According to a recent study by Business.org, the Tampa-St. Pete Metro ranks as “Best City for Women Entrepreneurs.” These rankings were based on factors such as: percentage of women-owned businesses, number of new businesses per 100,000 people, women-to-men pay difference and unemployment rate for women.
While this is great news for St. Pete and the rest of Tampa Bay, few would argue that women are fully empowered in the workplace, especially in large companies. Despite the decreasing disparity between men and women in the workplace, gender pay and outcome gaps still exist. There are a number of contributing variables to these discrepancies, including choice of employment, ability to work long hours, and willingness to ask for a promotion/pay raise, as well as bias.
The simple truth is, there is a long way to go. On Thursday night, the University of South Florida’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business gathered a timely and well-curated panel of business leaders from multiple business sectors to talk “Empowering Women at Work.” The 90-minute session shared professional insight from both male and female leaders, and provided a venue for those professionals to share advice with students on how to lift women up to lead in the workforce. The panel was comprised of a diverse group of leaders in the start-up, education, non-profit and finance fields. Each gave their perspective from their respective sector, age, gender and experience. Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the event, however, was the noticeable differences in attitude toward gender between the generations of women on the panel.
Before the panel began, the moderator shared four traits associated with success in the workplace: competitiveness, disagreeability, risk-taking and negotiating. Ascribing to these traits is typically associated with more masculine behavior, as men (in aggregate) tend to be more competitive, more risk-taking, less agreeable, and more apt to negotiate for better benefits or salary than women.
The panelists’ first question was to identify which traits they felt described them best. Rachel Carpenter, the young co-founder and CEO of Intrinio, a FinTech start-up, said that she identified with all of them. “I don’t think you can be a successful entrepreneur unless you are crazy,” she said. “You have to constantly negotiate for yourself, often not liked by people because you’re disrupting them and you’ve got to get used to it.,
An interesting contrast arose when Raymond James COO Kim Jenson came at the question from a different perspective. She argued in favor of agreeability. “I’ve been socialized, as a lot of women have, to care about whether people like us. I’m one of those, self-described. I think there’s a really important element there – it’s not a negative thing. You have power to get things done when you can bring people into your corner.”
It’s easy to imagine where these differences stem from. Jenson, who has worked her way up the corporate ladder and into the role of Chief Operating Officer at Raymond James over her nearly 40-year career in financial services, has had to work closely with male colleagues and mentors to get them in her “corner.”
Jenson says that “innate skills and strengths that women tend to have,” qualities like empathy and intuition, have guided her to have the right discussions with clients and helped her succeed in wealth management. She argues that financial advisement has evolved from an industry based solely on money, stocks and wealth into an industry about “families and futures,” tailored for women.
On the other hand Carpenter, a scrappy millennial entrepreneur, has been succeeding in the face of scarcity and skepticism from potential partners and investors since starting Intrinio four years ago. She’s done so by embodying the traits typically associated with masculinity. Arguably, launching a technology that disrupts an industry is an unlikely position from which to gain friends, especially as a female.
Brushing off negative interactions and learning to walk away from male clients or investors who don’t believe in her work or take her seriously has been a hard but valuable lesson for Carpenter, and she says it takes practice. “If you surround yourself with the right people, [gender] won’t matter,” she says, “to get into those circles, it is just 100 percent confidence and passion, and competence.”