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A powerhouse of women came together for our second Women’s Empowerment Panel to hear four SJ leaders discuss their personal experiences while on the road to success. The topic was “Power Redefined: Making your mark in a man’s world.” The conversation was riveting as the women shared their one-of-a-kind stories.

 

 

Mary Alice Williams
Anchor, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams

Leslie Anderson
Executive Director, New Jersey Redevelopment Authority

Susan Bass Levin
President/CEO, Cooper Foundation

Karen Buck
Head of Commercial, Retail and Payment Operations, TD Bank

Moderator:
Marianne Aleardi
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, SJ Magazine

 

On power

As an African-American woman, I was taught, “Don’t be too powerful. You cannot be out front.” I ignored that, and I embraced the power.

When you have power, if you don’t share it, you’re not going to be successful. The power has to be used for good, and it has to be used in an appropriate way. Use power to step on people to get to the next level, and you will meet them on your way down. And trust me, they will come after you.
Leslie Anderson

 

To the extent that you have power, it’s because you’ve invested in the people you’ve hired and let them do the jobs they’ve been hired to do. That’s what gives you power, because that’s what builds trust.
Mary Alice Williams

 

If you want to get something done, you need to have power. Power gets results. You use every tool at your disposal, whether it’s your intelligence, your relationships or your power. That’s a good thing.
Susan Bass Levin

 

On driving change for women

It is incumbent on all of us. We have to amplify our voice. If we know somebody is going through something or somebody’s voice isn’t being heard, together we have to say, “No, that’s not alright.” We can’t accept the double standard. We can’t accept the fact that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far. That’s ridiculous. If we’re all working together, supporting each other, we can drive real change.
Mary Alice Williams

 

Failure is tough. In 2000, I ran for Congress, and I lost pretty badly. A friend of mine told me losing builds character. And I thought, “I have enough character. I wanted to win the election.” I cried behind closed doors, a lot.

But you pick yourself up. You get back to work. A year or two later, I was asked to join the cabinet. I was in the cabinet of three governors; that never would have happened if I had won. I went on to other positions and then to Cooper, which has been a dream job. You never know where failure will take you.
Susan Bass Levin

 

I worked in a city, which I won’t name, and the new mayor came to a public council meeting and called me stupid. I was 31. I went home and laid on the couch for 24 hours, and then I got up and started making phone calls. One of my sorority sisters knew former Gov. Christie Whitman. So on my resume was that I graduated from Penn State, and Judy Shaw, who also graduated from Penn State, was Christie Whitman’s chief of staff. Needless to say, I got an interview, and I got a job.

It was probably the worst experience of my life, but I picked myself up. I had built a network. That’s a lesson. Get up, build a network, use it and take advantage of the next opportunity.
Leslie Anderson

 

I was running the brokerage business for what is now TD Ameritrade in Australia. One of our brokers made a huge error, causing a couple hundred-thousand-dollar loss. In the heat of the moment, a journalist called me, and I said, “We have it largely covered.” I was focused on making sure we minimized any impact to TD. But I didn’t appreciate what the impact was to the shareholders who had this stock. The next morning in the business section, there’s my face with the headline: “Buck says trade largely covered.” I looked like an idiot. I saved that newspaper so I would always be cognizant of the world around me. You have to recognize that when you’re in a leadership position, everybody’s watching you. You don’t want to be on the front page in a bad news story.
Karen Buck

 

You don’t learn anything from constant success. You learn when you make mistakes.
Mary Alice Williams

 

On crying at work

If you’re crying, if you’re angry, that’s not a way to lead. That’s not a way to get people inspired and follow you.
Karen Buck

I don’t care if you cry all the way to work and all the way home. When you get in the office, knock it off. Because that’s stereotypical for us.
Leslie Anderson

 

There’s no crying in baseball, government or business.
Susan Bass Levin

 

Business isn’t personal. If you keep it business, then you keep the emotion out.
Karen Buck

 

I was a COO of a gubernatorial campaign. There was a research operation led by a talented woman. Everyone who worked for her was a guy. And she would get emotional. I would tell her, “You’ve got to buck up.” One day I walked into their bullpen, and the guys are talking about “the crier,” which is what they had nicknamed her. I had to talk to them about respect, but all I kept thinking was how she made it easy for them. You’ve got to make it hard for them, not easy.
Susan Bass Levin

 

On confidence

I’m black. I’m a woman. When I walk into a room, it’s very rare that there are people who look like me. I don’t concern myself with that. I get in there and work. But I acknowledge it, because it’s a reality of my life.
Leslie Anderson

Don’t second-guess yourself. Trust that gut feeling you have, because it’s real. It’s absolutely real.
Leslie Anderson

 

 

On women in the C-suite

Women CEOs make companies more efficient. They bring other issues to the table. They recognize the need for diversity – male and female, race and religion, and sexual orientation. They recognize you get a better product when you have more voices around the table. There are studies done of women legislators and how they push forward issues like healthcare and childcare.
Susan Bass Levin

 

The most important lesson I learned covering Watergate was: follow the money. A study by Harvard Business Review just last year showed women in C-suites make companies more profitable. We make companies more profitable because of the way we work – we’re more collegial, and we have each other’s backs. Women tend to be more inclusive, tend to give credit where it is due instead of taking credit for themselves, and we tend to work in the context of a team and give everyone on the team credit.
Mary Alice Williams

 

On their personal lives

At any given point in time, something is going on in your life. If you have to step back, that’s fine. But it is critically important you stay in touch with your network. Because at some point, you’re going to want to go back. If you don’t stay in touch, you lose connection, you don’t have a road back. Just make sure you foster those relationships.
Karen Buck

 

My mother just had cancer. I have to tell you, when the doctor diagnosed it, it was tough. I called Commissioner Chuck Richman and said, “My mother has cancer. She’s 78. I need some time.” It wasn’t that he gave me the time, it was that I took it. And what I learned during that time was I had built an awesome team of people around me. So when I couldn’t, they could.
Leslie Anderson

 

I don’t think it’s about powering up or powering down, it’s about doing what’s right for you at any given point in time.
Susan Bass Levin

 

On mentors

Get good mentors. What I have is a great “board of directors” – Carla Harris says get a board of directors, because you’re not always in the room where it happens. If you can’t get in the room where it happens, be sure you have someone in the room for you. I had a mentor when I was 12. I didn’t understand what it was, but that’s exactly what I had. Someone saw something in me and said, “This kid is going places. Let me start honing her talent now.”
Leslie Anderson

 

I grew up sort of lost in a very male world. I did not have a mentor at all. I often felt alone in terms of what I was doing and where I was going. But I made it a point to mentor other women, literally hundreds – hire them, train them, mentor them.
Susan Bass Levin

 

 

On gender inequality

When I worked at a law firm, if my child was sick and I needed to take off, I couldn’t tell anybody why. I could be in a car accident and that would be OK, but my child being sick was not.
Susan Bass Levin

 

My team and I were in a meeting with this guy – it’s me and two African-American women – and he looks around and he says, “When is the person in charge coming to start the meeting?” So I used that as a time to educate. This dinosaur learned the world is different now.
Even to this day, this same man made an inappropriate comment about one of the female commissioners. He said, “She’s so beautiful. I’m so in love with her.” I said, “She’s a powerful woman. Stop talking about her like that. That’s not why she’s here. She’s not here to fulfill your fantasies. Knock it off.”
Leslie Anderson

 

I was a 16-year-old kid when I started reporting for NBC News. After I graduated from college, I was hired to be the executive producer of news in New York City. One of my writers was Charlie Rose, and I was only 22. I was the only girl. I mean, the only girl. I mean, the only girl in like, New York City! Nobody liked me that much, but the first thing I did: I made friends with all their wives, so everybody would know I was not a threat on that level, ever. I let everyone know I was there to organize the workflow.
Mary Alice Williams

 

I had two younger brothers, and my parents treated us the same. I went through college and law school, and I never gave a second thought to gender equality. Then I went to a very large Washington, D.C. law firm. I was girl number 13 – that’s how I was referred to, because I was the 13th woman at the firm. That was really the first time it hit me that, wow, things are different.
Susan Bass Levin

November 2017
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