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How to succeed in business while being a woman: Montclair University hosts lively panel discussion on entrepreneurship during weeklong celebration

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Leecia Eve of Verizon (left), Michellene Davis of RWJ Barnabas and Michele Siekerka of the NJ Business & Industry Association (below) answer questions during the Women Entrepreneurship conference.
Leecia Eve of Verizon (left), Michellene Davis of RWJ Barnabas and Michele Siekerka of the NJ Business & Industry Association (below) answer questions during the Women Entrepreneurship conference. - ()

Entrepreneurship in the C-Suite was a topic of the day at Montclair University's Women in Entrepreneurship Week, one of many state-wide celebrations of female business leadership held the third week of October.

Students, business leaders and entrepreneurs from all industries across the tri-state area came together for a lively two-day discussion about what it takes for women to succeed in business. A variety of panel discussions and networking opportunities brought attendees to the table to hash out topics such as passion in the workplace, managing risk, overcoming obstacles and the benefits of rising to the C-Suite.

The “Entrepreneurship in the C-Suite” panel included Michellene Davis, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer of RWJBarnabas; Leecia Eve, vice president of government affairs for the tri-state region of Verizon; Michele Sierkerka, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association; and Judy Spires, CEO of Kings Supermarkets. Kimberly Weisul, editor at large for Inc., was the moderator. Here are some of the highlights from the panel:

What Does Being an Entrepreneur in the C-Suite Mean to You?

Sierkerka: “It means being a passionate leader. When you care about what you are doing, it leads to success.”

Eve: “It means not being unduly fearful with regard to risk. You are going to be successful if you focus on being the disruptor. To do that, you have to lead change. Don’t allow fear to prevent you from taking necessary risks.”

Davis: “Being an entrepreneur in the C-Suite means being authentic. You need to understand the balance between risk and creating a safe space where you and your team can thrive.”

How Can Women Be Successful in the C-Suite?

Davis: “It’s about going beyond the goal to meet needs. You need to find out what you need to master and go do it. You can’t be afraid to be the unicorn in the room. People will raise eyebrows and even chuckle. But when it comes down to it, the right people will be there to applaud your success.”

Spires: “never compare yourself to anyone else. You must create your own roadmap. The old “sticks and stones” adage is very true. As long as you have passion, and you know where you are going, get started and go do it. Never lose sight of where you are headed.”

How Do You Get Comfortable with Risk?

Eve: “I don’t think you ever can be completely comfortable with risk, and that’s OK. The best board meetings are the ones where everyone feels a little uncomfortable because discomfort and fear can encourage debate. You have to be willing to embrace risk to succeed and move forward.”

Davis: “Lean into it. Don’t listen too much to the voice inside your head. When you find something that feels like a trial or tribulation, run toward it. If you back away, you won’t be permitting yourself to grow. Quite frankly, if it scares you half to death it’s probably a great opportunity. There are times when you are pushed kicking and screaming into your purpose. People don’t just wake up there.”

Spires: “Anything that keeps you awake and night and makes you lose sleep is a call to action. It means you already know the right thing to do. Take action whether it means making a proposal, letting someone go, or anything else.”

How Do You Take a Crazy Idea and Make It Sound Reasonable?

Spires: “If you have ambitious goals, and you should, you must have plans in place. Big ideas go big places and little ideas go little places. Put the intention out there, verbalize it and then you work to make it happen. Don’t keep those ideas inside.”

Sierkerka: “Have you ever said something and realized no one was hearing it? Then, someone else says it and everyone gravitates toward that idea? That’s happen to me many times, but no more. Now, I won’t let anyone forget I was the first to put an idea out there. Never be afraid to take credit for your ideas.”

Davis: “It’s all about communicating with grace. People either respond to your ideas with affinity or naysaying. But when someone else denigrates your idea, I feel you should view it that they just want to be more like you. Who wouldn’t want to be like the person who always comes up with the next great idea? Include those people in your communications and they will come around.”

Eve: “There are always so many small steps to take. If you feel it’s the right thing to do, start taking the steps. Not everyone embraces change the same way and many people are fearful of failure. But if you think your idea has enough upsides, use your leadership to affect change. And, if you fail, fail fast, and move forward.”

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