too assertive,” Rappaport noted, adding that, although she has never heard of a man with those traits being referred to in a condescending manner, it’s not uncommon for women to suffer from such labels.

MacKay agreed, and said if she doesn’t smile all the time, people tell her to do so and add, “everything will be all right,” which she finds very frustrating.

Valuable Setting

Rappaport is looking forward to returning to assuming a professional role in the family business when she returns to work following her maternity leave. She knows it won’t be easy and she will worry about her baby daily, but she finds strength in numbers and the knowledge that her peers have learned to effectively juggle responsibilities in different arenas of their life without feeling they have to be perfect in every role.

But women agree that the unrealistic belief is pervasive in society today.

“When did the message, ‘you can have it all’ change to ‘you have to do it all’?” MacKay said. “It used to be inspirational, but it has become exhausting because it’s an unrealistic and impossible goal.”

Which is where the PWC comes in. It helps women understand there are others who share the same feelings and concerns who can provide each other with reassurance that doing their best each day is truly good enough.

Sections Women in Businesss

Another Step in the Right Direction

On Aug. 1, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law something called “An Act to Establish Pay Equity.” And from the minute the ink dried, people have been asking, or trying to answer, the question, ‘just what does this mean?’

It’s an important exercise, because there is not exactly clarity on that matter, regardless of which angle the questioner is coming from.

From a pragmatic point of view, said Chris Geehern, executive vice president for marketing for Associated Industries of Mass., the pay-equity measure means that employers can no longer ask those sitting across the table from them in a job interview about their pay history — and this is not an insignificant development, as we’ll see later.

But beyond that, things are far less cut and dried when it comes to the bill’s impact. At its core, the new law will prevent pay discrimination for comparable work based on gender — and, yes, employment-law specialists are already going into overdrive when it comes to the phrase ‘comparable work,’ what that means, and how a judge might interpret it. In addition to that prohibition on asking job candidates about their salary history, the bill allows employees to freely discuss their salaries with co-workers.

Also, under new law, employers are permitted to take certain attributes of an employee or applicant into account when determining variation in pay, such as their work experience, education, job training, or measurements of production, sales, or revenue.

Again, what does it all mean?

Well, it doesn’t mean that, starting July 1, 2018, when the bill goes effect, the discrepancy between what men and women get paid for doing the same work — the number varies by city, region, and who does the research, but the most commonly cited figure in the Commonwealth is that women get 82 cents on the dollar that men earn — will be magically erased.

What is does mean, said Betsy Larson, vice president for Compensation at MassMutual, is that the state will have taken another step toward closing that gap.

How? By bringing more attention to the matter of equal pay and making employers think more carefully about such matters to avoid intentional and unintentional discrepancies.

Betsy Larson

Betsy Larson

“In the macro sense, the bill is not going to impact MassMutual,” said Larson, noting that the company has long been on the leading edge when it comes to the broad subject of equal pay, because it’s the right thing to do and the necessary thing if a company wants to attract and retain top talent. “This legislation forces the issue for companies that are not as focused on ensuring equal pay.”

Elizabeth Barajas-Román, president of the Women’s Fund of Western Mass., agreed. She noted that the 18-cent gap between what men and women get paid for doing the same work adds up to a whopping $14 billion in annual income.

“That’s pretty dramatic, and it means a lot for women to close that gap — this is a pretty expensive state to live in,” she told BusinessWest.

Elizabeth Barajas-Román

Elizabeth Barajas-Román

Both Larson and Barajas-Román emphasized repeatedly that while the Act to Establish Pay Equity is a big step in the right direction, it is merely one step in broader efforts to close the gap.

Others include ongoing efforts to educate women on how to negotiate effectively, and initiatives to prompt businesses of all sizes to adopt best practices employed by companies like MassMutual and commit to true pay equity.

One such initiative is the so-called Boston’s Women’s Compact, a first-in-the nation, public-private partnership in which businesses pledge to take concrete, measurable steps to eliminate the wage gaps in their company, and to report their progress and employee demographic and salary data anonymously every two years. More than 150 companies have signed on, and MassMutual is one of the lead sponsors.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we take an in-depth look at the pay-equity bill and attempt to provide some different answers to that question, ‘what does this mean?’

To Wage a Campaign

When asked about the need for the bill signed last month — and then given the specific question ‘just how unequally are women compensated when compared to men?’ — Larson paused for a moment.

She understood that the query required some type of quantitative response, and she did acknowledge that the numbers vary: 83 cents on the dollar is the number used for the Boston market, she explained, but she’s seen it as low in 78 cents in other regions of the country.

But she quickly noted that the size of the discrepancy, whatever it is, isn’t the real issue; it’s the fact that one exists at all.

“Whether it’s 82 cents or 78 cents, or whatever, it’s unequal, and why is it unequal?” she asked. “As a woman myself, I don’t want to be thinking that I’m not going to get paid the same as a man for doing the same job and performing at the same level.”

And the measure signed into law last month is another step toward eliminating the wage gap, said Larson, who told BusinessWest that work in this regard has become a passion for her.

Indeed, she has been part of a number of panels addressing the issue of pay equity, while also preaching best practices and policies.

Larson was thus a strong proponent of the pay-equity act, which went through a few rounds of revisions before eventually gaining the support of business groups like AIM.

Geehern told BusinessWest that earlier iterations were vague and created more questions than they answered.

Overall, members are not certainly not opposed to equal pay, especially at a time when all employers struggle to attract and retain top talent, he stressed repeatedly. But they were concerned about legislation that was in many ways unworkable.

“It contained enough uncertainty that we thought it might potentially cause some real problems for employers,” he said. “The language of the original bill, for example, created the possibility that an employee of a company could go into the human resources office and ask for the compensation of everyone else who worked there.”

There were also issues with the bill’s definition of ‘comparable work,’ as well as real concerns that employers would no longer be able to reward star performers, he went on, adding that legislative leaders reached out to the businesses community, and parties then rolled up their sleeves and fashioned a bill that did work.

Overall, said Larson, the measure as passed will likely help close the pay gap by simply prompting business owners and managers to pay more attention to the matter and thus avoid what she believes are mostly unintentional discrepancies in compensation along gender lines.

“I’m not saying that companies would intentionally pay women or minorities differently,” she explained. “But this measure really focuses on the analysis and the processes that are in place.”

She points to the provision forbidding employers from asking about previous salary history as one example of how the measure will likely prove effective.

For various reasons, such as starting at a lower salary or taking time off to start a family, a woman may arrive at a job interview with a lesser salary history than the next person to sit in that chair, or lower than the employer might be expecting.

“Women are often not very good negotiators, and they come from a different place,” she explained. “Sometimes, if someone’s got a lower salary, the thought process is, ‘I can get them for really cheap,’ when you should be paying them for the job that they’re doing and what you would pay others, even if they’re starting at a different point when they come in the door.

“It’s an unconscious bias,” she went on. “I don’t think you would do that intentionally, but the thought process becomes, ‘if I don’t have to pay ‘x,’ I’ll pay ‘y,’ because I can.”

Elaborating, she said MassMutual goes well beyond the provisions in the new law — and did so long before it was conceptualized — and undertakes extensive reporting and analysis aiming to ensure there are no discrepancies in terms of salary and all other forms of compensation, including bonuses and benefits. She expects the measure to at least move the needle in that direction at many companies, which is the intent of its passage.

Barajas-Roman agreed, and said the legislation is expected to bring a needed measure of transparency to compensation policies and practices and, as a result, a more level playing field.

But as she and Larson noted, the legislation is not, by itself, going to erase pay gaps. Other steps are needed, said Barajas-Roman, including programs to help women develop and sharpen negotiating skills, and also initiatives to provide data to help them understand what they should be paid for the work they’re doing.

“A lot of women might think they’re OK, and they’re getting paid what they should be getting paid — but they’re not sure,” she explained, adding, for example, that the state treasurer’s office has a website — www.equalpayma.com — with a calculator that enables them to become sure. “A lot of women are surprised to find that they’re not getting paid equally.”

As for building negotiation skills, there is currently a pilot program underway in Boston — a five-year partnership between the city and the American Assoc. of University Women — with the goal of training roughly half Boston’s working women (roughly 85,000 people) over the next five years, said Barajas-Román, adding that, if it is successful, there will be efforts to develop similar initiatives statewide.

MassMutual already has such training programs in place, said Larson, adding that the company has a number of resources for women (and all employees), including career-development initiatives, mentorships, and tools that enable them to compare their compensation to what’s happening across the market.

And when it comes to documenting and analyzing compensation practices, the company hires an outside firm to ensure objectivity.

All these steps constitute going well above and beyond what is required, she said, adding, again, that the legislation may prompt more companies to at least move in these directions.

“For those that aren’t as focused … now they have to pay more attention to it,” she said in conclusion. “In and of itself, that’s a good thing.”

The Bottom Line

Speaking from the standpoint of employers and AIM members, Geehern had still another answer to the question, ‘what does all this mean?’

“Keep calm and carry on … that’s what it means,” he said, referring to the attitude that business owners should take, specifically when it comes to whether they need to make changes in policies to become compliant. “There’s a lot of time between now and when this bill takes effect.”

Keeping calm and carrying on may be the short-term response. But the longer-term result should be a sharper focus on the pay gap, with the ultimate aim of making it history, said Larson.

That won’t happen overnight, she stated repeatedly, but it can happen if more people become aware of the issue and become committed to doing something about it.

And that’s the real answer to the question, ‘what does all this mean?’

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Sections Women in Businesss

Body of Work

Dani Klein-Williams

Dani Klein-Williams says her soon-to-be released book (inset) will bring more exposure for her company and its unique niche.

When Dani Klein-Williams started her own photo studio, she had only enough confidence to seek a month-to-month lease. Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and she’s occupying 1,300 square feet on the second floor of Thornes Marketplace in Northampton. This sea change has come about through an abundance of confidence forged through a blend of sound business practices, cutting-edge work in the field, and development of intriguing niches, such as the genre known as boudoir.

Dani Klein-Williams was only half-kidding when she joked that photographers don’t even like to look back at work they did a few months or even a few days earlier because of how much they feel their talents have grown since and how they could have done things better.

And that explains why she offered a wry smile and gazed skyward as she thought back to the time she took what would be considered her first boudoir photograph.

That was roughly 12 years ago, she recalled, noting that it came about because a client, a soon-to-be bride, wanted a different kind of wedding present for her fiancé — “beautiful, tasteful, but sexy” photographs.

“She felt that she had been working out harder than at any time in her life, she looked the best she ever had, she’d been getting facials … she felt really beautiful, and said, ‘30 years from now or 50 years from now, I want to have these pictures,’” said Klein-Williams, adding that those last few sentiments comprise a form of common denominator for those who hire her for such work.

Looking back, she said the subject of that first boudoir photo shoot was in some ways more comfortable with what was going on than she was, and that she was certainly learning by doing.

“Photographers don’t even like the work they did the day before,” she said while explaining that sentiment noted above. “Usually, you’re critical, and you improve … thinking about a boudoir session I shot 10 years ago is, well, kind of scary.”

Fast-forward to today, and Klein-Williams has certainly retired ‘scary’ while fashioning boudoir photography into one of the cornerstones of a business she has taken from the ground up.

boudoir photography

Dani Klein-Williams says boudoir photography, misunderstood by many, is now a huge part of her business.

Indeed, her large studio in Northampton’s Thornes Marketplace is outfitted with, yes, a queen-sized bed, among other things, for such photographs. Only it doesn’t get used as much as it used to, because she’s doing much more of this work on location, as they say in this business — at clients’ homes, in hotels in various cities, and even on a farm just outside Boston.

Klein-Williams now shoots several hundred such photos a year, and that number is perhaps not the most surprising thing about this niche. She points out that the average age of the subjects is roughly 45 by her estimate (one of them was 69), and many, if not most, would fit that diplomatic description ‘plus-sized.’

Klein-Williams has become so adept at this art that she’s written the book on it — quite literally. It’s called Real. Sexy. Photography: The Art and Business of Boudoir. This is, as she described it, a cross between a coffee-table book and how-to manual (there are specific instructions on how to replicate each shot). It will be out in August, and she expects it will sell reasonably well, but also, and perhaps more importantly, raise awareness of her business and the niche she has developed.

Just as a recent article about her career in the online version of Forbes has. It came out about a month ago and has already generated some business, as well as a new way to reference her venture.

“It has really helped us secure some jobs,” she said of that exposure. “We had sent a proposal for a big job — shooting 40 attorneys for a Manhattan law firm — and hadn’t heard back. I forwarded them a link and said, ‘you want to go with the Forbes photographer, right?’ And they said ‘yes’ — they called back and booked.”

Between the book, the Forbes piece, and a growing portfolio of clients and assignments, Klein-Williams, who started this business just a year out of high school, feels she’s ready to take the next step (if she hasn’t already taken it) and move into high-end, even very high-end, wedding, corporate, and boudoir photography.

And she feels ready not simply as a photographer, but as a business person, because she works equally hard at both facets of this enterprise.

“I feel like I’m a business owner, and I’m in the business of photography,” she said while noting that most in this profession don’t have quite the same take. “I love photography; it’s a passion of mine. But I’m a business person first and a photographer a close second.”

For this issue and its focus (that’s an industry term) on women in business, we zoom in (there’s another one) on an intriguing business and its body, or bodies, of work.

Learning Curves

As mentioned earlier, Klein-Williams put her name on a business card when she was 19, when most of her peers were deciding which college courses to add or drop or trying to land a summer job.

So one might assume she’s always possessed an abundance of confidence — and assume incorrectly.

“When I rented my first space in the Eastworks building [in Easthampton], I went month-to month,” she said in an effort to make a point. “I said, ‘I think I can make the rent … I’m pretty sure. But I don’t really want to sign anything because I don’t know for real.’”

Dani Klein-Williams

Dani Klein-Williams says one of the goals in her business plan is to add more high-end destination weddings to the portfolio.

But like expertise in boudoir photography, confidence has come with experience, and today, Klein-Williams doesn’t lack for either, especially confidence.

Indeed, consider this comment when she was asked about the competition for boudoir work — she doesn’t believe there is much — and the other types of work she does.

“I think the biggest mistake you can make is caring what someone else does,” she explained, adding that she believes this applies to not only her business, but all others as well. “I think that it’s a waste of energy; if you spend any time thinking about what the competition’s doing, you’re not focused on what you’re doing.

“And I always think that I want to be one step ahead of everyone else, doing the latest, greatest thing,” she went on. “And I want to be constantly reinventing myself and constantly honing my craft. The second I stopped caring about what anyone else was doing … that’s when my business improved.”

Reaching this state hasn’t come easily, though, and it’s been achieved though large amounts of perseverance, entrepreneurial guile, and, yes, some luck, as we’ll see.

Our story begins, more or less, with her decision (made just before the semester was to begin) not to go to college, but instead attend the Hallmark School of Photography in Turners Falls.

That decision didn’t exactly sit well with her parents, but it did with her; she had been intrigued by photography since her youth, and, despite her parents’ reservations, she decided to follow her passion.

The 10-month program offered a quality education, she recalled, adding that it provided her with technical skills and the requisite amount of confidence needed to pursue photography as a career.

She started out working with and for two different — and much older — photographers, one of whom was in his early ’70s and essentially easing his way into retirement. And here’s some of that luck that was mentioned earlier.

“He was just feeling really done, ready to retire,” she recalled. “And he offered me an opportunity. He said, ‘I don’t really feel like being in my studio; do you want to sit here and answer phones? Anyone who calls, and I’m not here, you can take the work.’

“And he went one better — he said I could use his studio,” she went on, adding that she took full advantage of this opportunity to essentially launch her own business. “It was the best-case scenario; I had nothing to lose, I was still working for him photographing weddings, and he would let me take any spillover.”

Eventually, Klein-Williams had enough of her own clients to start her own studio, and set up shop in Eastworks in 2001 — paying month to month, as she noted, while also holding down a few retail jobs and handling jobs for other photographers.

“There was a lot of luck involved, as well as hard work and some really generous people,” she said of her start in business, adding that, in 2003, she and her husband, Keith, got engaged and together decided to devote all their energies to making the photography business work.

“We lived off his salary for a while, and I threw every dollar I made back into the business,” she explained. “It didn’t take long, and once I went full-time, I said, ‘why didn’t I do this years ago?’ Soon after, I hired my first employee and just went for it.”

As with all entrepreneurs, she had to take her talent and meld it with business acumen, something that happened over time and through the requisite trial and error.

“I tried everything, and when it worked, I stuck with it, and when it didn’t work, I moved on, and it worked out,” she said, adding that one of her forays that fell into that first category was boudoir.

Developing Interest

But as she thought back on her first session in that genre, Klein-Williams noted there was really nothing about it that even hinted of everything that was to come over the ensuing dozen years.

“I started to do this this very quietly,” she noted, putting heavy emphasis on the adjective in that sentence. “I was strictly a wedding photographer, a portrait photographer, and here and there I would do a boudoir session or two.”

Things changed, though, when the subject of one of those shoots invited Klein-Williams — or almost dared her — to put one of the shots out in her studio as a way to perhaps intrigue other brides and prompt them to pose.

She did — and, to make a long story short, many brides did as well, and a lucrative niche was born.

“I put out one or two pictures sort of in the background, not the forefront of the studio,” she explained. “People started to notice and ask about it; things started off slowly, to be sure.

“Then, we had a client come in who said, ‘if you’re using her pictures, I want you to use my pictures — you can put them on your website,’” she went on. “Then Facebook came out, and people started to say, ‘put my photos there if you want — I feel good about them, I feel beautiful, I feel powerful.’”

represent more than a third of her annual workload

Dani Klein-Williams says boudoir photographs, like this one, now represent more than a third of her annual workload — and revenues.

It got to the point where some women would call and ask why one of their photos wasn’t displayed on the website.

And those sentiments, not to mention that desire among many women to put their photos out where the public, not merely their fiancé, can see them, helps explain why this niche has grown so much over the years, said Klein-Williams, from 30 sittings a year to more than 300. The women are proud of what the camera has captured, and, in some ways, they find the experience empowering.

As she talked about her niche, Klein-Williams said this is serious business, one many people don’t fully understand, or want to.

“I think people have misconceptions about what boudoir is,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s very beautiful, very tasteful — people are generally more covered than you would see at the beach. Also, many think this is just for the size-2 supermodel, and it’s not.”

While many don’t understand this photograph genre, it’s clear that a growing number do, she went on, adding that, while she still markets herself and this specific niche at trade shows and other venues, many of those whose pictures wind up on her website and her walls find her. Many of them are from well outside the 413 area code, and, in another surprising statistic, some are repeat customers.

“When we started doing this, we thought these would be one-and-dones; we’re not going to do repeat business for boudoir,” she explained. “But people have so much fun that they end up coming back, sometimes by themselves, but often with their sister or their best friend to keep them company, so we see a lot of clients repeatedly.”

But boudoir photography, as healthy and intriguing a niche as it is, is just one component of Klein-Williams’ growing portfolio — and business.

Indeed, she now has eight employees and several photographers on her staff and, as mentioned earlier, appears poised to take that leap to the next level in terms of prominence, the size and price tag of assignments, and sales revenue (she’s looking to crash through the $1 million mark this year).

Weddings comprise a large portion of the business, and Klein-Williams is devoting much of her time and energy to building this segment of the portfolio. Much goes into this, and the actual photos that wind up in an album or on one’s walls are only part of the equation.

Indeed, there is a huge amount of customer service involved with this work, she explained, adding that it involves getting to know the bride and groom (but especially the former), what’s important to them, and what they want captured not only on their wedding day, but the day or two before, in many cases.

“People hire me because they trust I’ll do right by them,” she explained. “I will create beautiful images that will bring back the emotions of their day. It’s not just a recording of what they did — now they cut the cake, now they do the first dance.

“I really get to know my clients; I meet with them a lot,” she went on. “When they choose a florist or someone like that, this vendor is not going to be with them all day. But I’m with them throughout the day, for all their important moments. So when they make the decision to hire us, that has to be something that they’ve really thought through and that they’re comfortable with.”

These sentiments reflect what she said earlier about competition and how she doesn’t dwell on it.

“I don’t think of other photographers as competition at all,” she explained. “I feel that what I offer is unique and what they offer is unique, and when you’re hiring someone for boudoir, a wedding, or anything else, you’re hiring them based on making sure that you have the same artistic vision, but even more than that, that you have the same personality.

“You’re hiring someone for your wedding day that you really get along with and that has the same vision that you do,” she went on. “And it’s the same for boudoir.”

A Shooting Star

As she talked about her soon-to-be released book (one can pre-order it on Amazon), Klein-Williams acknowledged that this how-to could, in some ways, create competition for her down the road within that boudoir niche.

But she shrugged off that potential threat in a manner that shows how far she’s come since those days of not making sure she could make the rent.

“Before we release our secrets, we’re always on to the next thing,” she said. “That’s what a successful business person does; I’m not worried about competition.”

Such confidence shows why she’s moved to the top of the profession locally, and why this business she started when she was only 19 continues to develop and gain an ever sharper focus on growth.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss

Network News

Kim Miles

Kim Miles says women often fail to network effectively and ask for what they want.

Kim Miles says many women fail to network effectively, and for various reasons.

They lack the confidence to promote themselves, their accomplishments, and their products and services, she said while summing them up, and don’t get results because they are uncomfortable asking for what they want or need.

“If you pressed the ‘pause’ button and put your career on hold to raise a family, you should talk about it with delight,” Miles, founder of Miles in Heels Productions, told the audience during a talk at a recent conference titled “Entrepreneurial Adventure,” staged by Bay Path University. “There should be no change when you speak about any transition. But many women network in a passive manner and have a hard time promoting themselves. They do it somewhat apologetically, which is something men never do.”

These were some of the words of wisdom shared at the conference, which was designed with a purpose, said Caron Hobin, Bay Path’s vice president for strategic alliances.

“More and more women are becoming entrepreneurs — taking control of their destiny and capitalizing on a great idea,” she told BusinessWest. “Our goal with this workshop was to provide a springboard for women who just want to get started or need guidance. We want to encourage and empower women to start their own businesses by providing the tools, knowledge, and networking skills they need to succeed.”

Other speakers included Holly Hurd, an author, serial entrepreneur, and owner of  VentureMom; and Bay Path Professor Stephen Brand, who facilitated an engaging, skills-building game where participants worked in teams to design new businesses.

Hurd and Miles are passionate about helping women fulfill their dreams and encouraged participants to swallow their fears, take risks, and believe in themselves.

“Whether you are a heavy hitter or new to the workforce, you should be able to walk up to the leaders in a room, extend your hand, make eye contact, and introduce yourself with confidence,” Miles said, explaining that women tend to lower their eyes, brush off praise, or share credit when they tell their story or receive a compliment.

“Entrepreneurs have to sell themselves, but it does not come naturally to women, and they are not persistent enough. If they try to get in touch with someone and don’t get an immediate response, they don’t follow through.”

But polite persistence is an art form, she continued, adding that people might not respond quickly because they are on vacation, are swamped with work, or accidentally deleted the e-mail.

Hurd shared stories from her book, Venture Mom: From Idea to Income in Just 12 Weeks, about women who created something a family member needed, then found it filled a need in the marketplace and built it into a business — or discovered a skill they took for granted could be turned into a service-oriented business as it was something other people were willing to pay for.

“The key is to find your passion and build a business around it,” she said.

Building Strategic Skills

Miles worked as a financial advisor for years and discovered that adopting the right tone and attitude was essential in a male-dominated industry. After she became aware that women network very differently than men, she shared her findings during a chamber of commerce presentation that quickly sold out.

Seven hundred women attended, and two years ago, she started a production company called “Miles in Heels.” Her mantra is, “you don’t have to get it perfect; you just have to get it going,” and during her talk she outlined ten ‘golden rules’ to help women cultivate lasting business relationships through networking.

Holly Hurd

Holly Hurd’s book contains stories about mothers who are successful entrepreneurs.

“You have 10 seconds to make a great first impression,” she said, adding that appearance matters, and this includes how you dress, how firm your handshake is, and whether you make eye contact.

She advises women to try to find out who will be at a networking event or conference, then introduce themselves to influential people who can help them.

“If you want to be a rock star at networking, you need to remember that 90% of the time you should be listening so you can discern whether the person is someone you want to cultivate a relationship with,” she noted, adding that offering to introduce a person you have targeted to another person who shares their interests is a good way to make a lasting impression.

“People love to talk about themselves, and if you connect with someone on a personal level and bond over the fact that you are both dog lovers, it is much more comfortable to transition to a business conversation at the appropriate time,” she continued.

It’s also important to extract yourself from conversations with people who can’t help you, which can be done by going to the ladies’ room. And when women meet someone they do want to know better, they should send a handwritten note, e-mail, connect with the person on social media, or call them afterward and say they enjoyed the conversation.

Miles said entrepreneurs also need to ask for what they want. Although it may not be prudent to do so immediately after meeting someone, females often make other excuses.

“They say, “I don’t want to impose on them, take advantage of them, look needy or greedy, or be perceived as aggressive,’” Miles said. “Timing is critical, but you need to have confidence.”

Digging Deep

Hurd was no stranger to the business world before she started VentureMom. Her father taught her to trade commodities and futures when she was in her teens, she started her first investment company in her 20s, and when she was 25, she was featured in  Futures, USA Today, and Fortune’s “People to Watch” column for her exceptional work managing her own futures fund. In the ’80s and ’90s, she ran an investment firm with a partner, and in 2002 they sold an algorithm they developed.

After her son was born, she became a real-estate broker and “fell” into her new business during a car ride to the family’s ski house when she decided to write a motivational book.

She didn’t have a publisher or following, but believed her ideas could help others, and started her VentureMom blog because it was free.

“I stumbled into my business venture like many other moms,” she said, adding that there are 10 million women-owned businesses today generating more than $1.4 trillion in gross income, and women are involved in 80% to 85% of buying decisions made today.

Her book is based on 250 interviews she conducted with entrepreneurial mothers.

“Everyone is scared, but you have to do things anyway,” she said, adding that it took her weeks to hit the ‘send’ button after she wrote her first blog post because she felt she lacked credibility and didn’t think anyone would be interested in what she had to say.

Instead, she received a flood of e-mails from people who wanted her to continue writing, and today her website contains an e-commerce site where mothers can sell their services and goods.

One story from her book focuses on a woman whose children played field hockey and lacrosse. She asked her husband to build something that would allow them to store their playing sticks behind a door, and her friends loved it and wanted similar racks, so the woman found a manufacturer who made her a four-piece collapsible model in a variety of colors that she called “Stick Storage.”

She began selling them at lacrosse tournaments, and slowly built a business with products sold today in 250 stores.

Another mother launched a business after she solved a personal problem. “Her son had nightmares and kept waking up, so she made a pillow with a pocket and had him write down what he wanted to dream about each night and put it in the pocket,” Hurd told the audience.

It worked well, and mothers in her son’s playgroup told her they wanted pillows for their own children. She learned that her neighbor’s husband was in the pillow-making business, so she had him make some pillows, called the product “Tucker” (which was her son’s name), and began selling them at farmer’s markets.

When a friend’s child was hospitalized, he wrote down his dreams of being healthy and put them in the pillow she gave him, and today, the hospital purchases the pillows for sick children.

“The 250 women I interviewed built businesses around something they were already doing or stumbled onto,” Hurd said. “You may be really good at putting together photo books, or cooking garlic chicken, and don’t realize it’s difficult for other people and something they will pay you to do.”

The women in her book have three things in common: they never wrote a business plan, their businesses were self-funded, and they used friends and family members to spread the word about what they were doing.

Taking the Risk

Hurd sells a ‘venture hour’ on her website that includes a two-page questionnaire, followed by an hour-long phone consultation.

She asks women what kind of business they would start if they won $500 million in the lottery and had access to anything they needed or wanted. After asking other questions, such as what they would talk about if they were invited to appear on the  show, she tells them to turn their answer into a business.

“You can change people’s lives and start any business you want,” she said. “There are a lot of young moms who accidentally solved a problem that grew into a business, like the one selling the Tucker pillow.”

It’s a product designed to prevent bad dreams, but the story behind it and the advice that conference participants received can help them turn their own dreams into reality.

Sections Women in Businesss

Stepping Up

Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper

Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper says LIPPI helped empower her to move aggressively up the department’s career ladder to the top rung.

Women who participate in LIPPI (the Leadership Institute of Political and Public Impact), a program launched by the Women’s Fund of Western Mass., use many terms to describe how it has impacted their lives and careers. Most eventually say the experience left them empowered — to seek public office, to apply for a job a few rungs higher on the ladder, or to take on a challenge they once thought was beyond them. In short, LIPPI helped take them far out of what had been their comfort zone.

It’s called the ‘impostor syndrome,’ a.k.a. the ‘impostor phenomenon’ and the ‘fraud syndrome.’

The term was originally coined nearly 40 years ago by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, who contrived it to describe high-achieving individuals who possess an inability to internalize their accomplishments and, as those above names suggest, live in what amounts to persistent fear that they will be exposed as an impostor or fraud.

Dr. Valerie Young, after first realizing that she suffered from that syndrome and that she was hardly unique in that self-diagnosis, would go on to become one of the world’s leading experts on the subject and write perhaps the definitive book on the matter: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.

She has also taken her work regarding the syndrome on the road, speaking before hundreds of groups of various sizes and demographic breakdowns. One of them was a gathering last fall of the 2015-16 cohort of the Leadership Institute of Political and Public Impact, or LIPPI, as it’s more commonly called.

Created by the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. in 2010, LIPPI has hosted a number of speakers, like Young, who have helped change careers and lives by giving women of all ages something — or many things — to think about, insight that would stay with them long after the talk ended.

Jody Kasper, Northampton’s police chief, can recall one specific speaker — although she states with regret that she can’t remember her name — who certainly helped put her career on the path to the title that now graces her business card and office door.

“She said that a big difference between men and women becomes apparent when there’s an opportunity for a special assignment or promotion,” recalled Kasper, who was a detective with the force while participating in the 2012-13 LIPPI class. “She said a male candidate may — even if he didn’t know the material — say, ‘I’m going to put in for it, and I’ll figure it out once I get the job.’ And she said women candidates would be more likely to say, ‘I don’t really know how to do the job, so I’m not going to put in for it now; I’ll learn, and then, in a few years, I’ll put in for it when I feel more ready to do it.’

“That really stuck with me for some reason — that attitude holds women back,” Kasper went on, adding that those words were resonating with her when the post of detective lieutenant, one she admits to feeling not totally ready to seek at that time, came open — and she became an eventually successful candidate. The same attitude prevailed when the captain’s position came open.

“I had that same thought process … ‘should I be putting in for this? It’s a big job with a lot of responsibility; have I mastered what I’m doing now?’” she said of her eventual candidacy for captain. “And the answer was that I hadn’t mastered what I was doing; I was still in the learning stages of the detective lieutenant’s position. But I had the confidence to go for it.”

There are many similar stories to be told by LIPPI graduates, as they’re known. Indeed, while, as the name of the program implies, it puts emphasis on introducing women to careers in public service and helping them take on such challenges, it can — and does — provide women traveling down, or contemplating, a wide variety of career paths with more and deeper leadership skills.

When participants leave the stage with their diplomas in May, LIPPI organizers want them to take two things with them, said Ellen Moorhouse, who, as program officer for the Women’s Fund, has administration of LIPPI on her job description.

“The first is sisterhood,” she said, adding quickly that classmates form relationships that go on for years. “And also some tangible business skills — what it takes to write a professional e-mail, how we conduct ourselves in a meeting … what we call the nuts and bolts.”

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we take an in-depth look at how LIPPI provides not only nuts and bolts but the tools to use them, and how it leaves participants empowered to take on — and overcome — the many challenges their lives and careers will throw at them.

Learning Experiences

When asked what she considered her best takeaway from her LIPPI experience, Kasper, who was named chief last summer, paused for a moment, as if to indicate there were several aspects to be considered.

“I’m much more inclined to say ‘yes’ to things that are outside my comfort zone,” she said eventually, adding quickly that, because of this, that zone is now much larger and, thus, fewer challenges lie outside it.

While it’s not actually written down on a mission statement or anywhere else, providing women with a broader comfort zone is essentially what LIPPI is all about.

It accomplishes this through a series of monthly programs that essentially run along a typical college year — September to May with a break in December, said Moorhouse.

She told BusinessWest that the topics covered at those sessions speak volumes about what LIPPI was designed to provide for its participants.

Valerie Young’s program last October, for example, covered ‘Resilience, Public Speaking, and the Impostor Syndrome.’ In November, the subjects for discussion were ‘Social Justice, Race, and Equality.’ In January, it was ‘Mentoring and the Power of Your Network,’ and for February, the topic was ‘Conflict Resolution.’

Still to come are a broad March program focused on everything from communications and marketing to debating. Final presentations are in May, followed by an elaborate graduation ceremony at the Log Cabin on May 23.

Several of the monthly programs drive home one of the unique aspects of this leadership program — its focus on encouraging women to seek public service and helping them succeed if they do.

In late September, for example, the program was called ‘Performance Nuts & Bolts; Policy Advocacy; and Fund-raising Part 1.’ Part 2 came in March, along with a focus on personal finances, campaign finances, and ‘boardroom basics.’ In April, the program will be ‘Nuts & Bolts of Campaigning; Digital Tools and the Campaign,’ and on May 7, state Treasurer Deb Goldberg will be among those leading a discussion called ‘Women in Local, State, and National Politics — After the Campaign.’

It’s always a diverse group of women taking in these sessions, said Moorhouse, adding that this year’s class is especially so, with participants ranging in age from their early 20s to their mid-60s, and from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“This is our most diverse class yet — we have people coming from up and down the I-91 corridor and even New Bedford, and one of the women is almost 70 years old,” she noted, adding that the program draws women from the four Western Mass. counties, who must apply for the available seats — usually 30 to 40 a year.

When asked what the committee that weighs those applications is looking for, Moorhouse said simply, “passion.”

“And in whatever focus that might be,” she went on. “It could be political, or higher education … whatever their passion may be, it just has to shine through.”

The diversity of the LIPPI program, but especially the all-women nature of the program, makes it unique among the many leadership programs in the area and attractive to many potential candidates, Moorhouse went on, adding that many participants enjoy sharing common experiences, challenges, and approaches to business and problem solving.

Linda Tyer

Linda Tyer

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, a member of the LIPPI class of 2013-14, agreed. She told BusinessWest that, while mixed-gender leadership programs certainly have value, and women in every field must work alongside men, there are many benefits to having only women in the room.

“I’ve always been an advocate for advancing women in politics and in business, and this was an opportunity to participate in that pipeline, not only for myself, but for the women around me,” she explained. “And what happens when you participate in leadership programs for women is that you start to recognize yourself in others, and this enables you to learn from their experiences.

“Women have a collaborative nature versus a competitive nature,” she went on, listing another reason why she LIPPI’s program is valuable. “And you learn that collaborations do lead to success — everything isn’t a competition.”

Positions of Strength

Over the years, LIPPI has not only inspired women to consider and then pursue public service, but helped hone the skills and, yes, broaden the comfort zone of those already in office.

Tyer falls into both categories, actually. She was the city’s clerk when she became part of the LIPPI class of 2013-14, and prior to that served on the City Council.

She said the LIPPI experience helped provide her with the will and confidence needed to seek the corner office.

“I had an aspiration to become mayor, and participating in the program gave me more confidence in my leadership abilities to take that big step forward,” she noted, adding that several factors, including everything from her family situation to her collective experience in city government, collided to convinced her it was time to seize the moment.

And since taking office in January, she said there have been many times when situations and challenges have prompted her to summon lessons learned during her LIPPI sessions.

“I carry with me important lessons about public speaking and giving yourself a presence in a room,” she explained, adding that these represent just a few of the many ways in which LIPPI continues to influence her life and career.

Denise Hurst, a Springfield School Committee member, tells a similar story.

Denise Hurst

Denise Hurst

She had been on the board a short time when she was asked to be part of LIPPI’s inaugural class, and admits to having doubts about whether she really needed it.

Just a few sessions in — and actually before the cohort began its work — those doubts were completely erased.

“I sat on a panel that the Women’s Fund held as a kickoff for LIPPI, and it was probably then that it became readily apparent to me that I needed to go through this,” she recalled, “because there was so much that I didn’t know about being an elected official.

“I didn’t come from a political family — I had no real experience in politics or elected office,” she went on. “So I felt very much behind the curve with respect to my colleagues on the School Committee, but the types of training and workshops provided by LIPPI were extremely helpful.”

Elaborating, she described her LIPPI experience as an internship of sorts, one that provided hands-on training and many types of invaluable experience. And, like others we spoke with, she said that what LIPPI helped provide, above all else, is that priceless commodity known as confidence.

“You can listen to all the speakers in the world about how you build confidence and how you should be confident and how you shouldn’t be scared, but the reality is that, when you walk into the School Committee chambers or the City Council chambers or state government, you’re there alone … your mentor is not there,” she told BusinessWest. “You have to be quick, you have to be able to think on your feet, and LIPPI helps you do that; it helps you strategize.”

Speaking of Empowerment…

A visitor to Pittsfield City Hall would quickly learn that the mayor’s LIPPI diploma is not the only one proudly displayed.

Indeed, several members of what would be called the Tyer administration were part of the class of 2013-14, and Roberta McCulloch-Dews, director of Administrative Services, is one of them.

A former journalist who later started her own communications company and then held several positions, including assistant to the president, at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, McCulloch-Dews said she wasn’t really thinking about a shift into public service when she participated in LIPPI.

What she was thinking about was taking advantage of any opportunity that would expand her horizons.

“I’m a knowledge seeker — I love to learn,” she explained. “And I love to challenge myself with new ways of thinking. So when I heard about LIPPI and how it encouraged women to think about public service as another outlet, I thought it was important to learn about this area — even though moving into that realm wasn’t really feasible at that time.”

Roberta McCulloch-Dews

Roberta McCulloch-Dews

Or so she thought. Indeed, McCulloch-Dews said one of the many thoughts she took home from her LIPPI experience was the notion that one doesn’t have to wait until the conditions — especially a proper balance of work and family — are perfect to take a step into public service, or any other arena, for that matter.

“I would say that I came away from LIPPI empowered to know that I didn’t need to have everything fit perfectly to make the decision to go into public service,” she told BusinessWest. “I didn’t know at the time that I would be in public service now, but I think it was fitting to have that foundation, because it served to enrich what I’m doing now.”

Katherine VanBramer, Tyer’s executive assistant, was another member of that class of 2013-14, and she was technically already in public service while attending those sessions.

In fact, she was working for Tyer, as senior clerk.

Last November, Mayor-elect Tyer asked her to stay with her and become her executive assistant. This role would present a new set of challenges and even more work directly with constituents. But she credits LIPPI with helping to impart her with not only the confidence to make the shift, but the desire to take on a role where she would often be a liaison between the mayor and city residents.

“LIPPI definitely provided me with more self-confidence in dealing with the public,” she said. “And it really inspired me to appreciate how important it is to help people navigate their government, because it can be a tricky process sometimes. If there’s anything I can do to make the process more simple or more understandable, I’m happy and willing to do that.”

While all those we talked with related how LIPPI provided them with confidence and empowerment, they also talked with one voice about the power of mentoring, learning from others who have been through similar experiences, and how the relationships forged during their year certainly didn’t end when the diplomas were handed out.

They spoke also about how the program left them determined to mentor others and share collective knowledge and experience with those who are younger and walking where they were years ago.

“LIPPI has caused me to be more thoughtful about mentoring young women who are interested in getting into non-traditional fields,” said Kasper, noting that police work certainly falls into that category, and few women look in that direction simply because they lack role models — something she has become, and takes quite seriously.

“I’m in a position where I have a great opportunity to be a mentor,” she went on. “It’s an attitude I had before LIPPI, but that program really strengthened it.”

Moving Forward

Experts on the impostor syndrome say it is quite common, difficult to completely cure, but, in most cases, quite manageable.

The process starts with recognizing the condition, understanding that many others suffer from it, and addressing it. The last part of that equation generally amounts to building confidence and thus erasing those nagging doubts about one’s abilities, and developing a strong support system that can help keep them from coming back.

All of that isn’t on LIPPI’s mission statement, either, but that’s exactly what this unique program does.

That, and providing women across Western Mass. with a much bigger comfort zone.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss

A Case Study in Mentoring


Karen Buell (left) says her career and her mentor, Mary Meehan.

Karen Buell (left) says her career and work/life balance have both benefited from the help of her mentor, Mary Meehan.

Janice Mazzallo calls it a “perfect match.”

The executive vice president and chief human resources officer at PeoplesBank was referring to the mentoring relationship between Karen Buell and Mary Meehan, which began eight years ago, after Buell came to her and asked if she would allow Meehan to serve in that role.

Buell had completed a management-training program, participated with Meehan in strategic planning sessions, and identified her as an ideal role model.

“Mary is intelligent, polished, professional, and successful,” Buell told BusinessWest, adding that she wanted to follow in her footsteps.

The bank didn’t have a mentoring program of that specific type in place, but when Mazzallo presented the idea to Meehan, she readily agreed.

“I was honored to be singled out and hoped I could make a difference,” said the first vice president of commercial lending.

Since that time, Buell has had two children, completed her MBA, and been named vice president of the bank’s customer innovation lab. And she credits Meehan with playing a significant role in helping her achieve a successful life/work integration and thus accomplish all of the above.

In fact, the two women have worked so well together that last year they participated in the Bay Path University Women’s Leadership Conference, titled “Celebrating Sisterhood,” where they shared their mentoring experiences during a panel discussion.

Their experiences — on both sides of the equation — present an effective case study in the importance of mentoring and how both the mentee and mentor benefit from the experience.

Meanwhile it also shows the many roles mentors take in their work, everything from presenting what Meehan called “reality checks” to Buell — a self-described perfectionist, reluctant delegator, and professional prone to come down hard on herself — to simply acting as a reliable sounding board.

“I told her she has to let her husband or a friend help her, that having other people assist you is OK,” Meehan recalled, adding that young people face a number of challenges today, and too often they feel they must take them on alone.

Said Buell, “there are times when I set my expectations too high because I want to be able to do it all. But I can always go to Mary and run things by her, ask her if I am off base or whether I should shoot for the stars.”

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we shine a spotlight on this relationship, which serves as a model for how mentoring can — and should — work.

Credit — Check

Buell didn’t have children when this relationship began, but the difficulties of balancing her personal and professional life were already becoming apparent. And after giving birth to a son and a daughter, who are now 4 and 2, there were times when she felt overwhelmed.

But Meehan’s guidance has proved invaluable, and she has urged Buell to be her own advocate when she felt it was appropriate.

For example, when Buell told her mentor she wanted to be able to pick up her son from school and work at home in the evenings to make up the time, Meehan supported the idea, even though flex schedules were not a common practice at the bank at that time.

“I thought, if anyone could do it successfully, it was Karen,” she noted, citing a long list of Buell’s accomplishments.

Meehan could certainly relate to Buell’s challenges and thought processes. Well, sort of.

She could relate to the part about desiring work/life balance and wanting to be with her children for important moments in their lives — or even a ride home from school every day. But not to the part about seeking — and then attaining — a flex schedule.

That’s because such thoughts were mostly foreign concepts when she broke into this business.

That was in 1975, after she graduated from college and completed a management program at Citibank. The institution didn’t have a formal mentoring program in place, but she noticed that networking took place naturally among the male employees.

“The women in the training program did connect with each other, but there were only a few in the commercial lending area,” she told BusinessWest.

A mentor might have helped her find solutions to difficult situations she encountered in her career, but she has never had one, and struggled with sacrifices she felt she needed to make during a stint in the insurance industry. Meehan had a young daughter and was working in a position that required a great deal of travel, and because her peers devoted untold hours to the job and took calls on weekends, she didn’t think flexibility was an option.

But she has never forgotten the day the sacrifice of being away from home became too much. She was working in Mexico City while at Cigna, and couldn’t return home in time to take her 4-year-old daughter trick-or-treating. And although her husband planned to do it, the idea that she would miss out on an event that meant so much to her was so upsetting that she made the decision to seek a job with more regular hours, left the insurance industry, and returned to banking.

“I never discussed my feelings with the people I worked with,” she noted, adding that doing so was certainly not accepted practice three decades ago.

Balance Statement

Times have certainly changed, and today, mentoring is an accepted practice. As part of that practice, those being mentored are encouraged to openly discuss their feelings about what’s happening with their lives and careers.

For these reasons and many others, PeoplesBank now has two mentoring initiatives. The first is a peer-to-peer program that matches every new hire with a high-performing employee to help them acclimate to the workplace. The mentor takes the person out to lunch on their first day on the job, then continues to meet with them for six months. Matches are based on two factors — personality and the person’s position at the bank — and are not gender-specific.

Mentoring was also added as an enhancement to the bank’s management program. After Mazzallo reintroduced the training, and graduates indicated they felt having a mentor would be advantageous, the practice of assigning one to each participant was established.

It has been especially appropriate because Mazzallo hires two candidates each year from the UMass Isenberg School of Management. They typically have a degree in accounting or finance and spend 12 to 18 months working on special projects in different departments before advancing to a management position.

“I felt it was very important to assign these people to a mentor who could offer them support,” she noted. “We have many seasoned professionals who are able and willing to help these graduates and also help internal candidates in our Leadership Development Program who have the potential to become managers.”

Buell told BusinessWest that she feels mentorship is valuable whether someone is just beginning their career or facing new challenges.

“If your company doesn’t have a program, you should ask for one. It amounts to self-help and is well worth it,” she said. “Mary has given me many nuggets of wisdom and helped me get a better perspective on things, as she is able to look through a different lens.

“And although younger people don’t always take the time to look for a mentor, there is something to be said for life experiences that you just can’t Google,” she went on. “We are all very busy, but it’s important to have someone who can just sit down and listen.”

Buell acknowledged that approaching a person in a high position and requesting help can be uncomfortable.

“But if someone can see the value, they may be more apt to take a stance,” she said, citing her own success as an example.

“It has made a world of difference to have someone further down the road who I can talk to, and I produce more for the bank because of this relationship. It’s been life-changing and has helped me identify my strengths, be less critical of myself, and be better able to acknowledge my accomplishments.”

Meehan has also found it rewarding. “When you give of yourself, you get a lot back,” she explained. “I have had a lot of pleasure watching Karen grow, and someday, when I look back on my career, being a mentor will definitely be one of the highlights. It has been a very nice experience, and we have become friends.”

Change Agents

Friendship would be considered a bonus — an industry term of sorts — when it comes to such relationships, but they are commonplace.

And they are just one of many rewards to be garnered by those on both sides of mentoring, which, as this model shows, brings benefits for the participants, the company, and its customers.

That would make this a win-win-win-win situation, an eventuality that brings value in a number of ways.

Sections Women in Businesss

The Women’s Business Enterprise


So, you’re a woman, and you run a business. In the pool of privately held small businesses in this country, being a woman business owner actually has many advantages.

Kristina Drzal-Houghton

Kristina Drzal-Houghton

Most public corporations, as well as local, state, and federal government purchasing agencies, have programs for allotting a certain percentage of business to women-owned companies. Getting certified as a women’s business enterprise (WBE) can make the difference between landing that business or not. However, the certification process is not without its challenges, and owners often get discouraged during the process because they lack the proper guidance or misunderstand how the process works.

Certification validates that the business is 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. Ownership is just a small part of the equation. The term ‘ownership’ goes beyond numbers in this case. A woman must also hold the highest position at the company and be active in daily management and the strategic direction of the company.

So, before moving forward, make sure that you have several ways of proving that you are leading the company, from doing the hiring and firing to any planning documents. In addition to being a majority owner, the woman must also be a U.S. citizen.

If you are puzzled about the many types of certification, you are not alone. Much confusion exists, and to fully explain each is beyond the scope of this article. However, with just a short explanation, most people can determine which certification is probably right for them to pursue.

• Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification is gender-based for woman-owned businesses;

• Women-owned Small Business (WOSB) certification is required for a specific federal purchasing program that has a set-aside for women-owned businesses. There is also a disadvantaged component to this program, which is called EDWOSB;

• The 8(a) designation is actually a business development/mentoring program administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a company that has been disadvantaged, and 8(a) certification is part of that program;

• Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) certification is for businesses that are disadvantaged but are not participating in the 8(a) development program;

• Disabled Veteran (DV) certification is for the business owner who is a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and who has been disabled in action; and

• Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification is race-based for minority-owned businesses.

The U.S. Small Business Administration can be contacted regarding participation in the 8(a) program, or to obtain the SDB certification as well as the DV certification.

MBE certification is done through the National Minority Supplier Development Council (formerly known as the Minority Supplier Council, or MSC). WBE certification, as well as WOSB and EDWOSB certifications, can be obtained through the government or third-party certifiers.

Third-party certification is geared to the private sector. If you are interested only in being a vendor/supplier to any government entity, it is recommended that you contact each specific agency to obtain their requirements. If you are more interested in doing work in the private sector, particularly with large, publicly traded companies, WBE certification by a third-party certifier is recommended.

There is a long list of documents that you will need to get together for your application. This is probably the most arduous part of the certification process, and if you’re not organized or haven’t kept track of important business documents, getting everything together can be even more time-consuming and challenging.

You don’t have to be going through the application process before you get organized. If you think that getting certified is something that you will eventually want to do, it is wise to start putting aside the necessary documents and paperwork as early as possible.

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a national, Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that also provides an avenue for women-owned enterprises to get certified, has a list of required documentation on their website.

Here is typically what to expect in the certification process:

• The applicant sends the completed application to the certifying agency;

• The certifier checks to ensure that the application is complete with supporting documentation;

• The application is forwarded to one of the national review committees;

• If the committee has questions arising from the documentation in your application, they will contact you for clarification;

• A visit to your place of business will be arranged and conducted by one of the certifier’s trained site visitors. Results of the site visit are sent to the review committee;

• The review committee meets again to make final decision;

• The applicant is notified of the decision, and, if certified, a certification packet is sent. If the application has been denied certification, a letter is sent stating the reasons and stating the appeal process; and

• You must renew your company’s certification annually, whether you have WBE, WOSB, or EDWOSB certification. However, the process is a relatively simple one after the initial certification, especially if there have been no ownership changes.

Once you make it through the certification process, it’s time to use the distinction to your advantage. According to business owners who have their certification, there is a lot of potential to grow your business through this avenue, but you can’t just sit back and expect the business to come to you. The best way to get word out that you are certified is to contact local, state, and national certification agencies and ask to get put on their mailing list.

Additionally, mention that you are a certified women-owned enterprise on your marketing and promotional materials, which is an easy way to let potential customers know about this important distinction.

Kristina Drzal-Houghton, CPA, MST is the partner in charge of Taxation at Holyoke-based Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.

Sections Women in Businesss

The Art and Science of ‘Finding Out’

Julie Pokela

Julie Pokela

Much has changed since Julie Pokela and partner Nancy Mihevc decided to go into business doing market research nearly 40 years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is the simple mission for the company now known as Market Street Research: finding answers for clients who need information to understand their audience and grow their business.

Julie Pokela says it was already shaping up to be a busy summer for Market Street Research (MSR), the firm she helped lay the groundwork for nearly 40 years ago. And then, some additional work start pouring in.

Funneled by the Wallace Foundation, started by the founders of Readers Digest, as part of an ongoing initiative concerning the arts, these projects involve several noted institutions — the Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — that want some insight into how to grow their audiences.

A major focal point of these analyses will be the Millennial generation, members of which now statistically outnumber the Baby Boomers, said Pokela, and remain a point of fascination — and mystery — for businesses across all sectors.

“People are trying to figure out how to tap into this generation,” she said, adding that these arts-related projects will utilize focus groups and a host of other methodologies to gain some insight.

When asked to speculate on what these studies may reveal about the Millennials and their attitudes about the arts, Pokela thought for a second and said, “I don’t know … we’re going to find out.”

‘Finding out’ has been the simple two-word answer to the question of what this company does since Pokela and partner Nancy Mihevc joined together in a venture called the Research Group in 1978 (more on the company’s history later). They’ve been finding answers for clients ranging from political candidates to regional and national banks; from private colleges to major medical systems; from retail chains to nonprofit agencies.

The specific questions to which they’ve sought to find answers have varied, but the common denominator has essentially been market share and the universal goal of improving it.

Today, achieving that goal involves successfully marketing to and then serving several generations, each with distinct attitudes and preferences, said Pokela, adding that the Millennials are proving to be particularly challenging for many sectors.

“Banks are really interested in this subject,” she noted. “And we do a lot of work with independent schools and colleges to help them figure how they’re positioned among the students and parents looking at colleges — and how to grow their enrollment.”

Over the years, the size and composition of MSR’s client base has changed, said Pokela, noting that, in the ’80s, the company did considerable work with banks, and later put a heavy focus on healthcare, specifically hospitals and medical systems that wanted insight into what the public thought of the services they were providing.

While the company still serves both those sectors, its overall strength has been diversity, said Pokela, adding that this trait has enabled it to survive the many economic downturns over the past four decades.

The business itself has also evolved. Years ago, MSR employed those who would do the actual data collection for the research projects. Now, those services are outsourced, noted Pokela, adding that, while laying off dozens of employees constituted the most painful moment of her career, the resulting entity is smaller and more manageable, and enables her to spend the vast majority of her time doing what she likes most — research and interpreting what it means.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, BusinessWest talked at length with Pokela about her company, the intriguing world of research, and the art and science of ‘finding out.’

Answering the Call

Tracing the history of her company, Pokela said the intriguing story began when she was pursuing her doctorate in communication at UMass Amherst, studying under, among others, Mihevc, who taught political communication.

One of Mihevc’s other students at the time became involved with Ed McColgan’s campaign to unseat Congressman Silvio Conte, and she asked Mihevc to conduct some research for the candidate.

She agreed, and asked Pokela if she wanted to assist with the polling, which she did.

Those efforts didn’t succeed in getting McColgan elected — he triumphed in the Democratic primary, but was buried by Conte in November — but they did get the attention of other candidates, who recruited the two for similar polling.

“Eventually, a business person with one of the campaigns asked if we could do some market research for his company,” said Pokela, “and from there, an advertising agency asked if we could do marketing research for their clients.

“We got to the point where Nancy was coming up for tenure, and I was looking at finishing my Ph.D., and had to decide — do we want to start a company or continue with our expected lives of being academics?” she went on. “We decided that it wouldn’t hurt anything to start a company, so we did.”

Given a boost by some work they did for the Center for Human Development in Springfield, which received a grant to conduct a telephone survey on community attitudes toward foster parenting, the pair enjoyed success early on, working mostly on political campaigns and projects for ad agencies.

The recession of the early ’80s nearly took them out, though, said Pokela, adding that she and Mihevc turned to the Mass. Small Business Development Center and then-Director Merwin Tober for some assistance on how to position the company for growth and sustainability.

Tober came up with the idea of generating a recurring form of income — or several of them — rather than being solely what amounted to a job shop. And from that suggestion, the two partners eventually conceptualized something they would call the “Quarterly Bank Survey.”

As that name suggests, the initiative surveyed area residents on a quarterly basis about their banking habits and preferences, said Pokela, adding that most all area banks bought the reports.

“It ended up being a great product and a solid source of regular, predictable income — we did it for maybe 10 years,” she said, adding that this effective niche was substantially weakened by a wave of consolidation that swept over the industry in the late ’80s and other consequences of a deep and prolonged recession that took a severe toll on the financial-services sector.

But, while bolstering its portfolio with banks, the company — which became known as Market Street Research in 1986 after Pokela and Mihevc parted ways and the former joined forces with Elizabeth Denny — was doing the same with the healthcare industry.

Julie Pokela says there are businesses

Julie Pokela says there are businesses across many sectors that want to know what the Millennials are thinking — and how they’re spending.

That remains the primary source of business today, accounting for roughly 70% of annual revenues, said Pokela, adding that now, as then, the industry relies on a steady flow of data concerning its services and how they are perceived.

The company started with a hospital survey similar to the one produced for banks, she said, adding that, by the late ’80s, most healthcare providers were ratcheting up their marketing efforts in response to changes within the industry, especially a shift from inpatient to outpatient care and the resulting increase in bed capacity.

“Length of stay was greatly reduced, and as a result, hospitals had all this excess capacity for inpatient beds,” Pokela explained. “So they started looking at the edges of their markets and saying, ‘where can we pick up more patients in areas that we haven’t traditionally looked at?’ So hospitals learned how to compete very quickly.”

Surveying the Landscape

This phenomenon has generated a steady source of revenue for the company ever since, she went on, noting that MSR has a number of prominent hospitals in its portfolio, including Mass General, NYU Langone Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, Dartmouth Hitchcock, and many others.

Most are steady, repeat customers that require in-depth marketing studies at least every two years, and often on a more frequent basis.

The nature of the work varies, but much of it comes down to two key issues in this sector and most all others — awareness and image.

“If you look at the process by which someone makes a decision to use any kind of organization, it starts with awareness — people are more likely to use an organization they’re aware of,” she explained. “So we track what their awareness levels are, and ask people, ‘when you think about hospitals in your area, which ones come to mind?’”

Overall, the company tailors its questions and surveys to meet the specific needs of clients and business sectors, and the ability to help companies in a host of industries has driven solid growth over the years and enabled MSR to weather the economic downturns in recent years.

The firm has clients in healthcare, financial services, the nonprofit arena, governmental agencies, retail, technology, manufacturing, and, especially this summer, the arts, which Pokela has identified as a potential source of growth for MSR.

In higher education, for example, the company has worked with a number of institutions, including Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Western New England University, and UMass Amherst, with research focused on a number of areas, including:

• Satisfaction of faculty, staff, and students with the services the school provides;
• Effectiveness of communications, including marketing and promotional materials; and
• Satisfaction of alumni or alumnae regarding services for alumni and communication with their alma mater.

The company also works with private elementary and secondary schools and also public school systems and school boards, in matters ranging from attracting and retaining high-caliber students to communicating information and specific strengths to the community.

In retail, meanwhile, the company has provided services for national chains, mom-and-pop stores, and entities that fall in between. It helps those clients with everything from assessing awareness (there’s that word again) to customer satisfaction, site-location selection, market feasibility of new products, and more.

Increasingly, those in each sector want to know what the members of each generation are thinking and what they’re looking for in terms of products and services.

She joked that those in healthcare are not yet fascinated by the wants and needs of the Millennial generation — “young people don’t get sick” — but just about everyone else is, including those arts institutions that have recently become clients.

“They want to know how to get the next generation interested in the arts,” she explained. “They want to know how to get them interested not only in going to see these groups, but also interested in becoming subscribers and then eventually donors.

“At the focus groups I’ve been going to with people in their 20s and 30s who are going to the arts — they’re very passionate about it,” she went on. “That’s very exciting to see. The question is how to translate the passion exhibited by the people who are going, to the people who are not going.”

As for the answers to that question … the reports commissioned for those arts institutions should be completed by this fall, she went on, adding that there may be some answers there.

Poll Position

Looking ahead, Pokela said the company’s primary goal is to continue to log steady, manageable growth.

She believes it can continue to do so because, overall, it scores well in those areas for which it gauges results for its many customers — awareness, quality of service, and image. And, especially, because it continues to raise and clear the bar in that one realm for which it was formed, a service that has become both an art and science: finding out.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss

Creating a Sounding Board

Cathy Crosky

Cathy Crosky says women owners benefit from having a sounding board comprised of peers navigating similar issues and challenges.

Attorney Paula Almgren says she knows she’s a much better, much smarter businessperson now than she was before she joined a group called WomenUpFront about 18 months ago.

She credits the Pittsfield-based organization, which launched three years ago and is composed of fellow small business owners, with everything from helping her take basic, common-sense steps, such as creating a website for her practice, to developing an appetite for risk taking, including a book she’s planning to write on one of her specialties — navigating community-based care.

“I’ve taken a lot of actions I might not have taken, or would have taken longer to implement, if I wasn’t part of this group,” she said, citing the website as just one example. “And you become accountable to the group; if you say you’re going to do it, you have to do it.”

And yet, Almgren literally can’t wait until she can stop attending the monthly meetings of this group.

Indeed, there is a ceiling regarding annual revenues for membership in this intriguing group — $1 million — and Almgren, who started her practice in 1996, intends to break her way through it sometime soon.

When she does, she’ll be able to ‘graduate’ to a group called the Women Presidents Organization (WPO), which has pretty much the same basic mission statement and MO as WomenUpFront, but is obviously for those with larger ventures and often different challenges.

Transitioning to membership in WPO is the unofficial, usually unannounced ambition of WomenUpFront members, said Cathy Crosky, an executive coach and organizational transformation consultant with Charter Oak consulting group in Williamstown who conceptualized and now leads both organizations.

Paula Almgren

Paula Almgren

She told BusinessWest there are many stories like Almgren’s still being written in Berkshire County. They involve women who have found a comfort zone — not to mention myriad learning opportunities — in a group of roughly a dozen that she described early and often as a “sounding board.”

It is now Crosky’s ambition to replicate the success of the Pittsfield group in Hampden County. She noted that statistics clearly show that more women are choosing entrepreneurship as a career path, and the Greater Springfield area is certainly no exception to this rule.

Like the Pittsfield WomenUpFront group, the one planned for Hampden County will be limited to first-stage companies — it is not intended for startups, said Crosky, adding that it is focused on business, not networking, although there is certainly some of the latter as well.

“The idea behind the group is to help women to get beyond the day-to-day challenges and look at the business more purposefully and more strategically,” she said, adding that, to help meet that goal, she has brought in experts on subjects ranging from employment law to time management to address members. “It’s a deep dive into business issues and challenges, and it’s a learning group.”

For this issue and its focus on women in business, we take an in-depth look at the success achieved by WomenUpFront in Pittsfield, and how Crosky plans to make this concept more of a regional phenomenon.

Getting Down to Business

Unlike most members of the Pittsfield WomenUpFront group, Pam Sandler’s immediate goals do not include graduation to WPO.

That may eventually happen, she said, but at present, she’s comfortable with the revenue patterns being generated by the Stockbridge-based architecture firm she launched more than 30 years ago that bears her name and specializes in both residential and commercial work.

Pam Sandler

Pam Sandler says women have to juggle their lives differently than men do, which leads to unique challenges balancing business and other obligations.

“I was different than other women in the group — I really didn’t want to grow my business; I thought I was stretched as far as I could be stretched,” she said, adding that, generally speaking and economic downturns aside (they traditionally hit this sector very hard), she can generate as much work as she wants and needs to handle. “I was, and still am, far more interested in working smarter — I was getting pretty burned out.”

And, like Almgren, she believes she’s already made significant progress with that goal. As evidence, she cited the fact that she’s not burning as much midnight oil, and not because she has fewer projects on the books.

“I don’t work as many hours as I used to because I don’t have to — I’m working smarter,” she told BusinessWest. “I have less stress, and I’m more focused on the big picture — and I owe much of that to my once-a-month fix.”

That fix, as she called it, WomenUpFront, was in many ways inspired by WPO, said Crosky, adding that she was approached by several women who knew they could benefit from such a group, but didn’t fit the revenue criterion.

Like WPO, the new group was designed to be a forum where common issues and problems can be discussed confidentially, she went on, adding that members soon discover that, whatever challenge they’re facing, they’re certainly not unique, or alone, in that fight.

“The demands of running a business are increasingly more challenging,” Crosky told BusinessWest. “The roundtable provides an opportunity for women to share some of these challenges they have that are similar and offer support, best practices, and ideas — and learn from each other.”

Almgren concurred. “I find that there’s a lot of problem solving in the group — every time I go, I learn something new,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s really helpful as a business owner to be able to talk about what’s working and not working with your business and share ideas with other women business owners.”

Crosky noted that, while some business groups have certainly enjoyed success with a mixed-gender format, the women-only structure of this group appeals to many because of the commonality of issues and a generally shared outlook on business and how to manage.

“Many women report feeling much more comfortable in a women-only group because women lead differently than men and the challenges that women face in the marketplace are different,” she explained. “There’s also the challenge of balancing work and their personal lives, because they do have primary responsibility for children and aging parents, despite the changes in role definition.”

Sandler agreed.

“I find that women have to juggle their lives differently than men do,” she said. “I have three children, and I have to organize their lives and my work at the same time, which has been a real challenge.”

Crosky announced her intentions to form a Pioneer Valley chapter of WomenUpFront in the spring, with the support of the Business Growth Center and PeoplesBank, which have offered to provide meeting space and other forms of assistance.

She’s been working since then to recruit the eight to 10 women entrepreneurs she needs to launch. She knows they’re out there, but she also knows that most individuals who can use help are also those who find it most difficult to commit the time required to be an active participant in such a group.

If she can get a few minutes with a prospective member, she advises them it’s necessary to make the time.

Meeting of the Minds

Crosky said there is no firm timetable for starting the Pioneer Valley chapter of WomenUpFront.

The task of making women aware of the organization and its benefits and convincing them to commit the requisite time and energy is ongoing.

Overall, she believes expanding the concept across the Valley will help individual business owners meet their goals, but also benefit the region in its quest to encourage entreprebeurship and create jobs.

“Not everyone wants to grow beyond $1 million, but everyone wants to be more efficient and stabilize their business,” she said. “And that’s what we’re here for.”

For more information on WomenUpFront, call (413) 822-1263.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Jo-Ann Davis Becomes First General Counsel for Baystate System

Jo-Ann Davis

Jo-Ann Davis says her office will handle matters ranging from bond financing to mergers and acquisitions to labor negotiations — and much more.

When Baystate Health administrators decided last fall to move ahead with plans to hire the system’s first chief general legal counsel, they asked Jo-Ann Davis, serving then as Baystate’s vice president of Human Resources Consulting and Employee Relations, if she would serve on the search committee that would evaluate candidates for that important post.

She agreed to take on that assignment, but not long afterward came to the conclusion that she was at least as qualified for this position, if not more so, than the applicants she would be screening.

“I started to scratch my head and say, ‘I think that I could actually do this … I’d like to throw my hat into the ring,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, by sharing this observation with those same Baystate administrators, she went from being an assessor of candidates to a candidate being assessed.

Fast-forward a few months, and Davis now has what she considers to be the best job within what would be considered the region’s legal community.

Her new business card identifies her as senior vice president and chief general counsel, which means she’s responsible for overseeing the handling of all legal matters involving a system that now includes four hospitals (Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, and Baystate Wing Hospital — with negotiations underway for a fifth, Noble Hospital in Westfield), more than 11,700 employees, and nearly $2 billion in net revenues.

This is a multi-faceted position, she said, one that involves everything from labor contracts to real-estate matters; from regulatory compliance to litigation management. She will also serve as primary legal advisor to the chief executive and the president’s cabinet, and chief legal officer to the board of trustees.

“This involves planning, overseeing, and managing all legal services for the system,” she said, reading directly from the lengthy job description that came with that business card, adding this is a professional challenge she fully embraces.

“I’m very excited about this for a lot of reasons,” she explained. “One, we need this role and function here. Two, there’s an excitement for me when it comes to building a department and starting from scratch, and as a professional woman, I’m very proud of the fact that Baystate, when it had the opportunity to hire its first senior leader and general counsel, they chose a woman for the position.”

Jo-Ann Davis says her office will handle matters ranging from bond financing to mergers and acquisitions to labor negotiations — and much more.
[/caption]Davis said one of the first items on her to-do list is to assemble a staff — one that she believes will eventually consist of several lawyers (perhaps five to eight) and several support staff, including paralegals. And before deciding the size and makeup of that staff, she said she must first itemize, if you will, the system’s legal needs and then decide how best to meet them.

Historically, the system has contracted with several area firms to handle matters ranging from bond financing (for the massive, $353 million Hospital of the Future project, for example) to mergers and acquisitions to labor negotiations. And it will continue to do so with the new general-counsel structure, although more matters will now be handled in house.

Davis said the Baystate system has long considered adopting the general-counsel model — one used by most major corporations and health systems — and new President and CEO Mark Keroack, who took the helm 11 months ago, made it one of the priorities of his administration.

“As the system grows and expands, and as healthcare and health law become increasingly complex, you need to have in-house counsel so you have that expertise at your fingertips,” she explained, adding that, while the system is expecting to lower its overall legal bills through this model, the primary motivation is to more effectively manage (that’s a word she would use often) the myriad legal services required by a system of Baystate’s size.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Davis about her new role and all that entails.

Offering Testimony

Davis began her law career in 1982 as a human-resources consultant for the Springfield-based law firm Sullivan & Hayes, where she landed after earning first a bachelor’s degree in political science at Wheaton and then a master’s in education at Harvard.

She would add a juris doctor to her educational résumé in 1988, graduating from Western New England University, and became an associate with Sullivan & Hayes that year. She made partner in 1994 and remained with the firm until 1998, when she joined Springfield-based Skoler Abbott & Presser, becoming a partner in 1999.

At Skoler Abbott, she worked with a wide range of clients, developing strategies with regard to the many aspects of employment and labor-law matters, and representing them in federal and Massachusetts courts and before such bodies as the Equal Employment Opportunity Counsel (EEOC), the Mass. Commission Againt Discrimination (MCAD), and the National Labor Relations Board. Baystate wasn’t one of her clients (although the firm did some work for it); however, the system became the next line on her résumé.

She came on board as director of Employee Relations in 2003, and became director of Human Resources Consulting and Employee relations in 2009, and vice president overseeing that department in 2012.

In those latter roles, she built, developed, and managed the department, supervising six HR directors system-wide and leading a staff of 25. She also handled the full gamut of employment and labor-related matters, including employment litigation in state and federal courts, before the EEOC, MCAD, and other bodies.

It was the breadth and depth of her experience with the system, and also in private practice, that convinced her she was capable of handling the general counsel’s role — and not merely coordinating the search for that individual — and those who did conduct that search eventually came to the same conclusion.

Indeed, Davis, who prevailed over a host of candidates from across the country, took on her new role in late March. And she’s spent the past two months undertaking that aforementioned analysis of the system’s legal needs.

“A big part of my role is to build the department,” she explained, adding that this means analyzing how much is spent (she said she was still getting her arms around the budget), where it’s spent — in business transactions or employment and labor matters, for example — and then determining what types of lawyers should be hired (meaning which aspects of the law they specialize in) as well as which work will be handled in-house and which assignments will be contracted out.

“This analysis is typical of what any general counsel’s office would do,” she went on. “You have to decide what your bread and butter is — what you can handle internally — and what is too complex and sophisticated, where you really need specialists.”

This will be an involved analysis, she continued, adding that she expects it will take several months to determine the size and character of her staff and fill those positions.

When it’s staffed and operating, she expects that the general counsel’s office will bring more efficiency to the task of managing the system’s legal matters, simply because those individuals are in house and employed by Baystate.

“I sit on the president’s cabinet, and when we meet weekly, there isn’t an issue or strategy or business imperative, or any discussion around patient care, that doesn’t involve or have legal implications,” she explained. “To have that expertise sitting at the table, in the moment, is invaluable.”

Using the Hospital of the Future as an example, she said that huge project involved everything from bond financing to regulatory compliance matters to construction issues. Outside counsel was used for each aspect of that initiative, but with the general-counsel model, many, though certainly not all, of these matters can be handled in house.

“Areas that are very sophisticated, that are not done on a day-to-day basis … you still want to contract those out,” she explained. “But things internally that we’ll be doing include general contract review, employment and labor relations, physician contracting, professional-services agreements, and much more.”

Summary Judgment

As she talked about why she left private practice and a partnership with one of the region’s leading employment-law firms to join Baystate a dozen years ago, Davis said there were many motivating factors, but primarily a desire to represent one client, not a portfolio of them.

“When you work for a private firm, a lot of it becomes marketing your own services instead of practicing law,” she explained. “I got to the point where I wanted to represent one client; you form deep relationships with that one client, and you have a vested interest in the success and opportunities of that one client.”

Today, she’s not only representing that client, but representing it as general counsel. That role represents a host of responsibilities, but a tremendous opportunity as well. “As a lawyer in this community, I have the best job,” she said.

Not bad for someone who was originally asked to weigh the candidates for that job.

Sections Women in Businesss
Fast-growing, Women-led Company Aims to Clarify Health Information

Stacy Robison, left, and Xanthi Scrimgeour

Stacy Robison, left, and Xanthi Scrimgeour saw a need for clearer health information, and turned that need into a fast-growing, multi-faceted business.

There’s a gap, Stacy Robison says, between the ability of the public to understand the copious amounts of health data they encounter, and how effectively that information is communicated.

But six years after she and Xanthi Scrimgeour launched CommunicateHealth in Northampton, that gap is narrowing — as quickly as their company is growing.

“We both come out of traditional public-health backgrounds,” Robison said of Scrimgeour, her partner in both life and business. “Xanthi was doing some health-education work for one of the bureaus for the state Department of Public Health. I did a lot of work at the federal level. I was doing some policy work around health literacy, looking at how people understand health information.”

On both levels, she said, “public health is historically underfunded. They don’t traditionally get cool design, creativity, technology.”

At the same time, data showed that people were increasingly struggling with health information at a time when society in general is shifting the burden, more than ever before, onto individuals to manage their health and seek relevant information.

“The other part of the equation is how poorly designed and poorly written information in public healthcare can be — it was a huge gap,” she told BusinessWest. “So that was really the vision for the company: let’s fill this gap. There was clearly a business case for this.”

So, in 2009, the two left their jobs and launched a startup business from their attic, with the goal of developing and rewriting health-information documents in a way that would be clear and engaging for all readers. By 2011, CommunicateHealth, as they called it, was approaching $1 million in revenue annually; it ended 2014 with just over $6 million. Meanwhile, a three-person operation six years ago now boasts a staff of 36 in Northampton and a second office in Rockville, Md. The Women Presidents’ Organization recently ranked the enterprise 44th on its list of fastest-growing women-owned companies.

That rapid success might surprise Robison and Scrimgeour, but only to a point. After all, they knew the vast health-information industry had a need for professionals who could clean up and redesign often-confusing communications.

“We consider ourselves a mission-based company,” Robison said. “We asked ourselves, ‘can we do this? Can we bring some creativity and new technology to a field that hasn’t had a chance to benefit from it? That’s really the mission — what can we do to make people’s lives better by simplifying the complexity of the public-health system? And, obviously, it was a good business model. We’ve done really well.”

Plain Speaking

Robison has been rewriting poorly presented health information since her previous career working with federal public-health agencies, and that was initially the bread and butter of CommunicateHealth. But as the startup has grown, it has also expanded its scope of services, moving from a subcontracting role to that of a prime contractor.

“We started doing content — focusing on how we can write this information more clearly. Since then, ‘plain language’ has become a buzzword in the federal arena. So we would do that and hand it off to a designer, and it was out of our our hands. But then we’d see it and say, ‘this is horrible.’ You can simplify the language, but if you put it in a 10-point Times New Roman font crammed onto a page with no pictures, you haven’t succeeded.”

So she and Scrimgeour introduced a design element into the firm, starting with one graphic designer and boasting four today, and will typically handle both content and design. Meanwhile, web-based health information was becoming more prominent — moving “beyond the brochure,” as Robison put it.

“It became more apparent that, if we’re going to do this well, we need to know how to make this interactive and work with technology, so we brought web developers onto the team,” she went on. “As we brought more and more resources in house, the business model expanded and became more full-service.”

With any project, Robison said, the team starts with determining who the audience is and how best to deliver the material, whether it’s pandemic information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or childhood-obesity messages from the American Academy of Pediatrics, to name two past clients. And the process of determining the direction of a project is one that sets CommunicateHealth apart.

“One thing that makes us really different is our testing process. We involve the end users of our materials in the development process,” she said, using the example of a health-information app to explain. “Before we design a new app, we’ll go out and interview focus groups, ask what features people like, how they feel about this type of information. Once we get a prototype, we put it back in front of people. ‘Are we right on track? Would you use an app like this?’ Then we test it again, and ask, ‘did we accomplish what we wanted to accomplish?’ That process creates better products, but it also really connects us with people who will use them.”

Government agencies comprise about 70% of CommunicateHealth’s client base, with private entities, from large health plans to small health-information startups, making up the rest.

“We run a huge gamut,” Robison said. “One project right now is for parents of young children who may be worried their kids have some kind of motor delay or developmental delay. We’re looking to create information for parents that’s supportive but not overwhelming, and also really accurate.”

Part of that project involves creating web-based GIF animations to demonstrate what it means when a toddler has a wobbly gait or some other movement impairment. “Parents reading this online can see this is what it looks like. We’re testing it with parents, all in hope of delivering a tool that’s supportive and easy and clear — nothing that’s too complex.”

The company will also be handling some communications around upcoming dietary guidelines for Americans, which are updated every five years. “We’ll be supporting that work, so we’re doing a lot of work right now with surveys, focus groups, and background work,” Robison said of the federal-level project.

The ‘Show Me’ app developed by Communi-cateHealth

The ‘Show Me’ app developed by Communi-cateHealth helps people with hearing or language barriers ‘talk’ to first responders.

Meanwhile, on the state level, she and Scrimgeour took on a project for the Mass. Department of Public Health, developing an app for individuals with communication challenges, from deafness to language barriers, to use to ‘talk’ to first responders in emergencies.

“That’s our favorite kind of project, because it was a blank slate — there was nothing like it,” Robison said. “So it allowed us to do our process, talk to people, figure out what’s going to work. We ended up with a simple app, all icon-based. That was a fun project.”

Give and Take

Robison, in fact, kept coming back to that back-and-forth dialogue with end users and its importance to every project, whether it’s taking an agency’s jargon-filled content and simplifying it for public consumption or creating something brand new, as in the case of the emergency app.

She also gets plenty of input from editorial boards and educational review boards, who help ensure accuracy and consistent messaging, but even then, research gathered from the public can sway content. “They’ll inevitably push back on everything, but we can show them the user testing — that we put [the original material] in front of people, and they didn’t understand it. We say, ‘you have a choice — and if you’re going to communicate, this is how you do it.’”

To private companies like health plans, clear communication can affect the bottom line as well, she added.

“Large health plans sometimes bring us on to improve communication with their members. We’ll take a look at a handful of their communications — transactional letters about co-payments, welcome guides, enrollment materials — and work with them to create a voice that’s more appropriate for consumers. We’ll test it to find out what’s working and what’s not.”

Overall, Robison said, it’s rewarding to be a business owner with such a wide array of projects, so no one gets stuck in a rut. “We’re a mission-based company. The people who come to work here, come to work because of the mission. They ultimately care about the end product; they want to deliver high-quality products.”

At the same time, she and Scrimgeour have also experimented with work-life arrangements inspired by Silicon Valley that fosters employee growth, autonomy, and satisfaction, including an unlimited time-off policy. Also, Friday afternoons are mandatory “creative time,” where everyone gathers to brainstorm ideas and sometimes help fellow employees stuck at a critical point in a project.

“It has been interesting for us to find those models,” Robison said. “How can we engage people and do things differently, treat our employees differently? There are a lot of traditional business models, but not a lot of people shaking it up.”

CommunicateHealth has risen to prominence at a time when healthcare in general is being shaken up by shifts in how care is delivered and paid for — and when consumers are increasingly anxious about the issues they’re dealing with, and just want some clear answers.

At the same time, Robison and Scrimgeour have become active supporters of the National Women’s Chamber of Commerce in its efforts to increase the share of federal contracts awarded to women-owned businesses. The goal? Five percent of the tens of billions of dollars available. “So, yeah,” Robison said, “we haven’t evened out that playing field yet.”

Still, the continued growth of CommunicateHealth serves as an inspiring example of two women who turned a passion into a business plan, which then became a local success story with a national reach.

“If you’d asked me years ago if I’d be a business owner, I’d have said never in a million years,” Robison said. “But it’s really nice for us to be this mission-based company and do well, which ultimately means we can do well for our employees and be a provider of jobs and training and good things like that. There are not a lot of models for this in public health, so to be able to do this is really gratifying.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Lanie Delphin Brings Couples Together with Mass Match

Lanie Delphin

Lanie Delphin

Lanie Delphin met her husband, Bud, through a dating service 16 years ago. And that got her thinking about how lucky they were.

Actually, that’s the wrong word; Delphin doesn’t believe relationships are built on luck — or fate, for that matter — but on solid, common-sense matches. And she decided she wanted to be a matchmaker.

“At the time, we realized there were just no good ways to meet people,” she told BusinessWest. “Internet dating was just taking off. I always believed I’d find someone, but it’s very hard to find people in this culture. People typically don’t want to meet at work, friends typically don’t want to fix you up, many people don’t go to religious institutions anymore. And if you do meet someone randomly, you don’t know if that person is looking for someone — or even single.”

Fascinated by the dating business, she bought a license in 2002 from a national company called Single Search and launched the online dating service Single Search Western Mass.

“We started the business as a way to help people find the success we had found,” she said. “When we started, I had never run a business, so I was grateful for the help I got being a licensee of this company; I wouldn’t have known where to begin.”

But she was less enamored of the computer-matching algorithms that Single Search — which no longer exists — employed. “They had a computer program that matched people; that was the original model. I very quickly learned I didn’t like the matches the computer made. I went over every single match — it was very time-consuming — and most of them didn’t make sense to me. So after that, I decided, if I’m claiming to be a matchmaking service, I need to meet people. I completely changed the model. I changed the name; I changed everything about it.”

A few years after first dipping her toe into the matchmaking business, Delphin was meeting personally with 99% of her clients, and the company — now operating as Mass Match — was attracting hundreds of members and generating success stories.

“It’s interesting — Match.com and some of these other dating sites are, from what I’ve been told, plateauing in terms of business, so now they’re offering some of these boutique services, hiring matchmakers in many cities. They came to understand something I knew from the beginning, which is, how do you match people if you haven’t met them?

“The difference between them and personal dating services like mine is that they charge thousands of dollars,” she went on. “We’ve held true to our mission from the beginning to provide a personal, private, and affordable way to meet. I have not raised my prices in five years. The economy’s been bad, but even so, I don’t want to gouge people.”

Customers pay an annual $295 fee, not a monthly rate, which they appreciate, Delphin said, because it allows them to relax and avoid the temptation to rush into a serious relationship (more on that later).

“Most of the money I make goes back into advertising,” said Delphin, who runs the day-to-day operations of Mass Match herself. “It feels important work for me to do. You may find the love of your life; many have. But you might not. I want to keep the price fair. The business needs large numbers of people, so I don’t want to charge too much money.

“If I could guarantee everyone the love of their life, the value of that would be incalculable,” she added. “But nobody can do that — not even the people charging thousands of dollars. But I want everyone to be able to take a chance.”

Personal Touch

The process of signing up for Mass Match is simple, but it’s not for people who want to meet their next love solely from a PC screen.

“Most people sign up online, and I send them information in the mail and set a time to meet up,” Delphin explained. “The form asks about their age, education, some interests, politics, religion, marital status, kids, and some of the same things about who they’re looking for — what interests them, what’s important to them.

“I tell everyone they shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes online filling this out because, when we meet, we redo it,” she went on. “I get to know them and their story. When we meet, we go over their past, what worked and what didn’t work, what kind of person they’re looking for. I give them a lot of advice I’ve learned over the years that I believe makes for a healthy relationship. A lot of people have told me, even if they didn’t find anybody, the advice I gave them set them off in the right direction, and that was worth the price alone.”

When Delphin makes a match, both parties receive an e-mail with contact information. If neither is interested enough to reach out, that’s fine. But if one party responds, she requires the other to write back, if only to politely decline, because that’s simply a civil way of interacting.

“They don’t have to meet, but they do have to answer politely,” she said. “The Internet is full of rude behavior. Some people think saying nothing is better than saying ‘I’m not interested,’ but I don’t agree with that.”

Clients appreciate the fact that Delphin’s personal involvement screens out much of the outright deception prevalent on dating websites, and they’re often willing to take a chance on someone they might not have considered based on a questionnaire alone. “Sometimes I think outside the box because I think two people are a good match.”

Members range in age from their 20s to their 80s and represent all religions, political persuasions, and sexual orientations, she added. “One thing they all have in common is they are serious about meeting someone, but they don’t want to meet someone at a bar. Some don’t want marriage, but they’re looking for a long-term relationship.”

Once the matches start flowing, she considers herself an on-call relationship coach. “To me, giving personal service is key. I’ve been at an opera, on vacation, at a movie theater, watching TV, and I have answered people.”

The advice begins on that first meeting, when Delphin shares some of her personal philosophy about relationships.

“I tell everyone to slow down and date,” she said, putting an emphasis on that last word. “I’ve met thousands of people in 13 years, and the biggest mistake is rushing it. It takes a lot longer to get out of a relationship than get into one, and often people hunker down and stay with someone for the wrong reasons.”

In fact, she encourages people to give it three to five casual dates before getting serious, and even advises going on dates with other people during that time, believing that if a match has potential, it will survive a cautious approach.

Delphin repeats a mantra of four ‘Cs’ that she believes is the key to any relationship. The first is chemistry. “Nobody has to be reminded of that; it means you look forward to seeing them at the end of the day. They don’t bore you.”

The second is communication, which means being willing to address conflicts that arise. “Obviously, abuse isn’t good, but neither is avoiding conflict completely.”

She doesn’t, however, advise filling up the first dates with too much baggage. “The mistakes include sharing too much personal information; sounding negative, bitter, angry, or sad; or sounding too busy to date. I advise a Buddhist mindset of living in the present tense and getting to know people slowly.”

The third and fourth Cs — character and compatibility — are far more important, she said. “If you both have good character and you’re compatible with each other, all will be well. If not, all will not be well. It can take a long time to see. But if you have a character problem or a compatibility problem, get out.”

Of course, there is one flag to look for right from the first date. “Notice how they treat the waitstaff.”

Be My Valentine

Delphin is understandably proud of the hundreds of relationships — and marriages and children — that have grown from her initial match.

“Widowed couples are finding love the second time around, and people who never had a relationship are finding love. Many people are divorced and finding the right person the second time around. We’ve had so many happy couples, and many people are still looking, like you’d expect.”

Still, she sees Mass Match as a way to not only bring people together, but to encourage their personal growth.

“One of the most gratifying things to me is the educational component — I have a master’s in education, after all,” she told BusinessWest. “Seeing people change their mind about something, or open their mind, is as gratifying as finding the right person. It’s when they figure out it’s not going to be how tall someone is, or how much they weigh, or how rich they are — it’s going to be who they are. It’s never going to be the objective things; age differential isn’t why things don’t work out for people.

“When people figure out it’s the subjective things, who that person is,” she added, “they start thinking outside their own box, that’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Valentine’s Day is coming up, which Delphin obviously sees as an opportunity for Mass Match, yet she encourages people not to put too much stock in the social expectations of one day on the calendar, and to keep their eyes on the long term.

“Those who are single need to remember that, for the first time in history, more than half the adult population is in the same boat they are. And many married folks are not in healthy relationships, so it is best not to romanticize or sentimentalize anyone else’s situation,” she noted. “It would be a big mistake to rush into something just so you can receive candy and flowers, only to pay a huge price for them down the road.”

Instead, she stresses that being single is a valid choice, too, and Valentine’s Day shouldn’t put any extra pressure on.

“I would advise people who just started dating to make light of the whole notion of Valentine’s Day. We tend to couple off too fast anyway, long before we have time to see if the person we are with really makes sense for us,” she reiterated. “If everyone is putting their best foot forward — because, as Cupid knows, positive energy attracts — then by going slowly and meeting and dating different people, we can use our heads and figure out which of their little quirks we learn about down the road are cute, which are merely annoying, and which are downright unacceptable. Over time, we will figure out who makes the most sense for us.”

Knowing that half the adult population is single, however, doesn’t make it easier for people who long for love. And Delphin is ready to sit down with them and talk all about it.

“There are no good ways for anybody to meet, so they’re stuck,” she said. “And they’re tired of Internet dating; they often tell me it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, trying to figure out who’s real and who isn’t. They tell me they’re done wasting their time.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Arguments Rage Over Its Size, Causes, and Potential Solutions

EqualPayWhile pushing for the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, President Obama trotted out an oft-repeated statistic — that working women in the U.S. make, on average, 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.

It’s a startling figure, but one in serious dispute, because it uses raw median wages from census data, and doesn’t take into account a number of differences between men and women, including the fact that women work fewer hours on average — with parental obligations being a large factor — and the fact that the careers they choose are, on average, lower-paying than male-dominated fields.

Obama’s own Department of Labor reported as much in 2010, noting that “there are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1% and 76.4% of the raw gender wage gap … and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8% and 7.1%.

Even that single-digit gap, however — which economists have not been able to explain — is too much, say proponents of the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, several iterations of which have been proposed over the past decade, the most recent having passed the House but stalled in the Senate in April.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the act seeks to make wages more transparent, requiring employers to prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications and not gender, and prohibiting companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act … still requires employees to meet an exceptionally high burden before an employer need even offer an affirmative defense,” argues the National Women’s Law Center, which supports the bill.

The center notes that, under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a plaintiff must identify a comparable male employee who makes more money for performing equal work, requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. “Employers may still pay different wages to male and female employees performing equal work if the pay decision is based on merit, seniority, or quantity or quality of production.”

Still, some supporters say the bill, even if eventually passed, is just a start, and that what the employment landscape needs is nothing short of culture change when it comes to accommodating the needs of women and paying them accordingly.

Mother of All Problems

For example, UMass professors Joya Misra, Michelle Budig, and Irene Boeckmann studied gender disparities across the globe and determined that, in most countries, the variation in employment and pay between mothers and childless women is greater than that between childless men and childless women, suggesting that these differences are driven not so much by gender as by parenthood.

Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist who has written considerably about wages and gender, points out how a refusal by employers to accommodate mothers’ work-life obligations accounts for a significant portion of wage disparity over time.

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might even vanish if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who worked long hours and who worked particular hours,” she writes, adding that, ideally, companies should offer workers more options for how much to work and when to work, and not penalize them because of an unconventional schedule.

“Goldin’s emphasis on the relationship between more flexible working hours and lower wage gaps can fix the gap at the hourly level. It would allow women who put in the same hours as men — no matter when they put them in — to earn the same rate,” writes Bryce Covert in New Republic.

“Of course,” he adds, “flexibility probably wouldn’t have a big impact on the annual wage gap, which reflects the fact that women are much more likely than men to have to interrupt or completely pause their careers to care for children. But that doesn’t mean the government is powerless to reduce the annual wage gap. Initiatives like affordable child care and paid family leave can make it easier for caregivers — who, even now, are predominantly women — to pick up the kids from school or take time off for a new baby. It might also encourage more men to do the same things.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act point out a striking pay disparity in the careers men and women choose, arguing that individual choices account for a large portion of that purported 77% gap.

Christina Hoff Sommers, the iconoclastic writer on women’s issues, notes in the Daily Beast that, despite efforts to promote STEM careers to young women, most engineering, math, and computer-science fields — among the highest-paying careers — are dominated by men, while nine of the 10 least remunerative college majors — including careers in education, social services, and the arts — are dominated by women.

“All evidence suggests that, though young women have the talent for engineering and computer science, their interest tends to lie elsewhere,” she writes. “To say that these women remain helplessly in thrall to sexist stereotypes, and manipulated into life choices by forces beyond their control, is divorced from reality — and demeaning to boot. If a woman wants to be a teacher rather than a miner, or a veterinarian rather than a petroleum engineer, more power to her.”

Stemming the Tide

Frank Bruni, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, says those trends in career choice are not irreversible, but may, in fact, result from deep-rooted, long-standing pressures young women feel to follow certain career paths.

“If we’re concerned about them, if we’re concerned about all working women, we have to talk about child care, flexible hours, paid leave,” he writes. “We have to talk about gender stereotypes and whether they steer women into professions with lower compensation. We have to talk about the choices that women make and which of those they feel muscled into.”

He’s not the first to argue that women are raised to prefer ‘nurturing’ fields and that men are encouraged to prioritize pay over job satisfaction. Kay Hymowitz, a writer with the conservative Manhattan Institute, says that discussion often breaks down along political lines.

“According to liberals, if women are becoming pediatricians instead of neurosurgeons, public-interest rather than corporate lawyers, child-care workers rather than coal miners, and are working 35 rather than 40 hours a week, as they are, it’s because of what Frank Bruni described as a culture that ‘places a different set of expectations and burdens on women and that still nudges or even shames them into certain roles,’” she writes.

“In the conservative view,” she goes on, “it’s the natural differences between men and women which lead them to make many of the life choices they do, differences that could probably not be resolved by anything less than mandatory universal hormone injections. The two sides are not likely to reach agreement on this nature/nurture debate anytime soon.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Maura McCaffrey Takes the Helm at Health New England

Maura McCaffreyMaura McCaffrey remembers reading the want ad in her Sunday paper — Health New England was looking for a clinical pharmacist — and thinking this was a job she really wanted.

She had gotten to know many members of the staff at the Springfield-based health-insurance provider while working as a sales representative and then regional account executive for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and had come to respect the company’s culture and team-focused way of doing business.

But there were some complications to making this career move. Indeed, McCaffrey and her family were living 75 miles east of Springfield at the time. Her twin sons were 4 years old. She had an office in her home, made her own hours, and drove a company car she would have to relinquish.

After some soul searching, though, she decided to apply, with the thinking that this was very likely to be a short-term assignment, a line or two on her résumé, and merely the latest example of what she described as a career-long pattern of being able to put personal fears and insecurities aside and take some risks to advance professionally. “My plan was to figure out what I could about managed care, and I thought I would be here 18 months, two years at the most.”

It didn’t work out that way, and she told BusinessWest that she knew this would be the case early, probably on her first day at HNE. But she didn’t tell her husband that until well after those 18 months she had originally given herself to figure out if this was going to work.

“I told my husband, ‘I have to apply for this job, I have to work at Health New England — this is my opportunity to find out what this company is all about,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘well, that’s a little impulsive; you just read a newspaper, we live 90 minutes away. You want to take that job and make that commute?’

“I said I thought it would be worth it for 18 months,” she went on. “Three years later, my husband said, ‘you’re either all in on this and we’re going to move the family, or you’re going to find something else.’ And I said, ‘I’m all in — I just haven’t finished learning everything I want to learn from Health New England.’”

In the decade since, she’s gone from all in to all the way to the top.

Indeed, she recently succeeded Peter Straley as president and CEO, completing a succession process that began heating up over the past several months as Straley let his intention to retire be known, but has actually been a work in progress for several years.

hnelogo_cmykAs she talked with BusinessWest about her ascension, one that has quickly made HNE one of the largest women-led business in the region, McCaffrey said the company essentially put her on a path to the CEO’s office, and she took it, along with many more of those risks she described earlier.

There were several changes to the title on the business card along the way — she served as everything from Pharmacy Services manager to vice president of Marketing, Business Development & Medicare to chief executive officer — and that learning process she described earlier never stopped, and it won’t now that she has the corner office, she said.

Looking forward, McCaffrey said there are a number of challenges facing the healthcare industry and payers such as HNE, especially when it comes to controlling the cost of care and, overall, making the community healthier.

These two missions go hand in hand, she said, adding that the industry must somehow move from its current, and highly inefficient, fee-for-service model to one that rewards providers for keeping people from getting sick, not simply treating them when they take ill.

And one of the keys to progress is inspiring individuals to take responsibility for their own health, she went on.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with McCaffrey about everything from that path she took to the CEO’s office to the factors that are keeping more women from gaining such a title, to the prospects for real — and effective change — in the business of providing affordable healthcare.

Exercise in Firm Leadership

When it comes to taking control of one’s health, McCaffrey, like her predecessor, practices what she preaches.

She said she’s generally up by 4 each morning and starts her day with exercise, for a minimum of 10 minutes, but usually much more. She’s at her desk by 6 or 6:30 — “that’s my best thinking time” — and quite often, that desk sits three and a half feet in the air.

Indeed, McCaffrey’s workspace includes a desk leaf complete with a small motor that elevates it to a height by which she can work while standing, which, she states, is far more healthy than sitting for eight or 10 hours.

“I sit in meetings all day, which isn’t good for you,” she noted, “so I stand when I’m doing e-mails and other work.”

How McCaffrey, the proud daughter of Irish immigrants who came to this country in the early ’60s, arrived at the CEO’s office with the so-called ‘standing desk’ is an intriguing story, one that begins at an old-fashioned corner drugstore in her hometown of Leominster, roughly 20 miles north of Worcester.

There, after school, she worked the soda fountain, scooped ice cream, served coffee, sold cigarettes and lottery tickets, and, when the pharmacist was busy, would go out back and help him fill prescriptions, usually doing the paperwork in this era before computers.

Eventually, the store’s owner tried to convince her to attend pharmacy school — and had to keep on trying, because she was initially, and continually, resistant to that idea.

“I said, ‘are you crazy? How would I ever know all these prescriptions and all this stuff?’” she recalled, adding that the pharmacist eventually tried to persuade her by highlighting the job-security aspects of the profession — one has to be licensed to do this work — and when that didn’t work, he focused on financial security and schedule flexibility.

“But again, I said, ‘thanks, but no thanks,’” she went on, adding that he finally sold her when he said she could attend UConn or the University of Rhode Island and pay in-state tuition because Massachusetts didn’t have a public pharmacy school. That was welcome news because she was paying for college herself.

As she was graduating from URI, the pharmacist who started her down this road was selling his five stores to CVS, but he essentially made McCaffrey part of the deal, so she worked for that chain for several years, and thoroughly enjoyed the work.

“I loved every minute of it — it was a phenomenal career,” she told BusinessWest. “You saw when people were getting healthier or better, or they’d share stories about their families — it was a great job, and I had a great team to work with.”

Part of that job was to do community-support programs, where she would speak on behalf of CVS and talk about the benefit of pharmacists or educate the public about their medications. And in the course of doing so, she became acquainted with people in the pharmaceutical industry, who encouraged her to join them.

Eventually — after being reminded that, if this didn’t work out, she could go back to pharmacy work — she made the leap, joining Eli Lilly first as a senior sales representative and then as a regional account executive, handling much of Central and Western Mass. and working with companies like HNE.

And this brings us back to that want ad she read in the Sunday paper, and the learning that she wanted to continue.

Healthy Outlook

As she talked about her first years with HNE, McCaffrey said there were plenty of learning opportunities, which eventually exposed her to every department in the company, the people who worked in them, and the processes for achieving continuous improvement and growth.

“They allowed me to take on opportunities that were stretch-risk assignments for departments where I had no idea, technically, what they did,” she explained. “But I knew I could work with people and I could help manage people, and we could get to the outcomes. And I also knew that, if you gave me time and let me sit down and work with people, I could understand the department and what they were doing.

“One of these was the call center,” she went on, “and later, it was enrollment, provider relations, and credentialing. I didn’t have a strong background in those departments, the people here are team players, but it’s all about collaboration; they’re OK if you’re not the world’s leading expert on call centers — as long as you’re willing to jump in, learn about it, look for opportunities to improve, and take care to develop the people on these teams, which I was.”

Taking full advantage of the opportunities given her, McCaffrey started moving up the ladder, from clinical pharmacist to Pharmacy Services manager to director of Pharmacy & Service Operations to vice president of Pharmacy & Service Operations. Then came another one of the exercises in risk-taking — assuming a new position essentially created for her: vice president of Marketing & Business Development.

“I had some marketing background from Eli Lilly — they put us through great training programs, but I didn’t go to college for marketing,” she explained, adding that she leaned on those who did to help build the HNE brand, while also engaging in business-development initiatives, such as launching the Medicare and Medicaid product lines.

After six years in that role, she was promoted to COO, another newly created position, which included everything she was already doing, in addition to sales and a new IT department.

By the spring of 2013, she found herself spending more and more time at Baystate Health — HNE’s parent company — working with its CEO, Mark Tolosky, and board members, and filling in for Straley at a number of meetings and events. Late that summer, not long after Straley made clear his intention to retire and the timeline to do so, Tolosky offered her the CEO’s job. She took over early last month.

Her new office is slightly larger than the one she’s occupied the past few years, and the responsibilities are certainly greater, but McCaffrey said her management style and her approach to working with others within the company won’t change.

When asked to describe it, she returned to that word ‘collaboration,’ which she described as the opposite of dictating, which is certainly not her style.

“I believe that, if you get teams to work together, you get a better product than if just one person is in a dictatorship role,” she said. “But, likewise, you can’t be afraid to make decisions; you need someone who can be decisive and, with either limited data or as much data as you have, make those decisions.

“More importantly, my leadership style is based on what we call our high-performance culture,” she went on, adding that there are three steps to creating it:

• Make sure employees know and understand that they are responsible for their own performance;

• Likewise, employees are responsible for the success of those who are critical to helping them get their job done, what the company calls ‘shareholders’; and

• Make it clear that employees have to give up their own agendas for the good of the company.

“You need to develop core relationships with the people you work with,” she went on. “To me, that’s the cornerstone of the high-performance culture we have here; you must develop relationships, even with the most challenging people, the people that are most difficult for you, the people who have opposite personalities than you. My expectation is that you will then understand where someone is coming from and empathize, put yourself in their shoes.”

Future Tense

Teamwork and a high-performance culture has enabled HNE to outperform competitors that are exponentially larger, said McCaffrey, and those qualities will be needed moving forward as the landscape for health plans becomes ever more challenging.

Looking ahead, she said that change is necessary — that aforementioned shift from the traditional pay-per-service model to one that rewards providers for keeping people from getting sick — and that it is happening, albeit not as quickly as most people would like.

“If we’re changing the way we practice medicine, from the fee-for-service, do-more-and-you-get-paid-more world, to one of population management and being responsible for a global budget for people, while at all times maintaining the highest-quality care possible … that’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “But can I look out on Western Mass. and see flickers of positive behavior? I absolutely can.”

“But even with continued progress in population management, the real key to creating a healthier community will be to inspire people to take control of their own health and well-being,” said McCaffrey.

“That’s a challenge for every provider that interacts with someone; it’s a challenge for every disease-management group,” she told BusinessWest. “How do you convince someone that wearing a pedometer and walking 10,000 steps a day is really a good thing? They can read the material, they understand that, and they understand that, if they eat McDonald’s three times a week, that’s not good for their heart. Moving from knowing something to doing something, or not doing something, is the key.”

Now one of the few women in top-leadership positions among the region’s largest employers, McCaffrey was asked about these numbers and whether they are likely to change.

She said they might, if the business community becomes more willing to give women such opportunities and, more importantly, if women are willing to take the risks and do the hard work necessary to seize those opportunities.

“Women have to be willing to take risks and put themselves out there,” she said, adding that this goes for men as well. “If you want to sit back and hope that someone comes to you someday and says ‘would you like to be a CEO?’ then the chances of that happening are slim to none.

“But if you’re willing to manage your fears and your insecurities and say, ‘I don’t know how to manage a call center, but I know how to manage people, and if you know how to do that part of a job, the technical aspects will take care of themselves,’ then you can get the role you want — there’s no doubt in my mind,” she went on. “You have to be able to put aside those fears and say, ‘I can do this.’ You can’t be afraid; you can’t let fear hold you back.”

Bottom Line

It’s been a very intriguing 10 years for both the healthcare industry and McCaffrey since she told her husband she was “all in” on Health New England.

She’s shown repeatedly that she’s able to put aside those fears and insecurities she mentioned and not only reach for opportunities, but grasp them as well.

This is a philosophy that she believes permeates the entire company, and she’s intent on keeping it that way, as evidenced by the language in a global e-mail she sent to the staff just after she officially took over as CEO.

“I said that I was excited about what’s in store for us,” she recalled. “I said that there are times of change still ahead, and that if we keep to the core of who and what our company is, we can look at this change as opportunity and growth for the company.”

And as she goes about that assignment, she can certainly lead by example.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Carol Campbell Thrives in the Male-dominated Construction Field

CampbellAs she spoke with BusinessWest last week, Carol Campbell was preparing to head down to Walt Disney World to run in her fourth half-marathon.
“I have to be competitive in business, but I’m not a good runner,” she laughed. “You’ll never see me in the top 100; my goal is to finish. But the training keeps me healthy, which allows me to do everything else I do. And it’s a good time for thinking.”
Of course, a few days in Florida in January — while much of the northern U.S. deals with something ominously called the polar vortex — isn’t a bad thing in itself. Or, as Campbell put it, “I’ll go run anywhere that’s flat and warm.”
But running isn’t the same thing as running a company, and she’s thrilled that her firm, Chicopee Industrial Contractors (CIC), has largely recovered from a very flat period that began in late 2009 and lingered through a crippling recession. “We’re good,” she said. “We’ve had better years, but I’m happy that we’re on a nice, steady incline.”
To get to this point, however, the company endured what she called the first crisis of morale in its 22-year history.
“We have had great years, and we have had OK years. Then, in 2009, I experienced something I had never seen in business — we just hit a brick wall,” Campbell said. While other types of businesses had been struggling since early 2008, CIC — whose services include rigging, millwrighting, plant and machine relocation, and structural steel installation — benefited, sadly, from a number of area plant closings.
“We were quite busy. We had a great year in 2008 and most of 2009, and then in December, I knew what everyone else was talking about.”
That began a period of downsizing and relative inactivity so severe that CIC essentially had to return to the infancy stage of its business to recover.
“We still had an infrastructure, but it had been chipped away because we had dealt with layoffs, dealt with downsizing, and lost some positions to attrition, and then, as the market started to increase, we were expected to do everything we had done before. We had the bones, but just the bones.”
And she’s not talking about the milk bones that Abigail, her 10-year-old llasa apso, snacks on when she accompanies Campbell to work every day. She’s long joked that Abigail has a role at CIC just like any other employee, even if it’s just providing stress relief through a few moments of therapeutic petting.
Hopefully the next several years will bring less stress than the last few, but if not, well, she and her team have overcome plenty of challenges before.

Moving Parts
Before launching CIC in 1992, Campbell was working as director of marketing and development for the UMass Fine Arts Center, but looking for an entrepreneurial challenge.
The recession of the early ’90s had taken a toll on various sectors of the economy, and three area rigging plants had shut down. CIC was a way to rescue many of those workers — including Campbell’s now-ex husband — and hit the ground running with a skilled team and equipment bought on the cheap.
“Some other businesses were not surviving, so there was a ready workforce for us. We were also able to get a lot of equipment at 50 cents on the dollar because of the auctions happening in the companies that closed,” she recalled. “So our entry into the market was a reasonably easy one.”
The economic landscape was still challenging, though, and Campbell faced personal trials as well, including a difficult divorce. But she gradually grew CIC’s client base to close to 1,500, with the majority of work coming form a core of a couple hundred repeat customers.

invest more heavily in personnel and equipment

Carol Campbell says CIC’s rebound from the recession has allowed it to invest more heavily in personnel and equipment.

“We have some good strategic alliances with local businesses that share our same vision of quality and how we treat employees, and they’ve been long-standing relationships,” she said. “We do a lot of repeat work, and we don’t sell based on price, but we give the highest level of service.” But the recession that exploded in 2008 taxed that business model.
“We had the same customer base, but they were dealing with their own issues from the recession,” she said. “All of a sudden, price just became the number-one driver in sales — whoever could provide the best price. Also, some businesses were trying to do their own rigging in house, as opposed to taking on that extra cost.”
She said it was “many months” before CIC got to the point where it could start investing in new equipment and regrowing the business — and to start rebuilding morale.
“One of the hardest things that came from the recession — and you find a thread of this with everyone you talk to — is, when there’s such uncertainty about work, there’s a change in morale,” she told BusinessWest. “We never had issues with morale prior to this; we had always been very solid. That’s why we spend so much of our resources on our workforce, training our workforce and keeping them at the level they need to be able to perform.”
That focus on rebuilding from within, Campbell said, has helped coax CIC back onto a steady incline of growth.
“We’ve been working with a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to educate our workforce on computers — we’ve had a big difference in the level of knowledge about computers — and we’ve brought in outside facilitators and also had training from within,” she explained. “We’ve invested in a lot of new equipment, too; over the last couple of years, we’ve really increased our equipment inventory.”
Campbell repeatedly came back to the value she places on her workers — “we’ve been very fortunate, and many of our employees have stayed here many years,” she noted — partly because such a specialized field of construction faces a regional skills gap.
“We need to find programs to educate the workforce,” she said. “Having the desire to do this is not enough. You have to have experience. We do a lot of on-the-job training, but you still have to come in with years of experience.”
To that end, she’s teaming with other firms to develop more training programs in the community, as well as trying to create smoother career paths from technical schools into her industry.
“It all comes back to the same thing — we want to expand the company and offer new services, but we still need the workforce,” she said. “They say unemployment is high, but we don’t see that here.”

Growth Plans
That said, rigging, millwrighting, and CIC’s other specialties don’t tend to follow a specific business cycle, as evidenced by the flurry of plant-shutdown activity of 2008 and that figurative brick wall in late 2009. “It’s a feast-or-famine type of business,” Campbell noted.
But while the Great Recession might have changed the bar, she told BusinessWest she’s happy with where the company is right now, despite the fact that major expansion plans in Louisiana several years ago didn’t come to fruition — partly because of the difficulty penetrating a stubborn old-boys network.
“Our goal had always been to open up down south,” she said. “But we’re looking at some other opportunities up here for expanding our services. In the ’90s, everyone was, ‘do what you do best and outsource the rest.’ Now, everyone is looking for that one-stop shop. We’re pretty turnkey — from concrete and foundation installation to some structural steelwork to rigging and assembling — but we want to expand on that.”
She says being a female CEO in a male-dominated industry is neither the challenge nor benefit some might believe. Rather, what Campbell brings to the table is far more than her gender, as evidenced by an embroidered pillow in her office bearing the expression, “behind every successful woman is … herself.”
“There’s certainly no advantage to being a woman in this business,” she said. “Certainly we have all the certifications [as a woman-owned company], but I can count on one hand how many times we were hired because of those. It’s just not part of the hiring process for us. When they need our skills, they need our skills.”
And companies really do need those skills. She recalled one recent project where the client said CIC made the work look easy.
“But the next time they try it themselves, they get in trouble, and we get a last-minute call,” she said. “It’s a skill, and it’s an art. Sometimes it can be enjoyable to watch, like a ballet, watching someone set this large, awkward, heavy piece almost on a dime. I saw someone today who did not have an eighth of an inch of clearance as he moved the piece around. It’s a touch; it’s a feel.”
At the same time, she has a feel for the community around her, long making civic involvement a key part of her life.
“I feel Chicopee Industrial Contractors has an obligation to give back to the community,” said Campbell, who serves on the board and executive committee of Westmass Development, the executive board of the Women’s Fund of Western Mass., the board of Associated Industries of Mass., and the board of directors for the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, as well as recently being invited to the Dress for Success board of directors, just to name a few activities.
“It’s a way I can give back, but I’d be foolish not to say it’s a good way to network, too,” she told BusinessWest. “There’s a good feeling of pride and self-worth in being able to use the skills and knowledge and experience that you just take for granted to help your peers, to help their organizations meet their goals.”

Bottom Line
It’s not much different, after all, than helping CIC’s clients reach their goals.
“The follow-up calls with customers are always positive,” Campbell noted. “That’s because we work hard to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations, and I think we’ll continue to do that.”
After all, running a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, a half-marathon, at least.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
SBA Stakes Out Strategies to Help Women-owned Businesses Grow

Today, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of new businesses in our economy.
In fact, an analysis by American Express suggests that the number of women-owned businesses has risen by 200,000 over the past year alone, which is equivalent to just under 550 new women-owned firms created each day.
Regardless of how you slice the data, we know that this trend is growing and that women are over-indexing in entrepreneurship.
As administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I’ve traveled all around the country meeting with small-business owners and entrepreneurs. I see how their businesses are transforming their industries and rebuilding their communities following the economic downturn.
These are businesses like UEC Electronics in South Carolina. Rebecca Ufkes, an engineer and the company’s president, is laser-focused on growing her successful electronics manufacturing business. She is supplying products to major manufacturers, such as Boeing, Cummins Engine Co, as well as the U.S. Marines and Air Force. And she is creating good American manufacturing jobs in the process.
UEC employs 194 workers, an increase of 49% since August 2011. And Rebecca is part of a growing American supply chain of innovative small businesses that is driving large, multi-national manufacturers to bring more production back to the U.S.
However, today, many women-owned entrepreneurs face what we call the ‘missing middle.’
For example, take my home state of Maine. According to the most recent census data, men owned 54% of businesses in Maine, and women owned 26% of businesses in the state (the remainder were co-owned). However, when you look at the receipts of these businesses, women-owned businesses lagged behind, capturing only 7% of receipts, compared to 78% of receipts earned by male-owned firms. A similar trend is occurring in states across the country.
Clearly, women-owned firms are growing greater in numbers, but challenges persist in scaling their operations and garnering market share.
At the SBA, we have the proven tools needed to bridge that missing middle, and to ensure that all entrepreneurs have the tools they need to grow their businesses, reach new markets, and realize their full potential. These include:
• Access to capital. According to the Urban Institute, SBA loans are three to five times more likely to go to women- and minority-owned businesses than conventional loans. And since President Obama took office, SBA has supported more than $12 billion in lending through more than 35,000 SBA loans to women-owned businesses.
• Contracting. At the SBA, one of our priorities is making sure that more qualified women-, veteran-, and minority-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply-chain opportunities. That’s why we put into place the Women’s Contracting Rule, which means that, for the first time, federal agencies can set aside contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses in more than 300 industries where women are underrepresented. Congress gave SBA this authority in 2000, but it was never implemented. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have made it a priority — and have gotten it done. And recently, we expanded the limits to ensure that women-owned businesses are eligible for larger government contracts.
• Counseling. Our Office of Women’s Business Ownership oversees a national network of 106 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that support women who want to start or grow their business. We’re connecting with more women every day, and, in FY 2012 alone, we counseled and trained more than 136,000 women entrepreneurs.
We are committed to helping women entrepreneurs because we know how much potential they have to contribute to America’s economic growth. n

Karen Gordon Mills is a former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. This article first appeared on the SBA’s community blog;

Sections Women in Businesss
How Anne Paradis Put a Charge into MicroTek

Anne Paradis

Anne Paradis

When Anne Paradis took the helm at MicroTek in 1987 — thus making an abrupt and significant career change, moving from human-services work to running a nonprofit manufacturing outfit — she ventured back to some of the exercises from her MBA program at UMass Amherst for help with the transition.
What she found is that what’s written in a book doesn’t usually — or easily — translate into what one will find on the shop floor.
“I had taken manufacturing courses as part of my MBA program, but it was nothing like what I encountered here,” she explained. “You learn how to schedule machine hours and go through all the production planning, and I can remember thinking at the time, ‘I can do this.’ But quite honestly, when I got in here and tried to apply those principles, it was very, very different, because you couldn’t plan productivity at a set level, and machine hours weren’t constant, and…”
Her voice trailed off as if there was much more, which there was. And she learned just about all of it, she said, by doing.
“I learned how to do every job in the place except soldering, which to this day I can’t do,” she said, adding that there are many roles at this company that produces cables and wire harnessing and touts its team members as ‘interconnect specialists.’ “I learned on the job. All the product knowledge and assembly knowledge I got, I learned from people who were working for the company.
“I sat and assembled cables with people,” she went on. “I asked questions; I made mistakes. In those days, it was all hands on deck, and if something had to go out the door and we needed another pair of hands, I would sit at the workbench and help to finish the job. The employees got a kick out of watching me join the production lines — and they still do.”
Such occurrences are rare, though, because Paradis spends most of her time now on the broad subject of growing revenue, an assignment that has many subplots, including everything from withstanding ever-increasing competition, foreign and domestic, to weathering three recessions, to building a new plant in Chicopee’s Westover Airpark West more than a dozen years ago.
She’s obviously fared well in her career transition, taking the company from roughly $750,000 in sales when she started to nearly $8 million, and from maybe 20 employees to more than 120, and placement on such lists as the Boston Business Journal’s ‘Top 100 Women-led Companies,’ Mass High Tech’s ‘New England’s 30 Largest Women-owned Tech Companies,’ and, most recently, BusinessWest’s compilation of the region’s largest manufacturers.
Meanwhile, she has continued and greatly enhanced the company’s standing as a leader in the hiring of individuals with developmental disabilities — with roughly 15% of its workforce falling into that category. This was the original mission of the company when it was created 30 years ago, she said, adding that, while MicroTek has evolved from a service program into a strategic business, its focus on providing employment opportunities for the developmentally disabled is one, but not the only, example of why the phrase ‘making connections’ refers to much more than the company’s product lines.
And her success with the many aspects of that phrase makes Paradis an intriguing subject for a new series in BusinessWest that will focus on women in business.
In the coming months, the magazine will profile individuals in a number of sectors to gain an appreciation for how far women have come in business and the specific fields that comprise it, but also for the work that remains to be done.
We start with a woman who still can’t solder — she said there are enough skilled craftspeople at the company to keep from even wanting to try — but has mastered many of the aspects of operating a business in today’s ultra-challenging climate, especially the most important: people.

Wired for Growth
As she gave BusinessWest a tour of the 24,000-square-foot MicroTek plant on Justin Drive, Paradis stopped at a number of the workstations where she learned this business and its specific products more than 25 years ago.
She explained the processes involved with specific parts, offered high praise for the workforce, and ended with some pointed commentary.
“This is a good example of how manufacturing is still a big part of our economy in Western Mass.,” she said. “People say this sector is in decline, and maybe it’s not what it once was, but what we’re doing here shows that manufacturing is very much alive and well.”
How Paradis came to be in a position to give such a tour, speak as one of the prominent voices in the region’s manufacturing realm, and lead her company to placement on those aforementioned business-magazine lists of the largest women-owned businesses is an intriguing story, one with elements of timing and circumstance, but also perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit.
It begins with Paradis’ decision to major in psychology and gravitate toward work in human services, specifically with the state Department of Mental Retardation, now known as the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.
She eventually took a job working in the development of community residential programs for adults with developmental disabilities in the wake of the closing of Northampton State Hospital, Belchertown State School, and other facilities. Specifically, she said she was involved with a pioneering concept that would enable individuals to remain in their residences on a permanent basis, rather than transition into different facilities as they gained more independence and their need for services and support diminished, which was the accepted model at the time.
“This was 30 to 35 years ago, and in those days, the community movement for people with disabilities was still in its infancy,” she explained. “And one of my first jobs was to help push the agenda of these more progressive program types.
However, he would soon become frustrated with the lack of progress with this movement, and especially with the funding restraints that soon emerged, and decided to make what would be her first career course change, pursue her MBA at UMass, and move into what she called the “business arena.”
Her first stop was at New England Business Associates in Holyoke, a management-consulting firm that assisted small businesses with the hiring of those with disabilities. One of her eventual clients was Microtek, which was created in the early 80s by human-services advocates working in conjunction with the University of Oregon, which was at the time researching models for employing people with disabilities. One of those models was to start a company where one controls the environment, provides the training, and brings in the work. In this case, the work — developed through a connection between one of the researchers at the University of Oregon and Hewlett Packard — was assembly of cables and wire harnesses.
When Paradis first started working for MicroTek, it was one of four operations — there was another in Orange, Mass. and two more in Virginia — for which she helped develop a marketing cooperative designed to generate new business and enable the participating companies to grow and eventually add more employees to the payroll.
While the other three ventures enjoyed success in this endeavor, MicroTek suffered from what Paradis called “poor management.” The company’s board eventually asked her to step in and run the company for a short time while a search for a new CEO was carried out.
That ‘short time’ has turned out to be 26 years — and counting.
“I came in to find problems a bit more complicated than the board realized,” she told BusinessWest. “I took a year’s leave of absence to run the company, and at the end of that year they made me an offer to stay.”
She accepted that challenge knowing that she had overcame what she described as a “lack of skills in certain areas.” Elaborating, she said her biggest challenges were learning manufacturing in general, and MicroTek’s line of products (custom wire harnesses and cable assemblies) in particular.
“I did not have an engineering background, and that made it challenging,” she noted. “But I was fortunate, because at the time, MicroTek was a very small company, and that afforded me the opportunity to learn on the job.
“I had a lot of strengths — managing staff, putting systems in place, and organizational development, because my undergraduate degree was in psychology — but I needed to learn this business,” she went on, adding that she completed much of this learning while serving as interim CEO, progress that gave her the confidence to accept the board’s offer and stay on.

People Power

Over the past 26 years, Paradis has coped not only with the everyday challenges facing all business and managers —  everything from cash flow to inventory control to finding qualified workers — but also more global matters, such as mounting competitors, especially from overseas operations, new-product development, and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
She described it all as a continuation that learning experience that began when she became interim CEO, one that is clearly still ongoing.
Indeed, while the plaques on the wall containing those business-magazine lists show that the company has clearly come a long way, there are some new challenges to face — and some old ones as well.
At or near the top of that list is mounting competition. While there have historically been some barriers to taking this kind of manufacturing overseas — including the high quality of work demanded and transportation costs — they have been coming down in recent years, said Paradis, noting that the company is facing intense competition from China, Mexico, and other countries.
It has responded by working to automate more processes in what is still a labor-intensive business, while also diversifying into some new product lines, specifically control panels built for customers in the security and medical fields.
The company, which suffered, as all manufacturers did, during the Great Recession, has rebounded, and growth has been steady over the past several years, said Paradis, adding that she has set an aggressive, but realistic, goal of reaching $12 million in sales over the next few years.
But the term ‘success’ has many meanings at MicroTek, she went on, adding that, while the bottom line is perhaps the most important, the company’s original mission is still an important barometer when it comes to that word.
And in this realm, more goes into this equation than simply hiring the developmentally disabled, she went on, adding that the company’s broader goal is to integrate such individuals, treat them as they would any employee, and make them part of highly successful and efficient teams.
One of the reasons for the company’s success has been its ability to do this by effectively giving these employees both the support and the tools they need to succeed, she told BusinessWest, adding that this is a philosophy that permeates the company and all aspects of its workforce.
“Everyone has the same benefits and the same access to company services, and people work on some part of all of the work that goes out of here,” she explained. “We have integrated teams, and the idea of partnering people with co-workers and providing them with the support they need extends well beyond the employees with disabilities, because we also employ a number of people who speak English as a second language and may have difficulty reading English.
“The transformation for the company over the years has been in this area,” she went on. “There were special supports and training that we started out using for the individuals with disabilities, and over the years, we’ve just adopted those as standard operating procedure for the company.”

Current Events
Paradis says that, while she’s quite proud of the plaques in the front lobby and what they represent in terms of both the company’s success and her standing as a woman in business, she’s more proud of the many ways in which MicroTek has become a role model.
Its success in the current, highly competitive environment provides evidence that manufacturing is still very much alive in the Bay State and this region. Meanwhile, its success with hiring, training, and integrating individuals with a wide range of challenges shows that ‘diversity’ can be much more than a buzzword.
These are among the many accomplishments for Paradis, who still can’t solder, but has developed a rare talent for making connections — and in a number of very important ways.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
SSO’s New Executive Director Works in Concert with the Community

Audrey Szychulski

Audrey Szychulski decided long ago that she was better suited to managing an orchestra than playing in one.

Audrey Szychulski says she’s very competitive — especially, it seems, when it comes to raising money and setting and surpassing goals.
It’s a pattern that was in evidence while she was a Girl Scout growing up in Northeast Philadelphia. The neighborhoods in that area were densely settled, with hundreds of homes situated extremely close to one another, a situation she took full advantage of as she would personally account for sales of 400 to 500 boxes of cookies during those annual spring drives, easily tops in her troop.
And that pattern has continued during a career in music administration launched after Szychulski concluded that she was more suited to managing orchestras than playing in one — although, for some time, the latter was her professional ambition.
By the time she was 16, she had toured more than 20 countries as a young cellist in an ensemble, which had her seriously, but also realistically, considering her future in classical music.
“It seemed like a really fantastic life; therefore, I thought I wanted to be a performing musician when I grew up,” she said, pausing to add a ‘but’ as she searched for the right words to explain why she didn’t pursue that exact route for a career.
“Well, I’m only an OK player,” she admitted, adding that this assessment changed her specific focus, but not her desire to be involved with music professionally, a passion that has taken her to Springfield and the position of executive director of the city’s symphony orchestra.
A math whiz in high school, her education led to private teaching of cello, string specialties, and arts administration, before landing managerial positions with three orchestras, most recently the Erie Philharmonic in Erie, Pa.
Szychulski found similar challenges at all those organizations — especially the task of making the public aware of their area symphony and building an audience base — but eventually discovered that effective collaboration with businesses and other arts-related institutions is the key to establishing, and enhancing, an orchestra’s presence in a given community.
And that’s one of many lessons she’ll work to apply with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO), where she will succeed Michael Jonnes, who retired last December after leading the orchestra for 15 years.
Another of these lessons is that she is happiest — and an orchestra is most successful — when the administrative director and the conductor are on the same page and working, well, in concert with one another, and she expects such a relationship in her latest career challenge.
“It is a unique situation where you have an organization that has two staff leadership positions,” she explained. “The conductor is the head of everything artistic, and my job is to run the marketing, audience development, and organize the staff members to see that all of the things that are needed to get to a performance are wonderful.”
Szychulski’s extensive and serious musical background impressed Kevin Rhodes, the SSO conductor since 2001, who called her “the whole package.”
“She’s so enthusiastic and has new ways of looking at what we do; she doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel here, but we’re always eager to try new things,” said Rhodes. “We’re celebrating our 70th year, and I think that speaks to the orchestra’s ability and desire to continually be adapting, changing, and being flexible. I think we’re going to have a great time.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Szychulski about her goals for the future of the SSO and her new partnership with Rhodes in an ongoing effort to create a vision for the orchestra and make it reality.

Achievements of Note
Szychulski graduated from Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, earning a degree in music education, and was essentially self-employed coming out of college. She grew her venture to nearly 70 private music students per week before eventually accepting a teaching position at Elmira College in New York, which she kept for five years.
A friend recommended her for a part-time position as manager of education and operations for the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes (OSFL) in Corning, N.Y. Just 24 at the time, she landed the position and was immediately involved with the youth orchestra, a junior string ensemble, a community chorus, and the logistical aspects of coordinating all the concerts. A few months later, she was filling in as interim when the executive director left. At summer’s end, the OSFL board came to Szychulski and said it wanted to offer her the job.
“But I’d never applied for it,” she said, noting that, while the board had interviewed several people for the position, it noticed that she’d saved and raised more money than the organization had ever seen, and in just four short months.
Starting with a $200,000 budget, she grew it to $400,000, due in large part to launching the OSFL’s first major donor society.
Her next career stop led her to the executive director position with the Norwalk Symphony in Connecticut, which was celebrating its 70th anniversary at the time. Szychulski found that Connecticut has more orchestras per capita than any other state, and also learned more about raising money very quickly to help an organization that was financially struggling.
From Norwalk, she moved on the Erie Philharmonic, where she planned the organization’s 100th anniversary (taking place this fall) and, with a $1.5 million budget, created a strategic plan that balanced a budget that had not been balanced in a decade, showing a six-figure profit by the second year. That plan also helped to increase subscriber sales by 33%.
Concurrently, she earned a master’s degree in Arts Administration―— equivalent to an arts MBA — from Drexel University, and was one of the first students to earn that degree online.
It was Szychulski’s 2011 thesis at Drexel that Rhodes found to be of great interest when he first read her résumé.
“The first thing you see is a piece of paper in front of you, and what stood out was what she was doing in her master’s … the focus on social media and electronic media,” said Rhodes. “All of that is tremendously important, very topical, and very new.”
That thesis involved a survey of 797 professional organizations regarding their use of social media, which had a healthy 30% response. She documented how often they were posting on Facebook and Twitter, who in the organization was actually doing the posting on social media, and which orchestras were most active with social networks related to their overall music programs.
Szychulski explained that there are only 10 orchestras in the nation the size of the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, and that most orchestras operate on a budget of $500,000; the SSO’s budget is $2 million.
“What I found was that orchestras of our size, not the big guys, not the little guys, are the organizations that are most active and are looking for awareness and audience-development efforts,” she told BusinessWest. “But I found a funny thing: everybody wants to be raising money online, but fewer than 15% actually asked anyone to make a donation online through their social media.”
Her 230-page thesis concludes, among other things, that the reason for so little online fund-raising is usually the lack of a strategic plan.
But while the Erie job was a good fit professionally, Szychulski desired to work in a more urban setting and with an orchestra that had a stronger connection to the community. Hearing about the SSO opportunity through the musical grapevine, she became intrigued, applied, and immediately became impressed with the hiring committee’s questions, as well as the answers to her queries.
“They had a headhunter, and she asked all the right questions to make sure I knew how to do my job,” Szychulski explained. “They took the time to get to know me as a person, and looked to see that Kevin and I would be compatible as partners.”
During the hiring process from February to May of this year, Szychulski saw that the SSO was looking for a long-term relationship.
“This was an organization that wanted me to be happy, fit into their culture, and really flourish with them,” Szychulski recalled. “It was all about the good fit and how we would all get along together.”
With all parties agreeing it was a good match, she officially started on Aug. 1.

Being in Harmony
Because orchestras in different regions of the country aren’t competing with each other, many marketing ideas are shared, but it’s the creativity on the part of the local symphony management to correctly collaborate with others in the community that is the key to success, she told BusinessWest.
One of those shared ideas worked well in Erie, she went on, referring to something called the Beat Beethoven 5K road race, complete with a man dressed as the famous composer setting the pace for runners from the Erie Running Club and other fitness enthusiasts in a creative collaboration with a different demographic, set to the sounds of Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony. The opus, which happens to be 30 minutes and 17 seconds long, offers ample time for most runners to finish a 3.1-mile race and receive a voucher for a ticket to an Erie Philharmonic concert.
Similar imaginative and collaborative efforts could be employed in Springfield to help the SSO reach and surpass its goals for raising money — and awareness, said Szychulski. With 50% of revenue for a typical orchestra directly attributed to ticket sales and subscriptions, the SSO has to raise the rest through donations, sponsorships, tuition to the youth orchestra, and other means.
To that end, the orchestra launched the Forever Symphony, Campaign for Permanence three years ago. It has enabled the organization to raise $7 million for an endowment, said Szychulski, adding that, before she arrived, Springfield’s local arts directors supporting the creation of a proposed cultural district had already begun meeting monthly to share programming schedules and ideas for how to support each other collaboratively.
Internally at the SSO, mid-October saw the first scheduled monthly meeting of the orchestra board’s marketing committee made up of board and staff, including Jane Clark, the new director of development, and Ann Rasmussen, the new director of marketing.
And while collaboration with outside entities isn’t anything new to the SSO, Rhodes feels that Szychulski’s past engagement in unique partnering efforts will be a huge asset to the organization.
“And Kevin’s product is beautiful,” Szychulski said, adding quickly that there will be no altering of what Rhodes has been producing so successfully for years. However, she will now be able to plan around what he does on stage and, through community collaborations, grow and diversify the audience and create more connections between the orchestra and the community.

The Finale
Szychulski told BusinessWest that she believes she’s found a good fit personally and professionally, and she’s ready to take her competitive nature, forged while selling Girl Scout cookies, and use it to strike a chord with as many different demographic groups as she can in the Pioneer Valley.
“It’s like the slogan we put on some of our PR materials: ‘there’s a little bit of symphony in everyone,’” she explained, adding that it’s her unofficial job description to prove that point.
As for Rhodes, he’s looking forward to working with Szychulski to propel the SSO to new heights.
“As we adapt to an entirely new marketing paradigm, Audrey’s expertise and enthusiasm for remaining on top of trends is going to be absolutely integral to the future success of the orchestra,” he said. “I’m very confident we’re in great hands.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Women Mentors Help Peers Realize Their Potential

Mo McGuinness, center, has been a mentor to Karah Douglass, left, and Jillian Duclos

Mo McGuinness, center, has been a mentor to Karah Douglass, left, and Jillian Duclos since she hired them to work in Sylvester’s and Roberto’s restaurants.

Karah Douglass hasn’t forgotten the day she had to fire an employee at Sylvester’s restaurant. “I was so scared, I panicked,” said the eatery’s operations manager.
So she called Maureen “Mo” McGuinness, who owns Sylvester’s and Roberto’s Restaurant in Northampton, asking for advice.
McGuinness has not only been her employer, she has also been a mentor to Douglass since they met six years ago. She told Douglass not to apologize when she let the person go and to keep the conversation brief.
“I always say ‘I’m sorry’ to everyone,” Douglass said, adding that, in this instance, she refrained from doing so. “And after I called the employee, I felt very empowered, strong, and confident.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mo,” she continued. “She pushes me every day to be a better manager and leader, and whenever I talk to her, she reminds me that I am amazing. Before I met her, I had never made decisions on my own, but she taught me to follow my instincts, that I know what I am doing.”
Sue Rondeau, vice president of Operations for Weed Man in West Springfield, has also relied on mentors to keep her confident about her ability to succeed. She was studying to earn her master’s degree in business administration at Bay Path College when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to stop taking classes to get treatment.
She was also working full-time, and when the treatment ended, she didn’t think she had the strength to continue in the MBA program.
But encouragement from mentor Laurie Rosner, an adjunct professor at Bay Path who has spent years in the banking industry, inspired Rondeau to return to school. She also received support from other women she had met at the college and says the mentoring she received has changed her leadership style at work and caused her to become more compassionate.
“I used to think, when you went to school or work, you needed to leave your troubles at the door. Now, as a manager, I realize that things don’t just happen before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.,” she said. “I have learned flexibility through example in the last five years and have had a paradigm shift.”
Rondeau is one of many women who have been mentored by Rosner, who summed up her mentoring approach this way: “my purpose in life is to push others to become uncomfortable so they can become the person they were meant to be. I tell my students they are meant to achieve greatness, and if they are not uncomfortable, they are not growing.
“It takes courage to do new things, but the women I network with are usually on a path; we all need to push beyond our fears because women deserve to be in boardrooms,” she went on, adding that experience provides women with perspective and builds up their bank of knowledge. “I tell women it’s about making mistakes and failing forward.”
Studies have shown that mentoring is powerful, and most women with a record of significant accomplishments can point to a number of supportive people during their careers. A recent study conducted by Susan Schor, a management professor at Pace University, showed that female corporate presidents and vice presidents have had up to four strong mentoring relationships that lasted two to five years, while only half of their male counterparts have ever had a mentor.
Many female executives are becoming advocates for other women, whom they meet in women’s organizations, during educational classes, or within their own workplace.
They say they get as much from the women they mentor as they give them. But unlike males, women turn to their mentors for the emotional support they need to succeed, which can happen when they are faced with a challenging situation or when they find it difficult to balance responsibilities in the workplace with their home lives, especially if they are caring for children or aging parents.
In fact, research shows what they do for each other is different from what occurs in most male mentoring relationships. A 2010 study by the nonprofit organization Catalyst, which promotes inclusive workplaces for women, found male mentors tend to sponsor each other rather than just provide advice and support, while women say gender differences make the emotional boost they give to each other critical.
“We need to continue to mentor other women so we can continue to build each other up,” Rosner said. “Women are so hard on themselves. They need to tell themselves they are smart and say, ‘I believe in me’ even if no one else does. If you accept yourself, the struggle goes away. It’s freedom to say, ‘I can be who I am because I am smart and I believe in myself.’”

Battling Barriers
Beth Lorenz owns the Vehicle Inspection Center Inc. in Greenfield and has been in the automotive industry for 27 years. “In 2010, I downsized my business life as an auto dealer and automotive partner so I could upsize my personal life,” she told BusinessWest. “It has been a journey that included selling a dealership, closing a dealership, separating from a family enterprise, divorcing, and re-establishing myself in a smaller business.”
Lorenz said she could not have achieved her goals without a few individuals who believed in her. She has had male and female mentors who have been younger and older than she is, but turned to the females when she was feeling unsure of herself.
One of them is retired Franklin County Clerk of Courts Eve Blakeslee. “She taught me how to be confident and strong and believe in myself,” Lorenz said.

Laurie Rosner, left, has been a mentor to Sue Rondeau

Laurie Rosner, left, has been a mentor to Sue Rondeau, and was instrumental in her decision to return to the MBA program at Bay Path College after cancer treatment.

When she had difficulty making a decision, Blakeslee would have her voice her thoughts out loud. “I needed someone to say, ‘you are thinking the right way,’” Lorenz said, adding that she feels calm whenever she is around Blakeslee.
Other mentors have taught her different lessons, and she was proud to name them. Susan McDonald from Smith College, who is her healthcare proxy, “challenges me to be the best woman I can be in all phases of my life — at home, at work, and in play.” Meanwhile, Becky Caplice, president and CEO of Greenfield Savings Bank, “demonstrates true love of community and possibilities through hard work, integrity and honesty.”
Then there’s Regina Curtis, executive director of Resource Development at the Greenfield Community College Foundation, who made Lorenz understand the value of networking, while the late Nancie Chamberlin “believed in me when I did not, was a fierce advocate of truth and justice, and was full of love …lots and lots of love. She encouraged me to open myself up to the heart of others.”
While some might wonder what love has to do with business, many of the women BusinessWest interviewed talked about being “compassionate leaders” and how women have changed the culture of the workplace, and will continue to do so as their numbers grow.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Labor Women project that women will account for 51% of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018. And women say their expectations have had an impact on employers. “If employees are happy, a company does well,” Rondeau said. “The focus has shifted from the top down to the bottom up.”
McGuinness talked about the importance of keeping everyone happy, from customers to employees, which requires a woman to be compassionate, yet strong. “We have to prove we are solid and can play our game right, but also have compassion when people have challenges,” she said.
The mentoring Jillian Duclos received from McGuinness has allowed her to grow and inspired her to pursue her interest in politics. Since they met, Duclos has not only been a rising star in McGuinness’ restaurant businesses, she has also been a volunteer coordinator for State Rep. Aaron Vega, communications director for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, and campaign manager for Holyoke City Councilor Jason Ferreira, which was her first venture into the political arena.
“I had never done it before,” she said, adding that McGuinness taught her what she knew about fund-raising, and she recently landed an internship with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Duclos met McGuinness when she was 18, and said her mentoring began after she was hired at Sylvester’s. The 24-year-old explained that, as time went on, McGuinness expected more and more of her. She met those demands and said she hopes to pay forward what she has received.
“You want to give back what people have given to you. Mo encouraged me to return to school and helped me to go on and do bigger and better things,” Duclos said, adding they attended the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact together.

Shining Examples
Many women, including McGuinness, Lorenz, and Rondeau, have been successful in male-dominated industries. They were among a small group of female pioneers in Western Mass., and others look up to them today as their role models.
But these women say their journey was made easier due to their own mentors. Auto-dealer owner Lorenz was featured in Time magazine in 2009 when she was chosen to receive the Time Dealer of the Year Award for outstanding performance and being a valued member of the community. She called McDonald when she was in the airport on her way to speak to a crowd of 22,000 people at the National Automobile Dealers Assoc. Convention and had a case of the jitters.
“She has shown me how to be a very strong person,” Lorenz said, adding that the support she received was reassuring, even though they were in different industries.
Since that time, other women have sought her advice. “Women need to see other women who are confident and capable in their industry because they don’t have that opportunity very often. It gives them someone to talk to when they are not feeling that way and allows them to move forward,” Lorenz told BusinessWest.
McGuinness said it is still a struggle for women to rise to the top, especially if they are in male-dominated industries. In fact, people sometimes assume she is an employee of her two restaurants, while that never happens to her male co-owner. “It’s still a male-dominated world, and even though we have made it, young women struggle with the same issues that we did,” she said. “But today I won’t do business with someone if they don’t treat me the same way they would treat a man.”
Rosner concurred. “It’s about respect. We have had to fight the fight to stay on top internally within our organizations,” she said, adding that she started her banking career as a receptionist in 1984. “But you can do anything you believe you can do, and leading with compassion is what makes us amazing women as we help and mentor one another.”

Path to Success
Rosner continuously prods her students to realize their potential. At the end of every class she teaches and in e-mails, her message is the same. “I tell them, ‘now go and be great.’”
So, as more women step up to the plate to help themselves and others, their belief in what is possible continues to grow.
Rosner encourages all women to ask questions and do things even when they feel fearful. “The world is limitless, but you are only as good as the questions,” she said. “So, if you see a woman you admire, ask her, ‘Will you be my mentor?’”

Sections Women in Businesss
WPO Provides a Unique Support System for Women in Business

Cathy Crosky

Cathy Crosky says WPO helps second-stage companies — those with more than 10 employees and $1 million in annual revenues — address their specific needs.

Laura Wright calls it her “sounding board.”
That’s one of the many descriptive words and phrases that she and other members applied to the Women Presidents Organization, or WPO, and its Springfield chapter. And they hint broadly at a specific, and distinctive, form of support provided to those who have found it.
Created for women who own or manage what are known as second-stage companies — those with more than 10 employees and $1 million in annual revenues — or direct large nonprofit agencies, WPO is unique in that regard, and also in the way it helps members address their specific problems and issues, said Wright, president of CSW Inc. in Ludlow.
She told BusinessWest that the monthly meetings put her in a room with successful individuals facing similar challenges — and possessing a common desire to help such peers. And this is just the environment she needs at this stage of her life and career.
“I’m in a male-dominated industry,” said Wright, whose company manufactures printing plates and cutting dies for the packaging industry and also offers brand-management services to consumer product companies. “But I found results-oriented women in the group who were focused on their businesses and very successful. And they’ve helped me grow my business.”
Meghan Sullivan concurred.
“It’s very refreshing to be in a room of people that have very similar experiences,” said Sullivan, managing partner of the Springfield-based law firm Sullivan Hayes & Quinn. “Whether it’s being a leader and shouldering that burden or balancing the obligations of work and the joys and obligations of family — we’re all going through the same kinds of things.”
Cathy Crosky, chair of the Springfield chapter of WPO, said the group now boasts 10 members (most chapters have no more than 20) who meet monthly for three hours. They represent a number of business sectors — from manufacturing to professional services to the nonprofit realm — but share common challenges inside and outside the workplace.
“Once you get your business over a million, it requires a different kind of leadership than when you started the business,” said Crosky, an executive coach and organizational transformation consultant with Charter Oak Consulting Group in Williamstown. “You need different things at a different stages, and women don’t have many role models or mothers that did what we do, but they still have the same challenges.”
The organization’s website announces that it provides “a professionally facilitated, non-judgmental forum for second-stage peers to bring the ‘genius out of the group,’ accelerate the growth of their businesses, and to promote the acceptance and advancement of women entrepreneurs in all industries.”
Translating, and elaborating, Crosky said the group makes extensive use of a roundtable process called Peerspectives, developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation (named after the entrepreneur who, among other things, gave the world cat litter) to drill down on an issue and help the individual presenting a dilemma or goal benefit from collective peer wisdom.
“We ask questions, and that requires the person who is looking for feedback to talk through their issue based on the questions,” she said, adding that the group doesn’t provide answers, but rather helps members forge their own. “So, rather than being told, ‘this is what you should do,’ there is a series of questions that brings problem solving to a deeper level — for them and for us.”
For this issue and its focus on women in business, we spoke with a number of members of the Springfield chapter of WPO to find out how this organization benefits its members, and why its roundtable format is successful in generating results for all those involved in the discussions.

Accountability Now
Shalu Arora, president of Skylightsys Strategic Staffing, an information-technology staffing agency in East Hartford, Conn., started her company eight years ago, and is known in entrepreneurial circles as a ‘gazelle’ because of the speed with which her company grew; she hit $1 million in sales in her second year.
And as a gazelle, she has different needs — and conversations — than those who are just getting a business off the ground. Being in a room full of people who understand her situation, mostly because they’ve been there themselves, is one of the biggest benefits from being a WPO member, she said.
“A startup doesn’t need any processes,” Arora told BusinessWest. “Second-stage business owners need the right advice in terms of legal, compliance, staff management, employee handbooks … the list goes on. You go from managing yourself and a few others to having a large group, and there’s a lot that goes with that.”

From left, Shalu Arora, Meghan Sullivan, Pattie Hallberg, and Laura Wright

From left, Shalu Arora, Meghan Sullivan, Pattie Hallberg, and Laura Wright say WPO members are held accountable for taking the steps necessary to solve their issues.

She said she joined WPO to increase her network of business leaders, but also to help build and hone her leadership skills — and the roundtable discussions have certainly helped her do that. “You’re not here to sell yourself or your company, and in every other organization, you have to put your game face on,” she explained. “This is not about a sales opportunity; it’s about a true way to build your leadership skills.”
Arora’s situation, and outlook, are typical of those who have joined the Springfield chapter, one of 105 around the world. Their individual stories vary, but their motivations for joining the organization are essentially the same: they want to grow their businesses or nonprofits, and they want to grow professionally.
And they’ve come to understand that the best way to do that is to be around people who understand what it takes to do both, and can, as the WPO website suggests, pull the collective genius out of the group.
People like Pattie Hallberg.
The CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, based in Holyoke, Hallberg is a member of WPO and also involved with the Longmeadow Business Group, which is comprised mostly of men, and said there really is no other women’s group that maintains the continual focus on education and business development that WPO does.
A year ago, Hallberg was looking for opportunities to explore different aspects of business and management, and WPO came into a conversation with a friend. She joined, and helps brings the nonprofit perspective into the group’s discussions, with the understanding that it’s the same perspective of those in business.
“There’s a place for nonprofit conversation that people may think is a little bit different than a business conversation, but there’s really not that much difference — we just have different products,” Hallberg said, adding that she’s intrigued by the breadth and depth of issues put on the table for discussion.
Some of them are strictly business- and bottom-line-oriented, she went on, while others involve the overriding assignment of balancing work and life — and finding a formula for succeeding at both.
Wright noted that many discussions involve how to take a business to the next level, and these conversations are multi-faceted, involving more than spread sheets, sales projections, and marketing strategies.
“Those are the most interesting conversations; it’s a great forum for making a change and making a business what you want it to be,” she explained. “And that all goes back to the members treating each other as the whole person, not just as a businessperson.”
Perhaps the one word that came up most often in commentary about WPO and how it benefits members was accountability. If women want to grow professionally and personally, they have to put plans in place and affect change where it’s needed, said Sullivan, adding that the group works diligently to keep members’ feet to the fire.
Indeed, if the previous month’s meeting spent a good deal of time on one of the member’s concerns, that member should expect to report what’s happened since in the very next meeting, said Sullivan, who, when asked how accountability is achieved, was quick to respond.
“They ask you,” she said, laughing. “They ask, ‘did you do it?’ And they ask why you did or didn’t do it; they put you right on the spot, and it forces you to face that you’re procrastinating, or it forces you to have a perspective that you didn’t have, but you should have had.”
In addition to the Peerspectives roundtable, there are other methods of learning through WPO, including articles and books, business-planning methods, self-assessment tools, and presenting and discussing various leadership topics, said Crosky. But the group has attended some retreats staged by the Edward Lowe Foundation, and a recent addition to the schedule is a new annual conference in Rhode Island with the WPO chapters from Boston and Rhode Island, which allows the Springfield chapter to expand its network and collectively learn from others facing similar challenges.

Tapping into Wisdom
Arora told BusinessWest that it’s hard to look at the bottom line and say her company’s continued growth is due to WPO, but she can state with confidence that it has definitely helped.
“If you help the leader, you help the company,” she said. “I’ve made bolder, better, and swifter decisions than before I was part of this group.”
Enabling its members to say such things is among the many goals of the WPO organization, which acts as a sounding board, as Wright described, or as a board of directors, as others have noted — or as a tough, yet compassionate, group of peers, which is perhaps the most accurate description.
And one can’t underestimate the power of peers.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Network of Women Entrepreneurs Educates and Inspires Budding Women Business Owners

Sharon Styffe

Sharon Styffe says the Network for Women Entrepreneurs fills a need in the region for a resource to assist those looking to start or grow a business.

Sharon Styffe, dean of Workforce and Professional Development at Holyoke Community College (HCC), says that coming up with a successful new business concept is a challenge that comes in two parts: having a good idea, and identifying a market to buy that idea.
“It’s one thing to do what you’re good at,” she told BusinessWest, “but its quite another thing to find something you’re good at — and that the market will buy. You can’t just sell something that’s your passion; it has to be someone else’s need — because otherwise it’s just an organized hobby.”
These are just some of the many thoughts she tries to impress upon the growing number of participants in something called the Network of Women Entrepreneurs, which meets every other week at the Kittredge Center on the HCC campus.
As the name suggests, this initiative, which Styffe created last fall, is indeed a network, one in which ideas are exchanged, common issues and problems are discussed, and people leave the room with more to think about than when they arrived. It is intended for those already in business, those who would like to be some day, and those who need to decide if being in business for themselves is the correct career path to take.
Mary Kearney is actually in two of those categories — sort of. She already has one operating enterprise, called CleanScape Inc., a commercial cleaning service she founded 18 years ago, as well as a fledgling enterprise still mostly in the hobby stage — a niche graphic design company for women’s clothing — that she would like to make her primary business pursuit.
“Although I’m an entrepreneur, cleaning has never excited me as much as the arts,” she explained, “especially since that’s where my skills are.”
Kearney’s desire to grow her graphic arts enterprise brought her to the Network of Women Entrepreneurs, but discussions within that group, and her own due diligence, have brought her to the conclusion that her concept might be too cost-prohibitive. However, further introspection — and help from the group — may eventually lead to the acceptable alternative of folding some aspects of that dream into her cleaning venture (more on that later).
Nancy Fields, president of Fields Graphic Design in Leeds, is another participant in the network who said the informative, interactive sessions have given her new perspective on what it means to be in business and serve customers.
“One of the speakers was a former marketing person and she was an eye-opener for me,” she said, “because she made me see that I’m not just a person doing a job for someone else. I’m actually running a business and I really have something to offer here.”
Currently the group consists of business owners involved in writing, Website and graphic design, food production, commercial office cleaning, accounting, hair design, radio talent, healthy food preparation, end-of-life care, publishing, and home organization.
Each venture, and each entrepreneur, is different, but there are common denominators that include everything from clearing the many hurdles involved with taking a concept from the drawing board to the marketplace, to the difficulties women face in finding a balance between life and work.
For this issue and its focus on women in business, BusinessWest took in a session of the network Styffe facilitates to see how it helps members juggle the many balls they have in the air and take their businesses to the next level.

Life in the Middle
Before she came to HCC from a large community college in Ohio last October, Styffe, a single mother and full-time working professional with experience in education, banking, and workforce development, did some extensive research on Western Mass.
And that due diligence led her to conclude that it was a “hot bed” for small-business development.
Looking deeper, and calling on her own background, she recognized a need within the community for a resource for women business owners and those with entrepreneurial urges, one that would provide information, inspiration, and, perhaps most importantly, dialogue between such individuals.
Thus, she launched the network, which is based on a program she created at Montgomery County Community College in Pennyslvania. One of the main reasons to target women, she explained, is their continuing roles as nurturers and caretakers, which makes them “natural multi-taskers.”
“It doesn’t matter how far up the career ladder one goes, that nurturing quality is still something that is ingrained in you from when you were little,” she said, “and that makes you perfect for creating a business, and a program like this captures that spirit.”
Styffe has a number of initiatives she wants to launch at HCC, but the Network of Women Entrepreneurs is the first, and a place where women business owners can form a new community of learning in an accepting environment.
Just a few weeks ago, one of the women attendees presented her company and her products, explaining to the other women how she got to the that point with all her struggles, including FDA approvals, and she brought her newborn baby with her.
“Her husband was working that night,” Styffe said. “And everybody completely understood.”

Information Overload


Donna Bliznak, left, recently addressed the network on the broad subject of commercial lending, providing insight for members, including Mary Kearney, center, and Nancy Fields.

At a recent Tuesday evening session, guest speaker Donna Bliznak, vice president of Commercial Lending for PeoplesBank, presented a comprehensive inside look at the lending process, and at what banks want to see and hear from business owners as they consider loans for various purposes — starting up, next-level expansion, or simply weathering economic downturns.
Other speakers have presented on such topics as legal issues involved in getting started, personnel recruitment, branding and marketing, and access to common capital.
The scheduling of the session topics is based loosely on the plan one should follow if they are just starting up their business. In between the expected topics, other presentations are also booked for the rest of the year, based on what the attendees want to learn.
But one of Styffe’s concerns is that attendees not get overwhelmed.  The sheer volume of information packed into some of the recent sessions can burn them out.
“The topics have been really great and the speakers haven’t relaxed it at all,” Styffe said. “Some of these women haven’t had financial training; they’ve been consumers, but with a business, it’s a whole new ball game.  You have to be prepared to talk to someone to sell them on the long-term prospect of what you do.”
Which leads her to the importance of creating an effective business plan.
While Styffe has seen some people get their ventures off the ground without a business plan, one is needed to help the entrepreneur set goals and create effective strategies for reaching them. An up-to-date plan can also help determine possible course changes for businesses experiencing growing pains.
Fields, for example, was doing graphic design work for 20 years when she lost a major client, forcing her to step back and look at where her business was and how to take it where she wanted it to go.
“I have to look at what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,” she said, adding that her business plan is addressing such questions. “I have to look at money, and now start really thinking of my work as a business.”
In Fields’ situation, Styffe talked about the importance of developing a pipeline of customers, a client network of current and future customers to draw from, which enables a business to weather downturns and not be dependant on one or a few clients.
Fields said she started attending network sessions upon realizing not only that she needed to create this pipeline, but that hard work and effective networking would be needed to create such a prospective client list.
“I know I need to network now, especially for online marketing and to refresh my brand,” she said.
Kearney’s CleanScape has fluctuated between 17 and 33 employees during various economic ups and downs, but remained generally stable.
“At times I couldn’t find enough employees to keep up with the work,” she said, “and other times, doctors’ offices would hire their own staff to clean, just to save money during the tough economy.”
But, despite her relative success in a competitive field, something was missing — a passion for the work. And that’s why she desired something in what she would consider her chosen field — art.
An early love of murals eventually turned into a hobby centered on illustration, and then a very small start-up venture called ArtWear Gallery, which offers Kearney’s upscale illustrations on women’s shirts, blouses, and casual- to business-style tops. As a weekend graphic designer and illustrator, Kearney wanted to turn ArtWear Gallery into her primary business focus. This was the mindset she took to her first network sessions, but further examination of the concept changed her outlook.
“I found that in this country, our technology with dyes isn’t as advanced as overseas, and because my company would not be able to buy the volume of garments initially, like plain tee shirts are bought in bulk, it just wasn’t going to be affordable.”
She reluctantly shifted her hopes and dreams away from ArtWear Gallery and back to commercial cleaning, but with more services and the assistance of a local contractor. Now, in addition to routine, detail, and specialty cleaning, she’ll offer space-organizing services, window and carpet cleaning, composite tile floor refinishing, building repairs, remodels and renovations.
But something even more exciting has happened, thanks in part to the HCC group. Kearney is now considering merging her expanded commercial cleaning company to include different forms of her passion for art.
“Now, I’ve added wall painting, including contemporary faux textures and effects, personalized logo and original mural design,” she said, adding that all this allows her to satisfy that artistic passion that she was missing for years in the cleaning business.

Guiding Light
Styffe said she isn’t surprised that people like Kearney and Fields are able to make important career decisions through the help of the network.
She told BusinessWest that this is what happens when people with common dreams and similar challenges come together to learn and, in some cases, teach.
Over time, she believes the initiative can help enable a number of ventures to thrive, add jobs, and perhaps inspire new ideas to meet recognized needs.
After all, that’s what a successful business does.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Local United Way to Form Women’s Leadership Council

Dora Robinson, left, and Kathy Dube

Dora Robinson, left, and Kathy Dube say the timing is right for creation of a Women’s Leadership Council in Greater Springfield.

Kathy Dube says that talk of creating a women’s leadership council within the United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) has been ongoing for some time now.
There was never any doubt about the benefits to creating such an organization, both within the community and for the women taking part, she explained, noting that there are now 130 such councils operating across the country in partnership with United Way chapters. And they have been effective in reaching out to women leaders in the community to engage and involve (the two words you see most often with respect to such groups) them in meeting the most pressing needs in a given area through donations of time, leadership, and financial support.
No, the only question facing the UWPV was whether a WLC, as they’re called, would duplicate the efforts of other women’s organizations in the area, such as the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. and the Professional Women’s Chamber of Commerce, said Dube, senior vice president and private banking officer with TD Bank and current chair of the UWPV board of directors. And some due diligence has determined that this would not be the case, she told BusinessWest, noting that while those groups and others do some of the things a leadership council would, they don’t do them all, and a council could fill what she described as a critical void.
“I felt there was a missing link between the professional women’s groups in Greater Springfield and the nonprofit world,” she explained. “And this is the perfect solution that pulls it all together. I don’t think there was a group that was doing all that a council does — fundraising, but also mentoring women in the process and getting actively involved in a key community need, and helping to put together a plan that solves an issue that we may have in Springfield.”
Thus, a 20-member “design team” is taking the concept for a leadership council from the drawing board to reality, said Dora Robinson, president and CEO of the UWPV and a member of that team. Some of the next steps in the process, and there are many, include everything from recruitment of members to creating an awareness campaign, to initiating discussions about possible projects for the council to undertake.
And there are intriguing examples to consider from across the country. In Cincinnati, for example, a WLC got directly involved in the plight of homeless women, doing everything from raising money for a new housing initiative to actually decorating the apartments. Meanwhile, the council affiliated with the United Way of Greater Chicago is involved in a partnership with the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, and specifically an initiative known as its middle school academic intervention program, designed to ensure that girls stay on track to graduating from high school. And the council affiliated with the United Way of Northern New Jersey is helping to improve quality of live for those whose situation is described by the acronym ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
In each case, the initiatives involve the three pillars of leadership council activity — financial support, volunteerism, and mentoring, said Dube, adding that the UWPV’s group will do the same in this market.

An Involved Process
Dube and Robinson both said that the catalyst for moving forward with the WLC came at a United Way conference in Nashville roughly a year ago.
One of the workshops was on women’s leadership councils, how they’ve evolved, and the many intriguing issues they were involved with, said Dube. “I left there thinking, we have to do this in the Springfield area.”
The reasons for doing so are obvious and many, she went on, but they come down to two: a strong base of professional women who want to get directly involved in the community, and an abundance of issues that could be addressed through donations of money, time, and talent.
“The timing is right for something like this in the Springfield area,” she told BusinessWest. “There are many issues to be addressed here.”
Robinson said the number of councils nationwide is growing steadily, primarily in response to national trends involving women, wealth, philanthropy, and effectively harnessing that power and influence. Among those trends:

• The Internal Revenue Service reported in 2010 that 2.5 million (38.8%) of the top wealth holders in the U.S. were women. These individuals had a combined net worth of almost $4.2 trillion. As of 2011, 50% of top wealth holders were women;
• In 2010, the Center for Women’s Business Research found that one in 10 women in the U.S. was a business owner, and their companies continue to grow at twice the rate of all firms; and
• Women live longer than men, meaning they will end up in charge of much of the $41 trillion expected to pass from generation to generation in the next 50 years.

“Given the fact that no two communities are alike with respect to the affluence and influence of women, the number of women-owned businesses, and opportunities for women to give and be involved, UWPV has a unique opportunity to build on the success of the national Women’s Leadership Council framework,” said Robinson. “We are committed to developing, designing, and implementing a program that is fitted to our local needs.”
And by that, she meant a council that can not only address recognized needs in the community, but also get women engaged and involved (there are those two words again) in not only creating a solution to a problem, but carrying it out.
Here’s how a women’s leadership conference works:
First, professional women are recruited to join. Membership involves an annual monetary donation, with those funds used to help finance projects the group will take part in. These donations vary with the market, said Dube, adding that while some councils assess $2,500 or more, the group in Hartford started with a few hundred dollars, opting to gradually increase that amount, a model that will likely be followed in this market.
Recruitment efforts are already underway on an informal basis, said Dube, adding that the design team will provide a solid base on which to build. One key to membership, she noted, is to make the council large enough to enable it to be effective, but not so large that members cannot be directly involved in a specific initiative.
“We want to make sure we know what we’re doing before we open it up to too many people,” she explained, adding that the initial goal will be 50 to 75. “But we have to make sure that those 50 to 75 are actively engaged in what we’re doing.”
The next big consideration is deciding what to do with the funds that are raised, or how to get the membership involved in the community it has been tasked with serving.
Existing councils are involved in a wide array of initiatives, as those examples from Cincinnati, New England, and Chicago clearly show, said Robinson, adding that a small yet effective council in Greenfield has been active with the broad issue of literacy and putting books in the hands of children.
And the Springfield-area group will be diligent in selecting projects that are impactful, but will also directly involve women in the group, said Dube, adding that many endeavors involving councils focus on helping women break from poverty.
“There have been discussions about doing a scholarship program for women who want to re-enter the workforce and need to go back to school to do that,” she noted. “And at the same time, we would weave into that mentoring and financial literacy training; that’s one possibility.”
The council will obviously look to avoid duplicating efforts already underway, said Robinson, noting, for example, that early childhood literacy, while an important issue, is being addressed by other groups, especially the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation.
“Initially, we’ll be looking for a project that has a start and a finish, so we can have some success,” Dube explained, citing the initiative in Cincinnati as one to emulate in that regard. “What was great about that project was that they recognized a need for housing, they went out and raised the money for it, and they did it — there was a start and an end, and now they’re moving on to another project.
“I think we’ll also try to find a project where we accomplish some objectives in a relatively short period of time, maybe a year,” she went on, “and then move onto another project that might be entirely different.”
Whatever direction the council takes, mentoring and direct involvement will be part of the equation, said Robinson, because those on the design team, and others who have expressed interest in the council concept have indicated that they want to do much more than write checks.
“There has been a fairly consistent theme around mentoring,” she noted. “Women want to be involved with other young women or girls in mentoring relationships. How that gets crafted into what we’re doing will be determined over the next few months.”

Impact Statement
The unofficial timeline for the council calls for a public launch sometime this fall, with planning and recruitment to take place in the months preceding.
But already there is considerable momentum for this initiative, which organizers believe has enormous potential to harness the desire among professional women in this region to donate more than money (although that’s certainly an important part of the equation) to the task of addressing some of the deeply rooted issues in area communities.
And addressing them by getting these women engaged and involved.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
It’s Time to Make Some Colorful Statements with Your Attire

By Kate Vishnyakov
When it comes to clothing for the professional woman, practicality wins over trendiness every time. With that said, regardless of profession and what you are able to wear for work, this season’s obsession with color can help brighten up your look.
If you’ve been flipping through magazines, watching news networks, or taking in a fashion show, you’ve seen that the big, bold, color is everywhere. Vibrant color palettes range from fuchsia pinks to sea foam greens, lemon yellow, citrus oranges, and deep Laguna blues — remember “the bolder the better” is the season’s mantra.
So one may wonder why local offices, banks, and law firms are full of the proverbial ‘women in black’? The endless uniform of un-color is on the streets, at coffee shops, meetings, and more. The safe, ubiquitous black is everywhere. In a day and age where blending in is not highly desired, the row of black jackets, dresses, and suits hanging in your closet are not helping you stand out.
Adding a splash (or even a smidge more) of color can help you stand out, while still having a professional, polished image.

A Crash Course in Color
Are you wondering what the secret is to successfully pulling off a bright look without looking like a fashion victim? One simple and easy step is to go bolder with a color similar to what you usually wear. For example move from black to navy. If you regularly wear navy or gray try cobalt blue and indigo. If most of your wardrobe is brown, take a look at coral. And last, but not least, trade in the power red for the very ‘in-season’ fuchsia pink.
Other suggestions include keeping the rest of your outfit neutral and accessories minimal. Use a light color shell or a blouse. And for shoes and bags, consider light brown, tan or camel color.

Go Bold, or Go Home
If wearing bold color head-to-toe is too big of a leap, keep bright colors close to your face and wear darker colors on a bottom. Color combinations that work well together include navy and green, coral and tan, golden yellow and gray. The safe proportion is 75% of one color to 25% of another in any outfit. Remember, you don’t need to be an extravert or attention seeker to wear color to stand out a bit.
Seek out jewel tones on your next shopping trip. Some call them “the grown-up way to wear color.” As Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Senator from New Hampshire says, “wear a pastel jacket and you might look too girly, wear a bold primary hue and it can be too brash. But opt for a rich, saturated jewel tone like amethyst/orchid shade, and it’s hard to go wrong.”
Another important key to wearing color is a fit. The slim silhouette is important when you wear bold colors or print. Straight, slim leg pant, preferably an ankle length, or a pencil skirt will go well with a longer jacket-and-pants look, or a shorter one-button jacket with a skirt. This rule will work for both petites and fuller women. Keep the volume on a top or on a bottom, but not both to avoid the kitschy look.

Dresses Mean Business
Meanwhile, have you noticed a plethora of brightly colored, arm-baring sheaths on many powerful women? From the likes of First Lady Michele Obama to ABC’s Dianne Sawyer, to the head of International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, it is clear that dresses are ‘in’ at the office.
Stylist and blogger Susan Wagner of WorkingCloset.com says, “black dresses are usually too ‘date night’ for the office, but in other colors, frocks are fabulous. Once you find the silhouette that works for you and your office’s atmosphere, you will love the ease of wearing a dress.”
Just remember keep the fabrics and formality consistent with your work environment and observe conservative to-the-knee hemline and classic fit.

What’s Top 10 Now
1. White Blazer
2. Pencil, full, A-line skirts
3. Day dresses in bold colors
4. Slim leg pant
5. Silk button-down
6. Large black and white mod-style looks
7. Candy-colored leather as a day jacket
8. Pointy-toe shoes
9.  Neutral wedges
10. Bright tote bags
All good things in fashion recycle themselves. More or less, everything is “in.” Sparkling dresses from the Art Deco ’20s, mid-calve lengths from the ’30s, the ’40s’ chunky heels, full skirts of the ’50s, the ’60s’ mod dresses, ’70s’ hippy chic, ’80s’ suits, and ’90s’ grunge.
Each day you can live your decade of choice and wear what pleases you the most. There are endless ways to add color and style to your life this season. Please do it. Let’s make the world a more beautiful place… one woman in a time.  Here’s to a season filled with beauty, growth and fresh possibilities.

Kate Vishnyakov is owner of Kate Gray in East Longmeadow; (413) 525-2895.

Sections Women in Businesss
For Some Businesswomen, Roller Derby Has Become a Big Hit

The women competing in the growing sport of roller derby

The women competing in the growing sport of roller derby say the benefits are many, from camaraderie to hard work to empowerment.

Malea Rhodes called it “love at first bruise.”

That’s how she chose to describe her introduction roughly four years ago to the sport of roller derby — no, not that roller derby that Baby Boomers would remember watching on their Zeniths in the ’60s and ’70s, an activity that was more stage production than actual sport.

This is so-called flat-track roller derby, said Rhodes, and it’s real, and she and other members of an outfit called the Pair O Dice City Rollers (they broke off from a squad in Northampton, hence the name), have the bruises to prove it. But they also have some other things as well, she told BusinessWest, listing everything from a heightened sense of empowerment to the camaraderie that comes from both going into battle and the hours of practice and scrimmaging it takes to be ready for a bout.

“It’s a great sport because, in roller derby, everybody matters — it’s a total team effort,” said Rhodes, the team’s captain, who by day owns a pottery studio in Northampton and still works part-time at Webs America’s Yarn Store in Northampton, but when she puts on her skates becomes ‘Halle Pain Yo.’ “It really empowers everyone and gives them way more self-esteem than before they started.”

Words to this effect are being spoken by a growing number of women, from across many sectors of business and levels of entrepreneurship, who have discovered or rediscovered this sport in recent years. Some are invited by friends who have already learned how to hit and be hit, while others see the ads for something called ‘Fresh Meat Recruitment Night’ and show up, usually having no idea what they’re going to find.

Greta Shaver falls into the former category. She’s a sales associate and website assistant at Webs, who took up Malea on her invitation to check out roller derby. That was two years ago, and she’s still at it, serving the Rollers as a blocker or the player designated as the ‘swing,’ a more versatile blocker. “The swing’s job is to do everything in her power to get in the other team’s way,” she explained. “When I’m on the track, I’m looking around and usually trying to hit everything that’s not in a purple jersey.”

Meanwhile, Katie Stebbins is in the latter group.

“I showed up to fresh-meat night never thinking that I would love it almost as much as my children,” she joked. “I went to see what it was all about and how legitimate it was, and from the very first night when I hit the track and met the women and saw the seriousness they brought to this, I was hooked. I was completely hooked.”

Elaborating, Stebbins, who spent a decade working as a city planner in Springfield and currently has her own consulting firm as well as an online publication (more on that later), originally looked at roller derby from purely an economic-development standpoint. “My first reaction wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to skate for them; it was ‘what a great economic-development opportunity this is for the city — here’s this fast-growing sport that’s all over the world, and Springfield has a group of women dedicated to developing a team for the city.’”

But she’s passed the first two levels of training needed to get into game action, and is now anxious to hear her playing name (Springfield 413) heard at one of the Rollers’ tilts.

Her first opportunity may come on Feb. 17 in a game against the Baystate Brawlers, out of Worcester, at Interskate 91 South. Like other contests, this one will benefit a specific charity, still to be chosen. Previous bouts have benefited groups and causes ranging from the Westfield Boys & Girls Club to activities involving area Shriners, to something called Stupid Cancer, a nonprofit group that supports young adults battling the disease.

“There are many programs for kids battling cancer, and quite a few for older people, but not much for those in between, so we did something for them,” she said, adding that games have been attracting about 200 spectators on average, and she anticipates that this number will go up as the sport continues to gain acceptance.

For this edition and its focus on Women in Business, we take a break from the traditional issues and challenges facing this constituency and talk at length with some roll players — puns and plays on words are huge in this sport — about some of their greatest hits.


Jam Sessions

The Pair O Dice City Rollers

The Pair O Dice City Rollers draw women from all walks of life who are up for a challenge — and a good time.

The playing names on the Pair O Dice City roster speak volumes about the mindset of those who play this sport — or at least about their efforts to intimidate the opposition.

There’s ‘Reckless B Havior,’ ‘Eve N. Meaner,’ Olive R. Twisted,’ ‘Meryl Creep,’  ‘Donny Brook,’ and ‘Killer Krush,’ among others. Stebbins acknowledged that ‘Springfield 413’ probably won’t scare anyone, but she took that name to convey her passion for the City of Homes, not frighten the other team.

“My derby name is ‘Springfield,’ because I’m doing it for the city and for myself,” she explained. “Plus, Springfield’s a pretty badass city with all the natural disasters it’s had.”

Choosing a roller-derby name is maybe the last thing Stebbins thought she’d be doing as she navigates her way through life in her early 40s, but she’s certainly not alone with that task as the sport continues to pick up more participants and fans.

For those not familiar with the sport — and there are still many in that category — roller derby is played by two five-player teams skating in the same direction around a track. (The tracks used to be banked decades ago, but they are flat in most cases now). Games, or bouts, consist of a series of short matchups called ‘jams,’ during which a team’s designated scorer, called a ‘jammer,’ will attempt to lap the opposition.

Players on the track essentially play offense and defense at the same time — helping their own jammer while opposing the other team’s — although some play more of one than the other.

For each of the nearly two dozen people on — or nearly on — a Pair O Dice City roster, there is a different story about just how they came to be involved in this unique sport and its current resurgency worldwide.

Malea remembers watching the movie Whip It — which is about a teenager who joins a roller derby team, but Malea saw the poster featuring a girl in a helmet and figured it was about horseracing — and seeing a good deal of herself in one of the characters.

“Three-quarters of the way through the film, one of the main characters makes this comment, ‘I’m 36, and this is the first thing I’ve been good at,’” she recalled. “I’m 38 now … I thought that was pretty cool, so I put on some skates and went skating with some friends to make sure I still could, and later I saw a flyer to join roller derby.”

She told BusinessWest that roller-derby leagues — and there are now several of them across the region — are attracting a diverse mix of women of all ages, many of them professionals. When she first got involved with the Northampton team, there were a few lawyers, some nurses, and several schoolteachers on the roster. At present, the Rollers roster is most dominated by teachers and librarians, she said.

They will play several bouts over the next several months against teams from Maine, New Hampshire, and other parts of the Bay State.


Turn for the Better

Stebbins certainly wasn’t thinking about joining the ranks of those who are taking up the game when she saw the notice for fresh-meat night. Indeed, she was already juggling a few different career ventures.

One is her consultancy business, which currently involves a contract to be the project manager of Holyoke’s fledgling Innovation District. In that capacity, she manages the various opportunities involving economic investment around the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, which opened its doors late last fall. “I’m working with others to make sure that center isn’t an island, but is instead relevant to the rest of the community.”

And then, there’s her online publication, called byofamily.com, which Stebbins calls a “parenting lifestyle e-zine” focused on Holyoke and Springfield. She cashed out her retirement account to get it off the ground, but has never looked back.

“It’s Springfield’s first lifestyle magazine for families,” she explained, adding that it has enjoyed steady growth since it was launched nearly a year ago. “It’s not, ‘you should love Springfield; don’t be afraid of it’ — it’s not hit-you-over-the-head stuff. It’s 15 articles a month about people raising their families in Springfield and Holyoke.

“Being an entrepreneur is a pretty exciting adventure,” she went on. “I have ambitions to expand the magazine into Worcester and Albany, and eventually move it into several post-industrial cities on the Eastern Seaboard and then west.”

Stebbins never imagined adding at least two nights of roller-derby practices and scrimmages a week to what was an already-crowded schedule, but she found herself drawn in by the sport, its team atmosphere, the camaraderie, opportunities to compete, and even the hitting.

“I went from thinking, ‘I want to help this team become a part of Springfield’s economic-development future’ to ‘I want to skate for this team,’” she told BusinessWest. “I’ve never played team sports before like this, so it was whole new experience — working together as a team to accomplish a common goal.”

Shaver tells a somewhat similar story.

“I was a little intimidated at first, because sometimes you walk in and see a bunch of girls who look really tough,” she explained while recalling her first encounter with the sport and those who play it. “However, it turns out, when you join a roller-derby team, it’s like joining a family of 30 or 40 people; everyone is really supportive of one another, and that’s one of the big reasons why I’ve stuck with it for more than two years now and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.”

Elaborating, she said she graduated from Smith College, a women’s school where there was an “intense atmosphere of sisterhood,” something she missed after getting her diploma. Roller derby fills the gap in many ways.

“I really enjoy having a close-knit group of female friends who really support one another,” she explained. “We play hard on the track, we play hard at the after party, and we just have a great time.”


Taking It on the Shin

Shaver told BusinessWest that Rollers players and others who have taken up the sport usually make sure to tell family members, co-workers, the boss, and anyone else they’re close to just what they’re up to.

Doing so helps explain bruises, assorted injuries, and other things that can happen to the body, she said with a laugh.

“One time, a friend got hit in the face, and she had to go into work with a shiner,” Shaver explained. “All you have to do is say ‘roller derby,’ and people get it.”

Saying those two words means much more to those who have discovered this fast-paced activity, who now enjoy a good track record — in more ways than one.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Unity First’s Janine Fondon Mixes Diversity and High-tech Savvy

Janine Fondon

Janine Fondon says she’s always managed to stay atop trends in communications.

In the spring of 1946, Irene Morgan, a black woman, boarded a bus in Virginia headed to Baltimore. She was ordered to sit at the back of the bus, as Virginia state law required, but she objected, saying that, since it was an interstate bus, the law did not apply. Morgan was arrested and fined $10.

Attorney Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP took on the case … and won, thus striking down Jim Crow laws in interstate travel. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused a bus driver’s order to move for white riders on a city bus, which initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott and eventually a precedent-setting win in the Supreme Court.

Irene Morgan — whose bravery and tenacity paved the way for Rosa Parks to become an icon of the Civil Rights movement — was Janine Fondon’s aunt.

Fondon is now the successful president and CEO of Unity First Direct Inc., a marketing and public-relations consultancy business, which she founded with her husband, Tom Fondon, in 1996. That business was soon followed by its website counterpart, UnityFirst.com — a national distributor of diversity-related e-news — that grew, as the world grew, with the explosion of workplace computer technology and the burgeoning Internet.

Her ability as a young African-American woman to forge a career in what are mostly male-dominated industries stems from that same bravery and tenacity that her Aunt Irene demonstrated more than 65 years ago. With each new position, all involving communications of some form, Fondon has deepened her public-relations and communications abilities, while picking up emerging technology skills.

Looking back at her family history and career, she noted that, somewhere along the road, she realized she’d been ahead of the curve at almost every point. A persistent focus on the future and an ever-growing skill set that she acquired in various positions — and a particular interest in computers, which she repeatedly referred to as ‘fun’ — ensured that she showed up at the doorstep of each new opportunity with confidence.

For this issue’s focus on women in business, BusinessWest spoke at length with Fondon about her intriguing background. Her keen eye for concrete workplace skills, mixed with an awareness of different cultures and human behavior, has enabled her to launch a small consultancy group that has evolved into a growing, diversity-focused web destination targeting African-Americans and others seeking information of interest to multicultural communities.


Right Time, Right Place

Straight out of Colgate University, young New York native Janine Fondon landed her first job with ABC-TV New York in the public relations department as a broadcast analyst. In that position, she would hear viewer responses about programming content, news personalities, and sports analysts, and report back to the network.

“Working for ABC Sports … every time they mentioned things like ‘Hail Mary’ passes, the Catholic Church would not be too happy,” Fondon laughed. But strong miniseries like ‘The Winds of War’ and docudramas with controversial topics were great introductions to a broad variety of perspectives — and watchdog groups that were concerned about how the network was representing women, culture, or some specific issue, Fondon said. WJLA in Washington, D.C. helped expand her work in large metropolitan areas, especially the promo coverage she did in January 1987 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded after takeoff, just one of the milestones that helped her hone her writing skills.

“Those days of writing good stories, getting to the heart of the message … it was really exciting figuring out what the real story was,” she explained. “Those positions made me think how I might pursue something else in the communications field, and honestly, that field has changed every two years since I’ve been involved in it.”

A move to Boston for a PR job with the Unitarian Universalist Assoc. wasn’t a great fit, but with the New England area going though high-tech growth, she was thinking, as always, of the future. She targeted Digital Equipment Corp. and landed in its Corporate Communications department as the associate editor of Digital’s worldwide internal publication, Decworld.

“At Digital, we were communicating internally and with the world, much like we do with Facebook and other forms of communication today, but we were doing it before the mainstream,” Fondon told BusinessWest.

The jump from religion to technology wasn’t an issue. “This was a global company, and I would be able to see what it was like to build this global effort,” she said. Later, with the eventual demise of Digital, her communications and technology skills made her a solid fit in the financial industry which was entering a new age of online sharing of highly confidential financial information.

Working for BankBoston, she was writing not only for the internal print magazine but online vehicles as well — the early development of online communications for the masses. People were using WordPerfect, and everyone still wanted hard copies, and her co-workers were resistant to online bulletin boards and new computer programs. Fondon thought they were great. “I don’t know about you, but IBM Selectric was not my idea of fun, so anything that made it easier, I was all for it,” she laughed.

“Everybody was asking, how are we going to deal with all this change — change in management, change in technology, and the efforts to bring more women into the workplace?” she continued. Meanwhile, she was experiencing major changes in her own life — a husband who came from the world of IBM, and a baby daughter, had her reevaluating her path.


Worldwide Change

Fondon can remember people saying that newsrooms weren’t diverse. “I said, ‘if you think newsrooms aren’t diverse, you should enter into corporate communications!’”

Merging her past positions, her skills, and what she saw as a need in all workplaces, Fondon created a small consulting company that she named Unity First Direct. Her husband, Tom, with his IT skills, joined her soon after. She kept busy with magazine writing, brochures, reports, and the like, and within that same year, she and her husband noticed that diversity really was becoming a buzzword, and more venues for community outreach were needed.

So she launched the Unity First newspaper and built a small following, but discovered a growing need for different avenues of diversity awareness. Through e-marketing, outreach, and public relations, Fondon could help clients engage new audiences and build their brands with diverse, emerging markets, including people of all backgrounds, experiences, and geographic locations.

“As we moved from being a print publication to online, and more diversity consulting,” she said, “we saw companies had all the pieces, so we would work to help them connect the dots.”

Eric Gouvin, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Western New England University, has worked with Fondon on many occasions, having used her as an expert panelist and through co-sponsored events. “We’ve had diversity events that focus on inclusive management,” he said. “Your workforce has its own sets of traits and properties: the way you manage young folks versus old folks, women versus men, people of color versus other races … there are ways of handling all that, not heavy-handed, but sensitively.”

As Fondon described this aspect of her work, “if a company has a project and they want to develop it to meet this 21st-century approach through demographics, content, and tone, then we can help them shape that project.

She explained what she means by ‘tone.’ “Companies that are trying to position themselves in today’s workplace need to reflect diversity inclusion in their internal communications, external communications, community relations, and media approach, and they need people like us to help them sharpen those skills.”

She prefers to not spend energy on the negative, which includes all the things that can happen when a proper approach to tone is ignored — everything from diminishing one’s culture to lawsuits — but to focus on positive outcomes, the companies that make a respectful and educated difference and, thus, enhance their own success.

Today, UnityFirst.com is a growing voice on the Internet and one of the most in-depth resources for connecting with diverse communities and press across the U.S. and beyond. Engaging more than 2 million readers from corporations and boards to cross-cultural business leaders striving for new bottom-line success, the site is a content driver of news, with more than 4,000 national press members, including top mainstream business publications; television, Internet, and radio sources; and press from the African, African-American, Caribbean, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American communities.

In addition, UnityFirst.com delivers content to ForbesDiversity.com, an outgrowth of Forbes.com that offers special sections with comprehensive subject matter from different perspectives.


Driven to Success

In addition to a multitude of speaking engagements, Fondon is an adjunct professor at Baypath College and Westfield State University. She and Tom are also targeting young local middle- and high-school students through two projects, the Digital Ambassadors Program and the Common Ground Leadership Forum and Awards.

“It’s our initiative to work with young people around the technology and diversity topics,” said Fondon. “Both programs emphasize the importance of digital learning, inclusion, and leadership.”

Part of her work with students is to keep the dialogue applicable to young people’s interests. Considering the speed at which technology and young people’s interests evolve, Fondon said, “as a teacher, when you think you’re making it relevant and interesting, revisit what that means, because either you got it right, or you didn’t.”

Gouvin agrees, and praises Fondon’s ability to consult with employers. “If you want to be effective, you’ve got to find a way to connect with the people who are working for you,” he said. “It’s not a matter of being PC [politically correct], or doing it because that’s what everyone’s doing; there is sense to it. Janine has always made a case for diversity that is compelling.”

Along with her tenacious and pioneering qualities — like those that spurred her Aunt Irene to such groundbreaking action — Fondon will continue to assist clients with marketing, educate communities about diversity awareness through digital, print, and verbal communication, and help individuals and corporations realize their full potential.

In short, she’s keeping them ahead of the curve.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Having a Baby Can — and Often Does — Alter a Woman’s Career Path

Sylvia Callam

Sylvia Callam says she has no regrets about the time she took off from work to spend with her children.

Sylvia Callam had invested an enormous amount of time and energy into her career, so she said she “thought long and hard” about making the decision to have a child.

“I had worked on Wall Street for eight years,” said the Yale graduate and director of research at Gage Wiley Inc., a brokerage-dealer firm. She planned to take two months of maternity leave, then return to work full-time. And although she doesn’t consider herself overly emotional, Callam felt very conflicted when that time approached.

“When you have a baby, your heart changes,” she said. “I had always been the first one to get to work and the last one to leave. But I was definitely surprised and taken aback by how much I wanted to be with my son.”

So she made the decision to put her family first. “For a few years, my career took a backseat. The motherly love I felt was overwhelming, and I needed some time to make sure that going to work was worth it,” said the Hatfield resident, adding that she only worked two days a week.

When her son, Nathan, turned 3, Callam gave birth to her daughter, Alyssa, who was born with myriad medical issues. Thankfully, her boss was understanding, and although she had returned to work full-time, he allowed her to take six months off.

Today, her children are 7 and 4, and despite working part-time for a period of time, she has made remarkable advances in her career. “I was very fortunate that my boss was willing to be patient,” she said.

Still, Callam believes becoming a mother improved her performance. “It is a real success story even though I have always put my children first; I’m more decisive, more confident, and more resilient than I used to be. I had to learn to do the same amount of work in four hours that used to take me eight, and my boss finds my attitude refreshing,” she said. “I am a much better mom because I work and a much better employee because I am a mother. But it’s all a question of whether a woman has a flexible employer.”

Experts agree.

Iris Newalu, director of Executive Education for Women at Smith College, says women can have both high-power careers and children. “But it’s not easy,” she told BusinessWest, adding that many are able to do so only because of flex time or companies that allow them to work from home. “There is no one formula, and everyone has to figure it out for themselves and decide where to set boundaries.”

Fern Selesnick says there was a myth generated years ago that women could have a family and a job and do it all perfectly.

“The standards are unrealistic, but the myth still exists. And even though employers say they support working mothers, it really is not across the board,” said Selesnick, who works as a professional career coach and trainer at Fern Selesnick Consulting.

As a result, having a child or growing one’s family can pose real challenges for working women intent on climbing the career ladder. Although it can be done, the rate of ascension for those who take a significant amount of time off from their jobs depends on a variety of factors.

“There are competing priorities once a woman becomes a mother,” Selesnick said, adding that concerns change while a woman is pregnant, once she has a baby, and when she decides to return to work. “There is an identity shift. Most women realize after the fact that they can’t give 100% to motherhood and 100% to their job. It requires making adjustments, so they need to figure out how they can do both well and take care of themselves without burning out.”

Experts say women should talk to their supervisors about how a leave of absence will affect their job standing before they become pregnant. “Women need to look at a mixture of practical and emotional issues,” Selesnick said, advising them to begin by reading their employee manual to find out how much maternity leave their company allows.

And when a woman does leave, she should tell her manager, “I hope the door will be open for me to come back,” Newalu said.


Pregnant Pause

Fern Selesnick

Once a woman has a baby, Fern Selesnick says, she realizes she cannot give 100% to her career and 100% to her role as a mother.

Most women need to work for economic reasons. However, statistics show that it can be financially lucrative to delay motherhood until one has achieved a modicum of success.

A study conducted by Amalia Miller, an associate professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, shows that each year a woman delays having her first child while she is in her 20s and early 30s results in an earnings gain of 9%. This is significant, since other studies show earnings often plateau once a woman becomes a mother.

This results partly from an inability to continue advanced schooling due to the limited number of hours a woman can work due to child-care issues or her desire to be home with her family. Issues mothers discuss with Selesnick include time management, self-esteem, a realistic identity, and career changes or adaptations that must be made, since research confirms that women are still the primary caretakers in families.

Selesnick said the decisions a woman makes and her ability to advance within her company often come down to her supervisor. She cites the cases of clients who were allowed tremendous flexibility. “But some supervisors expect everything to be the same in terms of performance and availability,” she told BusinessWest.

Newalu says women must learn how to negotiate to achieve what they need to be successful as a mother and employee. “Flexibility is key. Once you have a child, you can’t control things; children get sick, have performances at school, and have accidents that require a parent to leave work,” she said.

Attorney Kathy Bernardo was working for the law offices of Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas in Springfield when she had her first child. And although she continued at the firm, a few years later when she found out she was expecting twins, she made the decision to work part-time.

“I made a conscious decision to get myself off the partnership track — I thought it would be more than I could handle,” she explained. “I knew I couldn’t commit 100% to my firm and my family, and I wanted to be fair to everyone as well as myself.”

When she returned full-time, it took her a year before she re-established her standing within the practice. “It wasn’t easy because I had to prove to them and to myself that I could handle it, and wanted them to have wonderful data to assess,” she said.

Bernardo achieved her goal of becoming a partner, but it took her 10 years instead of seven. “But I got where I wanted to be without sacrificing my family and was actually able to enjoy my children and be there for them in those important early years; babies demand most of your time,” she said.

Today, her children are teenagers, and she has no regrets about her decisions.

“Sometimes people feel that, if they don’t proceed as planned, they will lose their opportunity,” she said. “But I was fortunate to be somewhere where I could have that dialogue with my employer.”

Experts agree that a woman should have a frank discussion with her supervisor, manager, or someone in the company’s human-resources department before she leaves her job. They advise women to maintain relationships at work while on extended maternity leave, which has personal and professional benefits.

“It’s important for a woman’s self-esteem and confidence to feel that she still has a hand in her career and her work identity isn’t gone,” Selesnick said.

Other safeguards can help her to remain marketable. Selesnick recommends working part-time or doing volunteer work in an area that correlates to one’s career so there is not a large gap in a résumé.

Women also have a responsibility to stay current in their fields, Newalu said, adding it is especially important for those who work in information technology or other areas where change occurs rapidly.


Fair Exchange

Tricia Parolo’s career began in 1997, when she became an intern at MassMutual. In 2000, she achieved full-time status and held a variety of positions within the company until 2007, when she left to become a full-time mother.

“My husband and I had planned for it for two years; I took a leap of faith because I had no idea what to expect and what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said, adding that she had her second daughter shortly afterwards and soon discovered that working in an office seemed easier and less stressful than raising babies.

“I found it was really, really hard being at home,” Parolo said, adding that other people perceived her differently once she lost her professional identity.

She retained the part-time retail job she’d had while she was at MassMutual, but sometimes felt jealous of her husband when he left for work. “I was constantly torn about my decision.”

In 2010, a co-worker who had risen to a management position contacted her and asked if she wanted to work 20 hours a week. Parolo’s former colleague allowed her to work at home from 7 p.m. to midnight, although she did have to go into the office for four hours one day a week.

The following year, when her youngest daughter was 2, Parolo returned full-time and found she had to prove herself all over again. “I worked really, really hard to make up the gap,” she said.

But she has no regrets. “I had the best of both worlds. I was able to stay home with my two little babies and pick up where I left off,” she told BusinessWest.

Newalu says the top companies in the country are willing to invest in a woman’s career and make accommodations if she has a good track record, has been an excellent employee, and has established good relationships. “Talent is very expensive, and companies do not want to keep training new people; they want good employees back.”

However, as Parolo and Bernardo discovered, no one should expect to take up to a year off without consequences.

“It is unrealistic to think that you can slip right back into the position you had — a woman will probably be put where she is needed,” Newalu said. “The situation is the same for anyone who takes time off; you lose seniority, and the people who have stayed on the job have more understanding of the current situation.”

Women who cannot return to their previous position or are unhappy about what they are offered may want to seek employment at another company. However, when they do return to work — whether it is with their previous employer or a new one — they should know what they need and be willing to talk about these needs, even though it may be uncomfortable.

“Research shows that women don’t tend to be good negotiators. It’s a learned skill,” Newalu said, explaining that they can take a course, read books on the subject, or get a coach to teach them how to leverage their talent.

“Early in my own career, I did what I was told, but as I got more experienced, I learned to ask for what I needed,” she said. “You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone. If you ask for what you need in the right way, you often get it. It can’t hurt to ask, and if you don’t have an open-door situation, you have to define how you will re-enter the workforce.”

Prior to becoming a mother, Selesnick held positions in management where she was required to be available at all times. She took a few years off when she had her daughter, but continued her part-time job as a writer. “It was a cut in income, but it allowed me to be the mother I wanted to be,” she said. “If I had taken a corporate management position, I couldn’t have been a mother in the way I wanted.”

When she did return to full-time work, she chose a much easier position at a nonprofit agency with a set schedule that didn’t include night or weekend hours. “Plus, my boss let me bring my daughter to work if it was necessary. Life was much simpler.”


Back to Business

As children grow, women often find that juggling roles becomes easier. “Women need to know that the demands of motherhood decrease and the time will come when you have complete flexibility again,” Selesnick said.

In fact, taking time off can be simply viewed as a detour on a career path.

“I am so glad that I persevered,” Callam said, “even in the lowest of times.”

Sections Women in Businesss
WBOA Helps Area Business Owners Design a Plan for Success

Eileen Jerome, left, and Susan Kelley

Eileen Jerome, left, and Susan Kelley are proud of the caliber of educational programs that the WBOA offers area women in business.

‘Education’ and ‘inspiration.’

Those were the two words Susan Kelley summoned when asked what she gains through her participation in the Women Business Owners Alliance of Western Mass. (WBOA), a carefully chosen name that speaks volumes about what the organization is all about.

It truly is an alliance, said Kelley, owner of Kelley Tax Services in Westfield and current vice president of the WBOA board of directors. Elaborating, she said the group is comprised of mostly small-business owners who network, sometimes do business with one another, and raise money together to support nonprofit organizations that benefit women and girls. But mostly they learn from experts in the field and especially from each other, and come away empowered by the stories of perseverance that are told at the group’s monthly meetings.

“It is inspiring to learn from others who can share their work experiences,” said Eileen Jerome, current board president and owner of Jerome’s Party Plus/Taylor Rental in Westfield, who joined the group five years ago and has inspired others with her success.

This is what Renate Oliver had in mind when she started the organization in 1982, said Jerome, adding that Oliver will be one of many speakers at an elaborate 30th Anniversary Gala to be staged June 21 at Chez Josef. The event will honor a number of women for their contributions to the organization and their success in business, but mostly, the gala will be a celebration of how the WBOA has grown and evolved over the past three decades.

Indeed, the calendar is now filled with everything from a highly successfully fall speaker series appropriately named Kaleidescope to a raucous annual Women’s Night of Comedy, which is a fund-raiser for area nonprofits. Meanwhile, the group continues to meet monthly and thus carry out its primary mission: to empower women entrepreneurs to be all that they can be.

For this issue and its focus on women in business, BusinessWest looks at how that mission is carried out, and, in the course of doing so, explains why there will be much to celebrate at the upcoming gala.


Meeting of the Minds

Christine Parizo will be one of those honored on June 21.

Freda Brown

Freda Brown will be honored as 2012 Business Woman of the Year at the WBOA 30th Anniversary Gala.

A freelance copywriter who was already busy enough being a mother of two children with her own business, Christine Parizo Communications, she joined the Women WBOA because she saw it as an opportunity to grow professionally, learn from others in situations similar to hers, and become involved in the community.

From the start, she liked the group, and it liked her — enough to ask her to fill an open seat on the board, one involving communications and public relations, talents she specializes in. “I guess that if you want something done, ask a busy person,” said Parizo, who will be honored as the 2012 Outstanding New Member at the gala.

In many ways, her story is typical of those who become part of the organization — small-business owners who join to network and also tap into the collective wisdom in the room at the monthly breakfast meetings.

Jerome told BusinessWest she wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she attended her first meeting at the behest of a friend who thought she would fit in. “I walked into a room full of strange women,” she recalled, meaning people she had never met. Soon, they weren’t strangers, and Jerome eventually settled into a leadership role that put her on the path to becoming president.

She said there are currently about 80 members representing a number of professions and business sectors. The current roster includes attorneys, business coaches, financial planners, jewelry designers, and realtors, among others. Each has a different business story to tell, but there are common denominators: they own small businesses that want to grow, face myriad challenges as they go about that assignment, and often wear many, if not all, of the hats in their organization.

Such is the case with Kelley, a sole proprietor who came from the corporate world where literally everything was at her fingertips, and those little bothersome things like marketing, advertising, and ordering office needs were all done by other people. When she moved back to the area five years ago and started a new business on her own, it was a whole different world.

“I really needed to get out and meet other business owners, and having come from such a large company, it was very limiting being on my own,” she explained. “At WBOA, I felt welcomed; the speakers were very inspirational.”

Jerome told BusinessWest that WBOA is a very hospitable group, and every effort is made to welcome a new person, find them a place to sit, and let them know the routine immediately.

“We are a non-competitive group; we can have two women from the same type of business, and they support each other,” she said, adding that the goal isn’t for everybody to use each other as a prospect, but to grow each other’s business through support, education, and new relationships.


Sharing and Caring

Jerome told BusinessWest that there are many benefits to be derived from WBOA’s $95 annual membership fee. These include everything from the many kinds of learning opportunities to the opportunity to qualify for a low-interest business loan from the organization.

Indeed, financial assistance is available for those who qualify through the Cheryl Reed Memorial Loan Fund, which was established in 1991 in memory of Cheryl Reed, who owned Cheryl Reed Travel in East Longmeadow and was a founding member of WBOA. The funds can be used to get a business started or take it to the next level, said Jerome, adding that the program represents just one of the ways WBOA has evolved over the years.

Another is through refinement of the many educational components of the group’s mission, starting with the programs at the regular monthly breakfast meetings.

Topics are chosen based on both emerging trends in business and the common needs of the members, said Jerome, adding that the goal with every program is to give the assembled women information and insight that they can take back to their businesses and apply immediately.

She recalled one session in particular that featured a human-resources professional who described recent research showing that women are far less likely to ask for help, money, new opportunities, and pretty much anything to do with business. Her message was that the true secret to personal and professional success is to ask and ask often, and she punctuated her case by highlighting stories of others’ success.

All of the monthly series events are morning sessions, Jerome said, but in the fall of 2013, WBOA will offer five evening events for those members who can’t attend morning events due to child care or other work issues.

Meanwhile, the popular Kaleidoscope Fall Speaker Series, which specifically showcases members of the WBOA, will resume in September. “Part of our mission is to showcase our members because they have great experience and examples that we can all learn from,” said Jerome. “We really have a variety of talent in our members.”

For example, this past fall’s series, which was sponsored by Bay Path College, offered six WBOA members the opportunity to share their expertise about business, marketing, finance, and work/life balance. The members presented two at a time over a three-week period.

The first week’s workshop covered the nuances of finding a business niche and getting finances in order; week two focused on the broad topic of time management and how to improve it. The final week allowed the speakers to help answer some questions that are pretty much on the tongues of women business owners everywhere, such as, how does one move a customer from ‘I’m interested’ to ‘here’s my credit card’?

Another example of the group’s progression and ongoing evolution is the annual Women’s Night of Comedy, which draws a sellout crowd and raises money for three local nonprofit organizations that help women and girls in various aspects of life. Last March’s event featured four comediennes, including one of the most sought-after personalities on the national comedy scene, Patty Ross, and raised funds for Rick’s Place, Safe Passage, and Dress for Success.

Kelley is quick to point out that the Women’s Night of Comedy effort is a rocking and rolling night of kinship and networking, but it’s no laughing matter. Just a few years ago, the organization was able to give $250 to each nonprofit.  Two years ago, the amount escalated to $3,000 per organization, and this past year was raised again to $3,500 for each.

“More people have heard of it and are coming back, bringing their friends,” she explained, adding that the event is feeding off its own success, bringing more ticket sales, raffle prizes, and, most importantly, sponsorship money. “It’s awesome to see that it’s really a great night and, best of all, it’s growing.”


Fabric of Success

There is a full agenda for the upcoming 30th-anniversary celebration, said Jerome, starting with awards to members such as Parizo and Freda Brown, the organization’s treasurer, who will be named Woman of the Year.

The WBOA will also spotlight the Pioneer Valley’s Top Women in Business, chosen by the group based on community involvement, business growth, mentoring, volunteering, and innovation, and Oliver will deliver her highly anticipated address.

But overall, the night will be a celebration of 30 years of growth, evolution, and continued refinement of those qualities on which the organization was founded: education and inspiration.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Understand Your Obligations for Maternity and Paternity Leave

Kevin V. Maltby

Kevin V. Maltby

At any given time, a female employee may approach you and share the wonderful news that she is pregnant. Similarly, a male employee may approach you with the news that he is going to be a father.
While such news is usually well-received, it also serves as notice that you, as the employer, should begin making preparations for your employee’s maternity or paternity leave. You must be mindful of both state and federal law.

The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act
Under state law, the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) applies to all businesses that employ six or more employees. As written by the state Legislature, the MMLA is gender-specific to females, and provides eight weeks of unpaid leave to full-time female employees for purposes of giving birth, adopting a child under the age of 18, or adopting a child under the age of 23 who is mentally or physically disabled.
The MMLA requires the employee to give her employer at least two weeks notice of her anticipated date of departure and intention to return. It should be noted that an employer cannot refuse to grant MMLA leave on the grounds that doing so would constitute a hardship.
The Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is the state’s chief civil-rights agency and is empowered with enforcing and overseeing the MMLA. As the chief enforcement agency, the MCAD has taken the position that the MMLA should be applied equally to both men and women despite it being gender-specific. In doing so, the MCAD effectively converted the MMLA to a paternity-leave act so that it would apply equally to men and women. Therefore, employers should treat both male and female employees equally under the MMLA when reviewing guidelines and leave requirements.
In a recent case involving a pregnant employee, the MCAD awarded an employee almost $25,000 in damages after finding that the employer had taken adverse employment action against the employee based on her pregnant status. In Sally Scaife v. Florence Pizza Factory, the MCAD found that, despite the employee’s positive work-performance reviews, the employer cut her hours upon learning that the employee was pregnant. The MCAD found that, as her pregnancy started to show, her boss reduced her work, stating, “it was bad for her and bad for the business” if she mopped or lifted. When she contested, her boss grew frustrated and reduced her hours, and finally told her “not to come in for the next shift because … she was too big.”
In another recent case involving the MMLA, the MCAD awarded an employee $111,300 in back pay and $35,000 in emotional-distress damages. In Patricia D. Kane v. College Central Network, the employee mostly worked from home, as one of 10 employees in a national company. In April 2000, she started working full-time as a regional manager, and she became pregnant in July 2001. She requested maternity leave, and was told that she “could take four weeks maternity leave and receive compensation equal to one week’s salary.” She made use of that time, and also took five sick days. In time, she became pregnant again, and was told that she “could take no more than four weeks of maternity leave and could not use any sick time toward her maternity leave.” The company president started to divert work from her and to pressure her to return as soon as possible.
Before she delivered her second child, she requested a full eight-week unpaid leave and a transition period of three days a week thereafter. She gave birth on Oct. 7, 2003, and started her leave. During that time, her boss took actions to remove her from the company, including stopping the lease payments on her car, shutting off her work cell phone, and replacing her name in the newsletter.
When she tried to come back to work, she found she was locked out of the intranet and e-mail. Her boss later informed her that her regional office was being closed and she was being laid off. Based on the employer’s conduct, the MCAD awarded the employee back pay and emotional-distress damages.

The Family Medical Leave Act
Under federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to businesses that employ more than 50 employees. The FMLA provides for 12 weeks of leave to an employee, regardless of the gender, for the birth and care of a newborn child or care for a newly adopted or foster child, or leave for a serious illness.
Leave can either be for paternity, maternity, or specified personal health reasons, depending on the needs of the employee. Under the FMLA, employees are eligible for FMLA benefits if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave, and they work within 75 miles of the location of the business.

A Case for Both MMLA and FMLA
As you can see in the chart above, some of the parameters of MMLA and FMLA seem contradictory. In addition, there are some circumstances where an employee may be entitled to 20 weeks of leave. These circumstances include a pregnant employee who has experienced complications and is on bed rest. During this pre-birth period, the employee can make use of her FMLA leave because she is experiencing a serious illness. Once the employee gives birth, she may then use her MMLA, because it applies only for the purpose of giving birth. Under these circumstances, the employer must comply with both FMLA and MMLA.
If you are unsure whether MMLA, FMLA, or both apply to your employee’s circumstance, and given the possibility of a discrimination claim, you should be sure to consult with a lawyer who concentrates their practice in employment law to be sure that you are in compliance with the law.

Kevin V. Maltby is an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C. and a former prosecutor for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. He was named by SuperLawyers as a Rising Star from 2009 to 2011 in the field of employment and labor law, has extensive jury-trial and courtroom experience, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Legal Studies department at Bay Path College; (413) 781-0560; baconwilson.com/attorneys/maltby; bwlaw.blogs.com/employment_law_bits

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