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Women to Watch

by Michelle Boyles; select photography by Alison Dunlap

In 2016, it’s almost hard to believe that there was a time in our history when women were not a part of the workforce. Today, it would be surprising to find a workplace that did not include female staff members. Indeed, our 2016 Women to Watch are active across a range of industries and positions, and they are making a significant impact on our area’s economy. Here, we present a snapshot of their experience as well as insights on how the landscape has changed for female professionals and advice for other women on entering and conquering the field.

Denise McKnight
Partner, Friedman LLP

McKnight, a partner at Friedman LLP, has close to 20 years of experience in public accounting. She provides accounting, auditing and tax services to numerous clients in a variety of industries including, but not limited to, not-for-profit organizations, precious metal refiners, professional service corporations and distributions and manufacturing companies.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I feel my greatest challenge has been to be heard and to be taken seriously. I have always looked young for my age and I am often the only woman at the table in meetings. I have had to work hard to speak up and be heard.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
When I speak to young women professionals and we talk about their career path, I tell them to make sure that they love the work that they are doing. We spend so much time working, time that we all could be spending with our families, so be sure to choose a career that you love. It won’t always be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Jane Scaccetti, CPA, MT, PFS
Shareholder, Drucker & Scaccetti

A lifelong Philadelphian, Scaccetti has been a practicing CPA since 1977. She has extensive experience in tax and financial services for the family-owned and entrepreneurially driven business. Scaccetti consults with public and privately owned companies and provides financial counseling to both corporate and individuals. As CEO, she leads over 70 employees plus two active affiliates and related business operations. She is responsible for strategic initiatives, business development and professional career development while continuing to service complex family-owned and closely-held businesses.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
The professional landscape has changed since I started in my career. More women choose a career based on what they want for personal growth and satisfaction and not based on money. More are courageously reaching for family and career knowing they can do both. It’s about their personal happiness.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
Today, there are more successful women changing attitudes in the business world to support women with families and careers. And, that support is essential since there is still the current expectation that women will shoulder more than 50 percent of childcare, eldercare and care of the home. But, we are making progress every day.

Julie Coker Graham
President & CEO, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB)

Prior to being named to this position, Coker Graham served as the senior vice president of convention sales and managed a staff of 25 sales and service professionals at the PHLCVB responsible for selling the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center and Philadelphia’s hotel package to customers across the country. Coker Graham joined the PHLCVB after serving as general manager at Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career? Making tough business decisions after 9/11. The hospitality and tourism industry was hit extremely hard after 9/11 and travel was affected. As a result, I had to make very difficult business decisions that impacted many hourly employees. That experience made me a better leader.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
The business environment is extremely competitive, which requires using all available resources—higher education is a must, cultivate relationships that will benefit you personally and professionally and never be afraid to fail.

Grace Killelea
CEO & Founder, Half the Sky Leadership

A seasoned human resource and talent executive, Killelea’s work rests on what she has identified as the four cornerstones of leadership: relationships, reputation, results and resilience. Whether she’s captivating audiences or coaching one-on-one, her leadership inspires change. A veteran of the telecommunications industry, Killelea served as senior vice president of talent and the first-ever vice president of talent management and leadership diversity at Comcast Cable Corporation.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
My advice for these young women is: Show Up. Suit up. Speak Up. Stop apologizing. Start where you are. We have to show up with a voice. Stop seeking perfection and let progress be your guide. Decisiveness matters so over-thinking is not your friend.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
I came into the work world in the 1970s. There are some shifts in the landscape for working women but many things are the same. We know many women are not paid comparably to their male peers. It’s still difficult for women to break through in traditionally male functions like technology. I do see a powerful spike in women entrepreneurship and in women pushing up from the middle of the talent pipeline. There are more young women who have an expectation for equal treatment in the workplace and they are more and more vocal.

Rhonda S. Costello
Executive Vice President & Chief Retail Officer, Republic Bank

Costello is responsible for directing the success of Republic Bank’s store network. Additionally, she oversees cash management/government banking, consumer lending, store administration, human resources, learning and development, facilities and marketing. She spearheads the continued store network expansion for Republic Bank in the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey markets.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
Go for it—all of it. Take charge and ask for what you want and what you deserve. Have confidence. Ask for the promotion. Ask for the raise—you’ve worked hard for it and you’ve earned it.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
Today, more females attend and graduate from college and apply for and obtain previously male-dominated positions than ever before. While it is clear that we are still underrepresented at the executive level, women have—in many ways—experienced great advancement in the workforce. By continuing to educate ourselves and gain the knowledge and confidence needed to succeed in business, the fruits of our labor will be robust.

RoseAnn Rosenthal
President & CEO, Ben Franklin Tech Partners

Rosenthal, president, CEO and member of the board of directors of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP) since 1996, has over 40 years of experience in business investment, regional planning, and economic development. Praised by regional leaders as an invaluable resource for the tri-state area, she has earned a strong international reputation with her development of innovative partnerships and extraordinary initiatives.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
Over the years I have seen former misconceptions fade—not fade away—but fade. At the same time, women have become more empowered to set their own pace for how and to what degree they choose to engage. So, today, there is no one path; the route to professional success depends largely on the area one pursues. …And once chosen, women can be very competitive and highly successful.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
Ask for advice and help. Doing so is not a sign of weakness. And don’t “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Get going!

Maura Hesdon
Project Executive, Shoemaker

Hesdon provides executive management oversight through all phases of work, including project planning, estimating and bidding, onsite operations, contract administration, project close-out, commissioning and start-up. She maintains client relations and fosters strong relationships between project owners and design teams and the in-house preconstruction specialists and field operations teams. She also is an active participant in many industry organizations including serving as the current chair of the General Building Contractors Association’s Construction Leadership Council.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
Understand that you will always continue learning. Approach your career with confidence and ask questions when confronted with new concepts.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
The construction industry continues to be a non-traditional place for women; however, in the last 17 years we are recruiting more women than ever into all aspects of the industry from design and project management to the skilled trades.

Simi Kaplin Baer
Principal, Kaplin Stewart

Kaplin Baer is a principal of the firm and a member of the Real Estate Transactional Department. She concentrates her practice in the area of real estate, including acquisition and conveyance of property, acquisition and construction financing, retail and commercial leasing, condominium and planned community development and documentation and land development.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
One is that women backstab each other. Tough, competitive women are not necessarily backstabbers. The other is that you can’t curse in front of women. I’ve never seen a man apologize for foul language, except when there’s a woman in the room. That always makes me laugh.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
I have two pieces of advice: Forget the concept of “balance.” We hear so much about “work-life balance,” particularly as it relates to women. Balance is in an incredibly privileged concept, and, not exclusively to professional women. My husband struggles with issues similar to mine. Simply do the best you can do, for yourself, for your spouse for your family. Your priorities will be ever-shifting. Second; find your support system, or village, at home and in the office. Working and living collaboratively, finding colleagues who support me professionally and friends (particularly the parents of my children’s friends) who share the carpool, birthday party, field trip, sports team practice burden, have made my life possible.

TaraHemmer
Vice President, Waste Management’s Greater Mid-Atlantic Area

Hemmer has been vice president of Waste Management’s Greater Mid-Atlantic Area (GMA) since March 2012. The GMA includes the company’s operations in central and eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York City. She previously worked as Waste Management’s director of recycling operations, 2011 to 2012; special projects manager, 2007 to 2011; and as an engineer, 1999 to 2006. Hemmer worked as a consulting engineer from 1994 to 1998.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
The biggest challenge for me is overcoming self-doubt and understanding that I do have a seat at the table, that I am here for a reason, and that I have a valuable perspective. While I may not approach things in the same way as others do, it’s just as valid. That is something I really work on at the personal level, understanding my value and what I can contribute, keeping that top-of-mind and making sure I don’t self-sabotage.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
The professional landscape is a much more flexible environment than it ever was and there are many more opportunities for women in areas where women seldom worked before. The workplace is beginning to understand that having women in leadership roles can help grow the bottom line. There is a true burning platform for the need for women in the workforce and finding ways to keep women in the workplace and not lose their talent and contributions to the responsibilities that in the past kept women out of the workplace.

Susanne Svizeny
Executive Vice President, Wells Fargo

Svizeny is an executive vice president and division manager for Wells Fargo’s Regional Commercial Banking Offices located in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Western New York and Eastern Canada. She manages a team of commercial bankers who provide loan, treasury management and deposit products and services to companies with annual sales greater than $20 million. Active in the community, Svizeny serves on several boards and executive committees in the Philadelphia area and is a trustee of the board of The College of New Jersey.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
My biggest challenge has always been myself. Others saw skills and talents I possess before I personally realized them. I have learned the value and importance of taking inventory of one’s own knowledge, strengths, talents and relevancy and then to ensure you pursue new career opportunities that align with your objectives.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
That women are too emotional; however isn’t it amazing that we now focus on this as a strength in a leader. Most women possess a strong ability to be real and authentic in who they are, passionate about their opinions and commitments and they build loyalty through sincerely caring for their team members and their success.

Mary Stengel Austen
President & CEO of Tierney

With offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and New York City, Tierney serves clients representing a range of industry leaders including McDonald’s, PECO, TD Bank, Independence Blue Cross, AmerisourceBergen and Verizon. Stengel Austen serves on a number of nonprofit boards including Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (where she serves as chair of the board), Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
One of the biggest misconceptions about women is that we’re not as ambitious as men are, or that women want different things out of their lives and careers. The career and lifestyle choices that we face aren’t only a gender issue anymore; they can be generational. Just because a woman wants to have a successful career doesn’t mean that she doesn’t value family. We need to let women express their own individual paths based upon their priorities and interests.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
Fortunately more women have a seat at the table today, but there needs to be more women on boards directing companies’ enterprise-level strategic decisions. Corporate boards and company leadership should better reflect the constituents and consumers they serve. That will change as more women and men serve as advocates and sponsors for other women to take on those roles. Technology and connectivity have also enabled us to manage flexible career schedules.

Katlyn Grasso
Founder & CEO, GenHERation

In her role as CEO, Grasso has created the GenHERation Summer Leadership Series, developed original GenHERation webisodes and has grown the GenHERation community to reach more than 39,000 girls. She is a recent graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she received a B.S. in economics with concentrations in finance and strategic globalization. She is one of the inaugural recipients of the President’s Engagement Prize created by Dr. Amy Gutmann at the University of Pennsylvania.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I started my company while I was in college and found the greatest challenge to be finding a balance between work and school. The structure of academic life helped me learn how to prioritize my time as an entrepreneur and build a productive team.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
The professional world thinks that men and women are predisposed to have different leadership capabilities, but this has been scientifically proven to be untrue. The lack of women in the highest positions of power perpetuates this belief and inflicts self-doubt upon women in the pursuit of professional advancement.

Karen Robbins
Senior Vice President, Wealth Management at UBS Financial Services

Karen Robbins started her career with PaineWebber (now UBS) in 1991 and held roles in management and institutional consulting prior to becoming a financial advisor with UBS in 2002. Together with her business partner, she manages $550 million in assets, working primarily with high net-worth families. She is particularly passionate about financial planning for newly single or widowed women. Her goal is to empower women to be involved in their financial affairs, no matter their marital status.

What is the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
It all goes back to the misconception that women are too emotional and don’t focus on the nuts and bolts of investing. But our passion and emotions enable us to be better listeners, and the ability to connect and understand our clients is incredibly valuable. That passion allows women to broaden the industry's conversations and serve as more well-rounded advisors.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
When I began my professional career, women rarely held high-level professional positions—I was one of two female employees in our office of about 60. Now, I see more and more women at the senior-level of advising and money management, which has been an incredible change. We are finally in a place where businesses are not only more diverse, but inclusive of women, and the perspectives women bring to the table are recognized as valuable.

Lori F. Reiner
Partner-in-Charge, EisnerAmper Philadelphia practice

With over 25 years of experience, Reiner specializes in providing accounting, audit and advisory services to closely held and private equity-backed companies. Her industry expertise covers a wide spectrum of clients in large professional and other services companies, which include life sciences, advertising, marketing, staffing, technology and other business-to-business service organizations. She has been recognized by several organizations for her professional and personal contributions to the Philadelphia business and local community.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
I think there’s a misconception out there that women aren’t moving up in the ranks of leadership effectively. When I was promoted to partner in 2000, it truly was an exciting time for me since I was the first woman at the firm to become partner at the time. Fast forward to 2016, and there are several women in the partner ranks and many more in the partner pipeline. As more women are appointed to leadership positions, I think it’s important that we continue to cultivate the next generation of women. We need to empower younger women to make strides in the workforce and help them reach their goals.

What advice would you give to young women entering the business arena today?
I would say to stay in touch with all college friends and keep those relationships. As you grow in your career and they advance in theirs, there may come a time when you will be in a position to help each other.

Francine Friedman Griesing
Founder, Griesing Law

Griesing is a managing member of Griesing Law, a lawyer with almost 35 years of experience under her belt and has constantly succeeded in revolutionizing legal standards. After working for some of the largest law firms in the Northeast, she branched off from the mainstream attorney market and started her own firm, representing the diverse community of women in the legal workforce. Equipped with 10 strong female lawyers, Griesing Law represents some of the nation’s biggest companies and high profile cases.

What’s the biggest misconception about women in the professional world?
The biggest misconception is that women with children are less committed and less capable than male counterparts or women who are not raising families. Unfortunately, if a woman needs to have flexibility, work remotely or take time off to attend to children, employers and colleagues often question their dedication and their skill. Actually, it takes great commitment and focus to manage all our responsibilities and women often work more efficiently and effectively because they must do so to meet their varied obligations.

How has the professional landscape for women changed since you began working?
When I began working in 1981, there were virtually no women in top positions running things. At my first big law firm job in New York, the most senior woman lawyer only had four years of experience so there were no women partners to set an example or provide guidance on how to advance in the profession. Now many more women are in leadership, but there are still fewer than one would expect given our numbers in the workforce.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 3 (February, 2016).
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