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To begin our third annual Women’s Empowerment Series, hundreds of women and men joined us at The Mansion for an evening that began with networking and ended with an intimate conversation between four high-powered women. During the discussion, the successful SJ leaders shared their hard-earned insights, telling of personal struggles and professional successes. The evening’s topic was “Gutsy Goals: How you get to the top – and what it’s like when you get there.”

 

Lara Price
COO,
Philadelphia 76ers

Marla Meyers
Executive Director,
Samost Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey

Nyeema Watson, PhD
Associate Chancellor for Civic Engagement,
Rutgers University-Camden

Nikki Ariaratnam, MD
Women’s Imaging Specialist,
South Jersey Radiology Associates

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

 

On being gutsy…

You have to be tough. If you’re going to melt into a puddle of tears every time something doesn’t go your way, we all know that’s not going to work.
Nikki Ariaratnam

Sometimes it takes guts to take that first step. You have to take smart risks. Women always have to look at how we are perceived, and the steps we take have to be very calculated.
Lara Price

There are opportunities in your life where you’re going to have to push a little bit more than may feel comfortable, promote yourself more than may feel comfortable, speak up at a time when there’s a pause in the conversation and you have something good to say. But there also is a time when you shouldn’t be gutsy; you should sit back, assess the situation, see what the conversation is and decide, are the words I’m going to say really going to advance the conversation or am I just talking because I feel I need to talk.
Nikki Ariaratnam

These past couple of years, I’ve started to think, “I am gutsy. I am successful.” And I had to process what that meant for myself. So recently I started to say, “OK,
I do want to get to this higher level in higher education, and I have the ability to do so.”
Nyeema Watson

 

On their parents…

My mother shared a lot of pearls of wisdom with me. She was a psychiatrist in Cherry Hill, and she said there are three pillars: your career, your family/spouse/kids and your social life. She said you can have two at any given time. That doesn’t mean you can’t have all three pillars in your life. There’s a time and a place and a moment for each of the pillars. And it’s true, you can try and do all three halfway, but you can only do two exceptionally well.
Nikki Ariaratnam

My mom was a foster parent for 40 years. So we had 15 people, on average, in the house at any given time – foster kids. My grandmother was a foster parent; she adopted my mother. I was adopted. So I came from a nurturing environment of women who worked as caretakers – and worked really hard, but they didn’t have careers outside of the home.
Nyeema Watson

 

On taking risks…

When I was younger, I didn’t realize there was a glass ceiling. I just loved basketball, so I kept my nose to the grindstone. But I had to take risks. I moved from Colorado to New York, where I didn’t know one single person. I was 22. I took a pay cut and a title demotion. My parents thought I was crazy. But it was the best thing I ever did. Those are the kinds of risks you have to take and guts you need to have.
Lara Price

 

Working in a man’s world…

When I had gotten promoted to a director at my first job, I was sitting at a meeting. It hadn’t started yet, and this guy walks in and says, “Honey, can you get me some coffee?” And I said, “Sure.” So I went up and got the coffee. I sat the coffee down, and I said, “OK, let’s get the meeting started.” And I could see his face out of the corner of my eye…
Lara Price

There is this term I’ve been learning about: dependable backup. The idea is women are the No. 2 and seen as that person who helps to empower the men. In my old life, I worked with a couple of rabbis. They had an idea that they could handle all the visions of the organization, and I would be the dependable backup. There was a point in my career when I got really mad and said this is not OK. Eventually, I decided to move on to my own organization, one I could run. We have to be careful not to be seen as the dependable backup.
Marla Meyers

My husband is my peek into the world of men. He understands where women are coming from, and he understands a woman who works. He is an observer, and he tells me what he hears men saying. To this day, when he’s in conversations about hiring, some men will say, “What are her other commitments? Didn’t she just get married? Doesn’t she have an infant?” They’ll still talk about those things. It’s there.
Nikki Ariaratnam

If you act too tough and too strong, then it comes across that you are masculine and mean. It’s a constant balance. It’s about being who you are and knowing you’re smart enough to be there.
Lara Price

 

 

On having a family and a career…

Work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s work/life integration. If you think you’re having a balance when you have a career, I don’t know what planet you’re on. It’s unbalanced, and you have to figure out how to put the pieces together.
Marla Meyers

I was raised in a family where a woman’s job was to take care of her family and husband. I was one of the first in my immediate family to have a career. The women in my family would say to me, “You can do this. You need to be more than what I was – but you still need to take care of your husband and family.”
Nyeema Watson

One day my mother was very upset; I hadn’t called her in a week. She said to me, “You’re never around, and you’re always doing six things.” She was really hurt. And I thought, “Gee, something’s got to give.”
Marla Meyers

 

On making mistakes…

Last year my mother died, and my world stopped and I didn’t realize it. I was still showing up to work. I was physically present, but I made some huge errors, and I beat myself up. The chief of staff was like, “Your mother died. It’s a mistake, a bad one, but we’ll get over it. Be reflective about it; but don’t immediately think Nyeema can’t do her job anymore.” I had to come to grips with the fact that I can’t be perfect all the time. There are going to be times when you’re not going to be on all cylinders. That’s life.
Nyeema Watson

 

 

On work ethic…

I had a bit of a tumultuous childhood, and I realized I needed to figure things out so no matter what happens in my life, I can always take care of myself. So my work ethic went on overdrive. It was always about: How can I prove I’m valuable today and every day? I always did that in my jobs, and I was very loyal, very hardworking. Your work ethic goes deep, especially when you see it as a mode to survival.
Marla Meyers

Work ethic is a constant drive to do better, to make yourself better, to make the people around you better, to make the organization better. That’s what drives me.
Lara Price

 

On behaviors that hold women back…

Women believe you have to know absolutely everything about a job before you can apply for it. My fiancé knows very little about a lot, but he believes he can do anything. He’ll see something for me and say, “Why aren’t you applying for that? You can do that.” And I’m like, “No, I looked through all the qualifications, I only have 60 percent of them.” He’ll say, “You’re a fool.”
Nyeema Watson

The thing that is always held against women is we’re too emotional. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where the male will go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she cried. I can’t handle that.” It puts you at a disadvantage.
Lara Price

I think women often see themselves as having boundaries on what they can accomplish. A lot of men think they can conquer the world. Women need to start seeing themselves that way too.
Marla Meyers

 

On success…

Success is when your potential equals your achievement. I think I have far more potential left, and there’s a lot more I look to achieve.
Nikki Ariaratnam

Success is having enough courage to stand by my convictions.
Marla Meyers

My definition of success has changed as I’ve gone through the life change of losing my mother. I was so driven and not paying much attention to my family; now I’m at a point where my life is integrated. I know I don’t have to be at the top all the time. I need to make space for other things that will sustain me.
Nyeema Watson

You can lose yourself on your quest to be successful. The higher you go, the more commitment you give, because you’re constantly driving to get success. But when does it end? Is it money? Is it title? I get to the point where I say, “OK, I’ve done a lot, but then I think, ‘Is there more I could do?’”
Lara Price

 

On motivation…

When I realize people might doubt me, people might think, “Oh, she’s so young” or, “Oh, she’s here because she’s black or because she’s from Camden.” If people think I can’t do this – and I know I can, and I know I’m smart – that reminds me I have to always keep it on 100.
Nyeema Watson

My mom came from India to New York City in 1969. The work ethic of an immigrant family is very familiar to a lot of us. I always knew that whatever my parents did, whatever sacrifices they made, they made because they wanted me to have a good life here. That motivates me.
Nikki Ariaratnam

 

October 2017
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