Words to Live By: Part 2
"Un-Branding: Finding your place, using your voice."

We finally got to gather in person for our second Women’s Empowerment Panel. Once again, our panelists shared personal stories and hard-earned insights with an audience that was warm and welcoming. It’s funny, this was the first time we were all socially distanced, and there were fewer people than ever before, and yet, the impact and the meaning of the evening – well, that seemed bigger and better than ever.

 

 

Panelists

Christina Renna
President/CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey

Kimberly S. Reed
Global Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Strategist, Reed Development Group

Chantal Capodicasa
SVP/Regional VP of Commercial Banking, TD Bank

Michele Meyer-Shipp
Former Chief People & Culture Officer, Major League Baseball

Dianna Houenou
Chair, NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission

Moderator
Marianne Aleardi

Publisher & Editor-in-Chief SJ Magazine

 

On quarantine

I quarantined at home with my husband, who is a pilot, and my then-kindergartener, who was 6 years old, and my third grader, who was 8 at the time. And I continued to work. It was chaos. The only people I didn’t envy were people with toddlers, because at least you can tell a 6- and 8-year-old that mom’s working so go watch a movie.
Chantal Capodicasa

It was just me and my 4 walls, so that became a bit challenging. After about 3 weeks, it gets a little cuckoo. I paired with a former colleague of mine, who I worked really well with, and I used that person as my check. Like, let me know if I’m going at this the wrong way. It was good to have a colleague to help ground me and keep me centered on doing the work in the right way, pushing me in the right direction.
Dianna Houenou

How they’ve changed since the pandemic

I realized I was exhausted. Will I go back and resume all that again? Hell to the no. I had to hit pause, because as I’m watching the world go back to what it was, I realize I’m not who I was. I need to kind of stop, reassess, re-evaluate and do what matters most for me and my family.
Michele Meyer-Shipp

It changed our outlook on work, social interactions and life – all of it. And for me, January 2020 marked my transition to take over the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey from my predecessor, Deb DiLorenzo, who’s also my mentor. I had big shoes to fill. Then a pandemic hit. When that happens, you have no choice but to grow and expand, personally and professionally.
Christina Renna

I had a lot of self-reflection. I learned a lot about time and how valuable it is. Think about all the activities and events we went to all the time – some of it was not necessary. Think about what you do virtually now. And what was the outcome? You were still effective. So for me, the art of saying no started to become easier.
Kimberly S. Reed

I feel like I’m a better mom. As chaotic as it was, we were thankful for those moments with our kids because we never would have had that time. Even now, my kids get on the bus in the morning, and I see them off. They get home at 3:15, and I see them for a half hour. I give them a snack and they go play. I would never have had that time with them. We got to take a breath. It was difficult and stressful, and there were moments I wanted to pull out my hair, but it taught me more patience. It taught me to appreciate the balance.
Chantal Capodicasa

 

On racial injustice

I had 3 young Black men home in the wake of a social justice issue and pandemic. I watched them cry. These young men, who have the whole world in front of them, said to me, “I don’t know if I can survive this. You know, what if it’s me next?” I realized that my boys were living in fear.
Michele Meyer-Shipp

It was a very sad time for racial equality in our world. I didn’t know where the world was going.
Kimberly S. Reed

We were in waves of reiterating the value of Black lives, which have always been important. It’s nothing new. Nothing that has been said over the last 2 years is novel or hasn’t been said before.
Dianna Houenou

 

On leaving a job

At my last corporate job, I was making high 6 figures. My 2 mentors told me they were leaving the company, and our department was being dismantled. They said, “You’re a professional speaker. Go motivate the masses. Write books. Teach college. Do all the things you kind of do now. Step your whole foot in it.” I decided to live limitless, and I started the Reed Development Group. It was the best move I ever made for my peace, for my joy.
Kimberly S. Reed

I had been with one organization for 15 years. I started fresh out of college. I thought I would retire there, because I felt comfortable. They were going through some difficult changes, and I had four leaders for the last 4 years, but I still never saw myself leaving. I always saw the glass half full: It’s going to get better, we’re going to fix things. Then I got a call from a leader I deeply respected. He convinced me to make a move to TD. You don’t know sometimes if you’re making the right decision, but it was the best move I could have made.
Chantal Capodicasa

Years ago, I had an opportunity to leave a job I loved at the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go work for the governor of New Jersey. I was torn because I felt my heart and my future was with the Chamber. I felt like if I left, I was letting my mentors down. I told myself if I take this job, it will make me a stronger, better professional and I will learn things I would never learn at the Chamber. Then I’ll be able to take those lessons back to the Chamber and apply them. And I do that every day.
Christina Renna

I’ve actually quit 3 jobs. It’s interesting, I left one job and was asked to replace myself. Fast forward 10 years and the woman I hired is still there. To this day, she calls me and says if you didn’t have the honesty and the forthrightness to say you were not the right person to do this job and step out of the way, I never would have had the opportunity to grow with this organization.
Michele Meyer-Shipp

 

On sexism

I will never forget this. I was on a Zoom call with a CEO and his leadership team. It was close to the time for us to start our meeting, so I said, “Gentlemen, let’s get started. Let’s have a great conversation about what you’re looking to accomplish and why now.” One of the men picked his head up. He said, “We will not start until the CEO of Reed Development gets on the call.” What was my response? “Ok, we’ll wait.”
Kimberly S. Reed

I was in a meeting discussing directors who were ready to be promoted to vice presidents. There was 1 woman who I knew was qualified for a promotion, so I said, “What about Mary?” Mary’s boss said, “You know, she just had a baby. I’m guessing she’s not up for the challenge.” I thought, what makes you think she’s not ready, because as a mother of 3 kids, I can tell you, after the third one, I was ready to come back to work the next day. I said, “How about we ask her.” You should’ve seen their faces. And guess who got promoted? Mary.
Michele Meyer-Shipp

About 6 months or so after my second son was born, I had to work from home and take a PTO day twice when he had a fever and couldn’t go to daycare. It got back to me that a comment was made that I was distracted after having a second child and wasn’t doing my job. It caught me off guard that someone would try to sabotage me or try to hurt my brand. They were unsuccessful, but the experience was eye opening.
Chantal Capodicasa

 

On hard conversations

In baseball, we had guys last season in the bubble, for 6 weeks they left their families. Six weeks, they couldn’t leave the hotel. And then I’d have somebody I could totally relate to as a mom, who had little kids, saying to me, “Look, I can’t go in that bubble.” And I’d say, “Well if you can’t go in that bubble, there’s somebody else who can. And we just lost $3 billion, so I can’t afford to pay you, so I’m going to have to let you go.” But here’s the thing, if you don’t have the hard conversation up front, it will come back to bite you in the end, and then it will be even worse.
Michele Meyer-Shipp

Difficult conversations were much harder to have last year during the pandemic because everyone, whether they knew it or not, was not safe. Everyone was going through it. So you almost wanted to approach those conversations more delicately, but is that the best approach? I’m not saying I know the answer to that question. But difficult conversations were much harder last year.
Christina Renna

I was working in the governor’s office when the pandemic hit, and everyone was working nonstop. I’m sure this was prevalent across many workplaces, but everybody was tired. Everyone was overworked. Everybody’s frustrated. But that frustration can sometimes get in the way of having a productive conversation about tough issues. There were definitely a few times where I caught myself going from a level 3 to a level 8, and having to find ways to come back down.
Dianna Houenou

 

On speaking up

I’m comfortable speaking up when I know I’m speaking up for the right reasons, for the right people. Sometimes you don’t know how your message will be received. That’s a risk you take as a leader. It might not be happily received, but that’s a lesson as well. You learn from the reaction as much as you learn from the non-reaction.
Christina Renna

I was on a call, and we were getting called out for some things. And I said, “Could I just say something? We’re experiencing staffing issues, like every other organization. We genuinely care and want to get this right. We give a damn. But we need help, because I can’t do 2 things at once. What can you do to take some of this off our plates so we can dive head first into this program and get it right for our clients?” All of a sudden I hear ping, ping, ping, and leaders from all over, like in Fort Lauderdale, are messaging me saying thank you for speaking up, for having the courage. It was the best move I made. And then the leader who was on the call called me to comb through all the issues we needed to resolve and put a task force together to solve that. It was scary, but it was empowering.
Chantal Capodicasa

I’ve learned we can’t always rely on the same people to speak up all the time. If you are the one who speaks up on a regular basis, I support you every time you do. But if you’re somebody who doesn’t speak up on a regular basis, give that woman a break. Let her sit down.
Dianna Houenou

December 2021
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