Aim High and Pay it Forward: Women’s History Month Roundtable
What advice would you give to women who are just beginning to navigate their careers, particularly in a male-dominated industries like real estate and technology?
Josephine (Jo) Scesney, Finance: My advice to women and men is the same: Be who you are, be good at it and make sure you’re not confused in terms of what you aspire to be. For example, some sides of the real estate private equity industry, like investor relations and acquisitions, can be considered “sexier” than others. I’ve steered away from those areas because I know they’re not something I’m good at — I found my place in the “middle office” (finance and operations) because it’s where I excelled. So I give similar advice to all men and women: Aim really high, but always make sure to set expectations and have balance. And have fun!
Doris Ip, Engineering: I agree with Jo. I don’t give advice based on gender because this advice is applicable to anyone. As an engineer, I expect someone who’s just beginning their career to try to learn from as many people as possible. Everyone has something to bring to the table — we should continue to learn from each and every individual we work with.
I do think that as a female engineer, there’s a certain pressure to be a role model for others. More junior members on the team might see the work I lead and aspire to hold a similar position one day, so I need to set a good example for them.
Josephine: I agree — there is a certain sense of responsibility. I have to keep in mind that just because I feel comfortable in certain work situations, someone who has less experience may not. It’s my duty to help them understand the ins-and-outs of this industry and how to succeed.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Eva Weng, Acquisitions: The best advice I’ve received is to think like an owner. And as Doris mentioned, try to learn from the people you work with. Not only will you grow, you’ll motivate others to perform at a higher level.
Doris: I agree with being an owner. This means that very often I don’t have to be given responsibilities — I try to begin projects on my own initiative without being asked.
Cherice Allen, Executive Assistant to the CEO: You don’t want to be in a position where people need to ask you to do things, you want to be proactive and show that you can anticipate the ask. I think that’s an important goal for anybody in any industry.
Is there a particular experience that has influenced you throughout your journey?
Cherice: At my first job out of college, I experienced the power of professional women first-hand while working on the public affairs team at a television network. Early on, those incredible women showed me how to feel empowered and how to take that energy and apply it to any industry.
In that role, I learned to always speak up and to make sure my voice is heard. You never know who may not have the courage to speak, so seeing someone in my position voice their opinion is encouraging for others.
What challenges have you faced as professional women and how did you overcome them?
Josephine: Earlier in my career, I reported to someone who wasn’t sure what they wanted for their own future and so she certainly wasn’t focusing on my career growth. This put me in an awkward position because I respected her tremendously, but I felt like I was being held back at a crucial point in my career where people expected me to step up to the plate. So I did a lot of soul searching, put my script together, and met with the head of the department to present my case for a promotion.
I was very nervous that the department head would have a negative reaction, but he was thrilled with my approach — especially because I came very prepared and because I didn’t disparage my boss in the process. Ultimately, my confidence gave him the confidence to push me to the next level. It definitely taught me a great lesson: Speak up!
Cherice: In my previous role as a publicist, I took a step back to evaluate my life, my career trajectory, and the hours I was working. At the time, I spent 12 to 14 hours per day in the office. I was constantly on the phone and constantly on the go. I asked myself, “Is this the life I really want?” I liked the results that I achieved for my clients, but I didn’t like the fact that I was newly married and figuring out if I wanted a family and a better work-life balance — I needed to reconcile what was more important.
I made the decision to become an executive assistant as a way to achieve more work-life balance. I still get the same level of fulfillment, but now it feels like I have a partnership instead of a roster of clients. Plus, it allows me to maintain a better partnership at home, too. Achieving this balance was the key to my happiness — I became a better person when I realized that I needed to ask for less that and more this.
On the topic of work-life balance, finance, tech and real estate can be grueling industries. How do you manage to carve out time for yourself?
Josephine: Work-life balance is incredibly important — it’s what keeps me happy. There is a rule I set in stone many years ago as a young professional, that is I will work hard, but I have a responsibility to myself and my family. So, I made a commitment that every Friday night, I’m going to leave the office on time and meet my husband for “date night.” So now, my colleagues laugh and say “Jo, it’s Friday night, it’s a date night!,” because they all know! My work hasn’t suffered because of this, and it’s made me a very balanced, happy person.
Doris: As I grow older, I realize how important my physical and mental health is. Not having a good work-life balance actually has a negative effect on my well-being.
Eva: What I like about life at Cadre is that we celebrate women, we have events in the office, and people stay after-hours to socialize — it’s a way to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level and crucial to making sure you can even have a work-life balance at work.
Doris: That’s true, and it’s during these office gatherings that employees have a lot of productive work conversations and ideas are born. It’s an informal setting where people are often more comfortable showing their personalities than if they were in a formal meeting. Afterwards, you realize that you’ve fostered a better relationship with your coworkers.
On the topic of building professional relationships, how has mentorship affected your career?
Josephine: The one thing that has helped me the most is having multiple mentors. I’m incredibly blessed that I have a network of people that I’ve been able to reach out to for anything. Whether it’s a question about navigating through a really challenging period or about work-life balance, these mentors have helped me along the way. They’ve taught me the responsibility and importance of mentoring others, too.
Where can people who are just starting out in their careers look for mentorship opportunities?
Josephine: My mentors have primarily been people that I’ve worked with — not just in my group, but from different departments as well. I was fortunate that my job function touched many different areas, so I latched on to people who I felt were not just smart, but had balance, too. I aspired to be more like them because I loved the way they managed processes and people, and because they were very grounded.
In the past, I’ve been very honest about wanting a mentor and said “You know, I really enjoy working with you, but I would really love to take it to another level and create a mentorship relationship.” Fortunately, they felt the same way! But I do notice some young people aren’t always comfortable connecting with others, so I specifically reach out to them and offer to grab coffee and chat about their goals. It’s a double responsibility — it’s not just up to the mentee, it’s up to someone like me who’s been in their shoes and tremendously benefited from it.
Cherice: Joining professional networking groups are another great way to network and connect with others in your industry. When I worked in public relations, I joined NAMIC (National Association of Minorities In Communication). I met some really amazing men and women who I’m still connected with. It was a matter of approaching them at an event and saying, “Hey, I’d love to learn more about you.” Sometimes you have to be a little bit more proactive, but these networking groups are a good buffer because it puts people with the same interests as you in the same room.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, what are your hopes for the future when it comes to gender equality? How can women and men work together toward this?
Doris: Last summer, a couple of engineers spent the day teaching high school-aged girls how to code through Kode with Klossy. I was shocked by how many girls participated, because when I was in high school, very few of my female peers were interested in engineering. I like to think that discussing my past gave those young women the confidence to pursue this field. We have a lot of male engineers, but I’m optimistic that the number of females will quickly grow.
Josephine: I look forward to the day where you don’t need to have forums like this! They highlight the fact that there’s still work to be done, so I’m waiting and hopeful for a future when equality is no longer an issue.
Cherice: I agree with Jo’s sentiments, especially as a woman of color. My hope for the future is that when my daughter is my age (and taking over the world as I expect her to do!) that people don’t see her as just a woman, or just a woman of color. I want people to look at her and see a powerful person who we should all support. I hope people see the qualities, merits, achievements and hard work that a person accomplishes — not their gender, their color, or any other qualifier.