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Inspire Inclusion | A Special Women’s Day Invitation

Mar 8, 2024
Beth Kieffer Leonard
Carol Surowiec
Mayor Christi Fraga
Courtney McCormick
Marcia Page

What better way to have spent International Women’s Day this year than by hearing from women who have reached the pinnacle of their professions?

This thought-provoking session focused on fostering inclusion and how to inspire others to recognize and value the importance of women's role in shaping a better world.


Carol Surowiec: Good morning everyone. My name is Carol Surowiec, and I'm the tax partner in the Miami office of EisnerAmper. I'm also the co-sponsor of the Latin Employee Network, which is one of the many employee resource groups here at the firm. I want to thank everyone for joining us today. This webinar is very special to my network and I, and I want to share with you some background on how this panel came to life. It all started because our Latin Employee Network wanted to host a panel of inspiring Latinas. Since today is International Women's Day, we decided to join forces with the women of EisnerAmper to include all women. What better way to celebrate our day. So with that being said, I want to introduce you to our moderator, Beth Leonard, who is the partner in charge of our Minnesota office. Thank you and I hope you enjoy our discussion today.

Beth Leonard: Thanks so much, Carol. It's a pleasure to be here. And as many always ask, how cold is it in Minnesota? It is not as a beautiful day. Good morning, and I really want to thank you all for joining us on International Women's Day. As you know, the theme for this year is to inspire inclusion. When we inspire others to understand and value women's inclusion, we forge a better world. And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment, and I'm sure all of you have felt that. Our panelists today come from varied backgrounds and experiences, which they will share with us. In our time together, we hope to inspire all of you with important insights that you can bring to your organizations and spread throughout your centers of influence. Before we delve into the questions for our panelists, I would like each of them to take a few moments to introduce themselves and share a bit about their inspired journey. First, we'll ask Christi Fraga to introduce herself.

Christi Fraga: Thank you, Beth. It's so wonderful to be with you all today and happy International Women's Day. I'm in Doral, Florida. I'm the mayor of the city of Doral, very honored to serve our beautiful city. I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I've been in public service now for 12 years, so I got involved very young. At a young age, I started at 23 years old, decided that it was better to be a part of the solution and a part of our community and leave it better than when we found it for our children and for those coming after us. Never thought I would be in politics, believe it or not. I actually studied accounting and finance at FIU and just had a great opportunity to impact my community in a different way. And we say we all have public service in some way. Some of us do it in our children's school, in our churches, in our communities, if you live in an association or giving back in some type of organization.

So my vehicle for public service has been being in a public office. I started as a councilwoman, served on the school board, and my journey has taken me now to be the first female mayor of the city of Doral. My parents are Cuban. I was actually born here, but we are Hispanic and it's just been an incredible opportunity to be able to be a woman in today, a Latina woman, Hispanic woman in a role like this where it's still very much a man's world, but to be able to have a voice and be able to take my ideas and my vision to a different level, impacting my city every single day. It's such an honor to be able to talk to other women, inspire other women, and continue to set a path for women to continue shattering glass ceilings. So that's a little bit about my story in a very, very condensed version so that everybody can have an opportunity to speak, but I'm humbled and honored to be able to be a part of this amazing panel today on International Women's Day.

Beth Leonard: Thank you so much, Christi. I think your story will continue to be inspiring and the first of anything is always important. And so I think that your journey and at such a short time frame will really resonate with everybody. Next, we're going to have Courtney McCormick introduce herself. Courtney.

Courtney McCormick: Hi, good morning. And I want to first say thank you to EisnerAmper for hosting this amazing forum. I'm so delighted to be a part of it. My name is Courtney McCormick. I am joining from New Jersey this morning. My role is I am a senior vice president for public service electric and gas. We are New Jersey's largest electric and gas utility. We own and operate nuclear power plants, and we're really at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. In my current role, I'm responsible for ensuring the ongoing resilience of the enterprise. I head up both the internal audit enterprise risk management and ethics and compliance functions. I joined the company as a corporate lawyer nearly 16 years ago and have held a variety of roles throughout the company.

I'm the mother of two young boys, and I think when I think about my journey and the concept of inspire inclusion, I want to pick up on a word that Beth used, which was relevance. I think really understanding the relevance of our roles to our organizations, how we make ourselves relevant within the organizations which we operate within our communities is really how we then can better inspire inclusion among other women. So I think that's something I'd really like to touch upon as we're talking today, but again, delighted to be here and really happy to be part of this panel.

Beth Leonard: Thank you, Courtney. Appreciate it, and I think we will really delve into the word relevance. And Marcia Page is our third panelist.

Marcia Page: Yes. Thank you, Beth and thanks to EisnerAmper for helping us celebrate Happy International Women's Day. Actually, I have to tell you, I immediately thought of my mother who was the first woman mayor in my hometown. Mind you, it was 2,500 people in Olivia, Minnesota, but it was still in the 70s and very influential to me. I'm the mother of three grown daughters who are all now launched in their careers as well. So nice to kind of get the personal piece immediately as we get this conversation started. Professionally, I founded an investment management firm called Värde Partners 30 years ago. Fast-forward to today, we're about a $13 billion AUM alternative investment management firm with the global footprint, and one of the few women who has in a male dominated business developed a track record over decades and built a firm to scale in this part of the business.

I moved, and I'm putting in air quotes, I retired and moved to the chair role of Värde Partners in 2016. I continue to chair Värde Partners, but that really was the inspiration for thinking about women in this business in a very differentiated way, which ultimately led to me founding yet another firm in 2020 called MPowered Capital, where we are really looking to bring capital and strategic advice to women and other underrepresented investing talent by helping them launch their firms and, or scale their businesses in the investment realm. So very pleased to be here and thank you very much, Beth, for including me.

Beth Leonard: Oh, absolutely. Thank you. As you can tell, each of these women is in a male dominated field, and I think that how you succeed will be part of what we talk about today. What I'd like everyone to talk about, and I think we'll do it in the reverse order, so we'll start with you, Marcia, is to give a few examples of ways that you have been inspired by others, because we know that someone had to inspire us to do what we're doing and where you've been included. As an addition, make sure that if you can give a story that will show how an encouragement by you were encouraged to include women and how impacted your organization. So you've been inspired by others, you inspire others going forward and give an example of how that happened.

Marcia Page: Yes. Thank you, Beth. So by the way, I came across a description of diversity and inclusion recently, and I like the idea of diversity being invited to the party, but inclusion being asked to dance. It's fun, it's activated. I have to say for the most part in my career, I have felt included and many, many people have been part of that. But I'm going to reflect on early in my career, which was a really transformation that ultimately helped me think about the career that I'm in was actually very much being included by a male sponsor. His name is Bob Lumpkins. It was in my first role at Cargill in Minneapolis. And for some reason early in my career, Bob took an interest in pushing me, I guess would be one way or giving me visibility to senior leadership, and that really happened by increasingly demanding projects.

And one of the projects he put to me was on a Friday afternoon and he called me and he said, "Marcia, do you know what a high-yield bond is?" Now mind you, this is over 30 years ago and it was a more nascent part of the market. I hedged my bets a little bit and suggested that I did, but basically in a stack of paper, back then it was paper, right, showed up on my desk, and I worked all weekend to familiarize myself with the underlying business and what a high-yield bond was. Came in Monday morning, presented the story to Bob and three other colleagues, and they went out and bought 5 million of bonds on my recommendation. I was 25 years old, and what it resulted in was me moving from a financial analyst wall in and amongst a lot of quiet cubicles to this dynamic trading desk at Cargill.

And it really was the first opportunity that I had to be part of something where we were all learning together. It was very global group, it was very diverse, and it absolutely transformed my career and moved me from what I was doing into the investing role. And again, being part of something very dynamic and part of a trading desk where I felt included was really a dramatic part of thinking about how my career moved over time. And I guess what I'm doing today, and I think we'll be talking a little bit more about it, is actually paying it forward. I know that that's a little bit cliche, but literally by founding a firm that is seeking to help other women that have great investing experience, be able to launch their own businesses and, or scale their investment management firms, and that is what gets me up every day.

Beth Leonard: Thanks, Marcia. Courtney, same question.

Courtney McCormick: Yeah. So I mean I think I would just pick up on something that Marcia said, similar with some folks coming to you early and inviting you in. I love that concept. I love the idea of being invited not only into the party but also to dance. I'd say for me, it's been a lot of a personal touch. Early on, I had the opportunity to move into a variety of different roles within my company, all of which really required me to stretch. And I've had the opportunity to move into areas where I had little to no experience, but folks were willing to take a risk on me. But I'd say where I felt the most included, and it's such a subtle small interaction, but it really still probably occurred maybe something like 12 years ago, but always has stuck me to this day. A woman who was more senior, her name was Pat McLaughlin, she was the head of internal audit at the time.

She took me aside and just said, "Really, this is what you need to do. Here's what we think you need to work on, but here's what we think you do really well." And she pointed out a couple of things which was just so impactful to me that she took the time to take me aside, recognize, and encourage. And so I think what I try and do in terms of ensuring inclusion is sometimes just that, just those touch points with the women in your organization, the women across the folks you're working with, that you let them know that they're seen, that you do see them, and that you see the value in them, and that they see the opportunity and this prospects and be there for them to sort of, and here's how I would suggest that these are the next steps you need to get to whatever your next level is. So sometimes it's even just outside the broader programmatic things that we have at a number of our companies or within our functions to just even the subtle but intentional reach out to the women that you're interacting with.

Beth Leonard: It is a lot of it really is, we call it when people go on the golf course, what's discussed behind the scenes, it's the informal relationships that truly end up making a difference and I think we should seek them out. Christi.

Christi Fraga: Yeah. So in my case, like I said, I never thought I'd be in politics. I was doing accounting and working with someone that today is a business partner and someone that I had been introduced to and was kind of just learning property management and finance, which is what I kind of decided to go into through accounting. I was running the accounting department of this real estate company and I was very young, but this person saw a lot of potential in me and kind of just encouraged a lot of those attributes and let me have a lot of freedom in decision making and moving forward and was involved in our city's initial years of incorporation. He kind of pushed me into it. He was like, "I think you would be great for public office." And it all started with working on a project on a building that we owned that had a lot of flooding issues.

And he's like, "I want you to go to the city and kind of see if you can get involved and find a way to fix this issue." And so I started to speak to people. I got involved in an organization which was the Doral Merchants Association. I actually did the accounting for them for a long time, pro bonos where I didn't charge and just kind of got involved and he was like, "You need to run for office, need to run for office." And then I guess the other side on the woman's side, it was my grandmother's voice on the inside who left her country and really suffered a lot of things where she couldn't be involved in politics and she was never a political person, but she was a very opinionated person until this day, very opinionated in our family. We say she just has no filter.

And I guess she was my inspiration to be a part of the solution. And if I could help and be a part of my community and have an opportunity where my family left and oppressed government, and here, I had an opportunity to be a part of those solutions. So it's a saying, which is in Spanish that she used to say, but it always stuck with me and I say it and it's very impactful. Many times it's better to be useful than important, and that always kind of stuck with me. In Spanish, it's mejor ser útil que importante. And that was kind of I guess where it all clicked for me, the push from the person who saw the potential and then my grandmother's words and inspiration of man, my family couldn't do this in their country. They left and sacrificed so much for us to be able to do it here.

And so never thought I'd do it, but here I am and I found a passion that I didn't know I had. I absolutely love what I do and I'm blessed, and I thank God every day for being able to do this, because I wake up and I pinch myself that I'm able to do what I love. And then, of course, the support of my family and my husband, which I would not be able to do it either without them and them seeing the potential and the passion and my ability to foster change in our communities. I have really tried to be a person and I didn't have a female mentor in the political world. I came in and I'll tell you, I was more underestimated by my age than being female. So I started very young, so I was more underestimated because of the age I was coming into and I didn't have the experience, but I learned a lot.

I learned a lot and I learned to listen and be patient a lot. And so I have tried to incorporate encouragement and identifying talents in others, particularly young women to foster. And so that's what I've tried to encourage in my team. That's what I surround myself with, not that we don't have great men also involved in our organization, but I really tried to give an opportunity where, or give freedoms, liberties and encourage innovation in women younger or that maybe didn't have the experience, but I saw something in them and give them that opportunity that maybe someone underestimated in me even though I was given the opportunity. And for that, I'm very grateful.

Beth Leonard: It's interesting when you think about kind of themes, even from this first question, it's really like someone tapped you on the shoulder, somebody inspired you, whether it's a family member or some person in an organization, and then you realized how that felt and how important that was to giving you the confidence and the encouragement to move forward. I think those are all really important attributes that we don't really talk about when we're trying to do some leadership development. So when we talk about when women are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging. I think you've all touched on it briefly about there's a sense of belonging, there's a sense of relevance, and there's a sense of empowerment. How has that sense of belonging made a difference in how you lead? And give us an example of how when you felt included, you've given some good examples of things that have happened, but what did it feel like when you were included? I'm going to go to Courtney first.

Courtney McCormick: Sure. So I'd say the sense of relevance by virtue of being included, I feel like it really allows you to lead from a place of confidence to lead from a place of really feeling assured and what you're doing. And I'll just reflect on my current role. Part of my job is I'm really responsible for whether it's through the audit function, the compliance function, the risk function for identifying all of the risks facing the organization, ensuring that we've got appropriate controls, ensuring that we've got good programs to prevent, detect, and address wrongdoing, ensuring that we've got a good line of sight into what's going on outside the world and putting ourselves in the best position possible to address and mitigate any external risks of which there are many in our industry. So I'd say by virtue of being included, by virtue of being put in this role, I was given a lot of support from my board of directors.

This is a very board-facing role, and it's one where it's not easy obviously. Sometimes you're in a more antagonistic position with folks that I used to work with in different ways, maybe as a corporate lawyer or maybe as the head of one of our business units. And so having the support from the board and feeling included in these really important conversations is what has allowed me to do my job as effectively as possible, because I'm coming from a place of strength and I'm coming from a place of confidence. So that's really where I think that the support that the more senior folks can provide for you in turn pays dividends, in terms of how your leadership confidence develops, and you find your voice and you figure out your vision for any given function.

Beth Leonard: Marcia, I'm going to turn this a little bit for you because of what you're doing with MPowered, and I think it's really talk about how you've led and been inspired and how you are trying to make a difference and make women be relevant in an area that has very little women succeeding in it at this point.

Marcia Page: Yeah, well maybe to provide a little bit of context for that, Beth, just to give people a feeling for the representation in the financial services industry. And mind you, I didn't really come across this until I retired in 2016 and had the opportunity to actually look up and see how little change had happened or what it felt like as little change since I had started in the business and really started researching it. It is in fact going to take us likely until 2048 for women to represent 30% of senior leadership and financial services globally in the alternatives industry of which I'm particularly involved in. Senior women represent roughly 10% of leadership roles. When you think about the amount of capital that is being managed by women and other underrepresented talent, it's actually only 1.4% of 82 trillion in U.S. institutionally run assets. So 1.4% of assets are really being managed by women and other underrepresented talent in this space at this point in time.

I think it was just an, for me, even late in my career, just eye-opening numbers and also internally at Värde, the organization that I had founded and believed had a really inclusive culture, also had similar numbers. So it really prompted an enormous amount of research around how does that actually happen. How do we revert to the mean even in organizations where we believe we've got great leadership and culture? And the first piece organizationally at Värde was really building in and hardwiring the organization to mitigate bias through our talent management processes from hiring to promotion practices.

And that then inspiring additional research around how you might be able to actually see a potential commercial opportunity in this. And for me, it became evident when you recognize that there's research that diverse teams tend to outperform their non-diverse peers. And the fact that there was so little capital moving to this amazing talent that there was actually an opportunity to achieve commercial success and a superior risk adjusted returns, and that's really what prompted MPowered Capital. So what we're doing is really working with exceptional talent to help them in effect launch or scale their investment management firms. And the ultimate goal is to start moving capital in a much more accelerated and intentional way to this group of talent. And that's what I'm doing every single day. So the attention still on the organizational hardwiring at Värde and then MPowered is really about bringing capital to that talent.

Beth Leonard: I think it's so important. We think we've come far and then we take a look and I think again, in financial services, some of the other areas, obviously politics, it's still, we need to have more representation. And I think it goes two ways. One is we have to support others and then they have to support us. I think it's a two-way street, and I think your focus on that is really important. Christi, I'm going to turn a different question to you because you mentioned it a little bit when you're talking about developing your team. I just think that on an organizational or group basis, there are many ways to ensure the needs and interests and aspirations of women and girls are valued and included. How have you thought about recruiting, retaining, and developing female talent? I think we'll have this go for everybody, but I really think that this is an important thing, because you talked about it, and then how have you made sure that others understand how important it's for them to lead that way?

Christi Fraga:I'm not going to tell you that I've sat here and been like I have to have all women. It's just been that the women that have come have been the right person for the job every time. And so from the city manager to the attorney, I chose to my direct team, there's a lot of women leading in our city. And again, it's been more about the qualifications of what we're looking for at this moment in this very important time that our history that our city is in its transitional form. It's a constant evolution where in a lot of redevelopment phase, building our parks for infrastructure. And so it's just been women in these roles that have fit in very, very well into the organization right now of the city. And in particularly, I have been intentional though in building my direct team to give people an opportunity who maybe had not been doing this before.

So maybe instead of looking for the person that had all this experience, for example, in my social media team, which I actually created a position called the community outreach coordinator, which is really in an essence, someone who engages the community. I should say, I want to govern with the people and I want to make sure that they're the ones that are in control, and I'm the vehicle to make sure that that vision for the city is being carried out. And so I created this position, which is supposed to be a two-way communication with our community at all times as much as possible. And social media, things like this have given us the opportunity to do that. So for example, after my council meetings, I have a update that I do on social media and then I open it up to a live where I engage with people directly, and they join the live and ask questions.

It's kind of like an open, and my door is always open type thing. So I hired someone in that position who had never done that job, but just showed me so much passion and drive for the community, and it was the best decision I ever made. Very, very young, the list of candidates and qualified people, and even the panel that I had put together to choose had ranked this person almost last, but I saw something and it was probably the best decision I made. And so those are the moments where you look at, looking deeper beyond just what's on paper. And those things are important too, but it's intentionally building a team with a purpose. I've always been one also to want to develop a team around me that is better than me, because I think that that's how you become better. I always say that if you walk into a room and you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. So that's definitely how I try to formulate the team around me.

Beth Leonard: That's great. Courtney, same question. I think this is one of those.

Courtney McCormick: And maybe what I'll do is focus on the retaining piece of the question, if that's okay. Because I think the way I've been thinking about it a lot is interceding early with talented women, recognizing that too often women take themselves out of the game too early, particularly if they're getting married, if they're having a broader family or having children. So many questions that I've gotten throughout my career is, how did you achieve work-life balance? How did you do it? How did you manage it? And I think the answer sometimes is just you can do it. Don't take yourself out of the game too early. Yes, you have to have the appropriate support. Yes, you have to have the appropriate support from both your organization, maybe from your family, but just don't assume that you have to go on a different track or a different path because there might be things in your life that you want that are broader than your career.

So I like to try and get together with the women that I do see across my organization who I recognize as being talented, who have come to me in many instances and just really kind of give them the space and provide, I hate to say it, but even just sort of modeling the behavior. I've managed to do it. It's been 16, however many years, 24 years of a career now. I've had tremendous support from my family, from my organization. It's achievable and you can achieve it. And sometimes I think people just need that reminder and maybe a sounding board and maybe a place to come and talk about it if they are struggling with a given area. One of the things I know we all talk about a lot is the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, and that's something that comes up a lot. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to do a little bit of both, right?

And recognize that they're two different things. I think of mentorship as being the sounding board, helping people think through problems. And then the sponsorship is somewhat, again, what Marcia described, the maybe inviting people to dance at the party, even behind the scenes. So pushing people forward, ensuring that the list of key projects include women's name. Ensuring that when we're looking at how our performance evaluations all came out and our rankings, gee, why are all these men at the highest level and not these women? What's going on organizationally? So I think by virtue of doing a little bit of both, we can do a better job of the retention part of the puzzle.

Beth Leonard: It's interesting. I have an experience just came back to me that was very evident. So before we joined EisnerAmper, I was the managing partner for Furman Minneapolis and my COO was also a woman, but we had an excellent executive committee and there was three other men on it. And we always got along, but we were working on our high potential group and there were two women. The two guys said, "Well, they have young families, so I don't think that they're going to be interested right now." And we looked at them and said, "You guys are the most emancipated men we know. You have a CEO and a COO that are women, and that's still the way you think. Why don't we ask them what they think and let them select?" And they're like, "Oh." I said, "These are the biases that come out just not on purpose. It's not on purpose."

Courtney McCormick: Completely.

Beth Leonard: But you have to be in the room to at least, and I don't mean call it out in a negative way, I mean you just have to be in the room to say that's not how we should do it. But I think that the self-selection out is a huge thing because people don't think they can do it, and then the unintended selection of them out is an issue. And so those are both things that we really have to focus on as women leaders to make sure at least the conversation happens. Marcia, do you have anything that you want to add to this particular topic?

Marcia Page: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And there were a couple of themes that came out, and then at your point on bias and unconscious bias actually, so maybe I'll just comment on, I've thought about this deeply from maybe a systems standpoint and was very much inspired by a book called What Works by a Harvard professor named Iris Bonnet, where she basically talks about data and research-driven ways that we actually seek to mitigate unconscious bias in our talent management processes. So instead of we all recognize we've got biases, I do, others do. As opposed to anti-bias training or we're going to change that, you actually put guardrails in your processes so that you mitigate bias in those processes. So real quick example, just to kind of bring it to life for a moment. So we have dropped all self-ratings, for instance, and any organizations I'm involved in, I pound this one home, why? Statistically women self-rate lower than men.

So you've got your promotion process and the woman comes in and rates herself a three and the man rates himself a four. Even the most well-intentioned manager creates a hook in the way that they think about that promotion potentially. So that's a small example. The beauty is you can be a small organization, a large organization, financial services or otherwise, and start with small, small changes like that. Another one is we won't start a process for hiring until we have at least two diverse candidates as part of the pool. You have a disproportionately higher likelihood that one of those persons will go to the next stage in the promotion process if there's at least two candidates. And then you do structured interviews, same question, same order of those candidates. All of these small interventions actually help to mitigate bias in the processes and similarly strategies for promotion. So you're starting with the process that is as equitable as possible against established criteria for the role. And that's one way that I've thought about it both in large and small and large organizations and in organizations that I'm influencing.

Beth Leonard: That's really great. I actually went and I heard you talk about that book. Sorry, my light just went... I heard you talk about that book and I went and bought it already. And so I encourage put it in that-

Marcia Page: I should be getting royalties.

Beth Leonard: You should be getting royalties, but I think that's a really important point because how do you change things? It has to be incremental, it has to be small. It has to be at the grassroots level, not at the top, because pushing things from the top down really doesn't work. It really has to be from the grassroots up. This question I really would like to know from all three of you. So Christi, maybe we'll start with you. Is there an organization outside of what you do that you took a leadership role in supporting women, whether it was through education, endeavors, volunteer endeavors, something where you felt like, hey, I had something to give? Or usually I find that when we get involved with outside our organizations, we get more than we give. So Christi, maybe talk about any of the work that you've done outside of your professional.

Christi Fraga: So I've participated in a couple organizations, but one in particular that was women-driven was, and unfortunately it doesn't exist anymore, the organization that it was a subcommittee of ceased to exist, but it was the Doral Business Council had the woman's council in it, had a different name, now it's escaping me, I'm sorry. And I was the chair of that for two years. And we did a lot to focus on business development for women, particularly in our community that was just growing and we had just become a city, and so we wanted to really develop and nourish women in entrepreneurship roles. And so the Doral Business Council started this woman's initiative and I was the chair of that committee. And actually, we hosted several lunches and raised about $30,000 for breast cancer over the two years that I was chair. It went on for a couple of years after that, and then I had to move on to some other things.

But I have also now also taken part in the Women's Professional Council that's local and just like I said on my own, identifying women that I can mentor and help and speaking on panels such as this. And I've been invited in many other cases to speak to women, young professional women, the Women's Junior League. I've been a part of two and gone to speak out. So yeah, I've definitely tried to do my best to promote and encourage women to get involved in leadership roles, whether again it's in your organization. Your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to mean it's in politics. In my case, it means that you're taking an initiative to be an example and a leader in your organization.

Beth Leonard: Thanks, Christi. Courtney, any of the ones that you've participated in?

Courtney McCormick: Oh yeah, of course. Primarily, I'm currently the president of an organization called the Executive Women of New Jersey. I've been in the role, this will be my second year at the two-year term. And it's been an amazing experience for me to be truly in a true leadership position. What we do is we advocate and support women in leadership roles, whether in corporate non-profit government sector. Every two years, we produce a report. We conduct research and produce a report called A seat at the table where we do an analysis of the number of women on public company boards for companies headquartered in New Jersey, which is always really. This past year we just produced our, it was the 10 years I think we produced our sixth report. We've seen just some dramatic change and seen greater representation, and I think once we put the data out there, it really gets a lot of attention.

We also have qualitative interviews with folks in leadership positions and discuss what are the strategies for getting women to top leadership positions. The organization also provides scholarships to women who are going back to graduate schools, merit scholarships through non-traditional paths as we would call it. We've given out about $1.4 million in scholarships since the time of inception. It's a great organization. We really call it a sisterhood in a lot of ways. A lot of our activities are around networking, around having relevant conversations, and around just these very topics that we're talking about and being there and having sort of making up for what frankly, the old boys network had for a long time in terms of support and information sharing and networking. So this is my second year. I'll be handing over the reins at the end of this year, and it's been a tremendous experience. It's required me to stretch and grow a whole lot as a leader too. So for any of the folks who are watching from the New Jersey area,, a tremendous organization.

Beth Leonard: That's great and the commercial, absolutely. You've given me a thought too, because I think every state has some organization that does the analysis. EisnerAmper for being a national firm, it's like, oh, we could be the aggregator. There's something really interesting about that of information, and I think really truly the information and the chance to have the inside view where people tell you what really happens just changes your life. I mean, it really just changes how you think about things. Marcia, I know that you've been involved in quite a few things, so is there anything in particular that you feel strongly about that made a difference?

Marcia Page: No. I think an area where I've spent and Beth, I have been even at the alma mater's and thinking about how you build that pipeline of talent and be a role model, particularly in finance. So I've done that both at my undergraduate and at the University of Minnesota where I got my graduate degree in various women's leadership programs, but in particular in describing how exciting finance can be and providing examples of what that can look like. For instance, at my undergraduate Gustavus Adolphus College, where I chaired the investment committee, we've basically brought students onto the investment committee so that they can actually see what that looks and feels like and ensure that there's at least one female that's part of that cohort.

I've been actively involved in speaking engagements and convenings. We've done a convening in Minneapolis, more women equals more profits and ensure that there are equal men in the room. So that's been another piece that I've been really making sure that I'm doing a lot in women's organizations, but actually that some of the work that's getting done is actually influencing the men in the room as well. And then just naturally connecting people rate to different roles, board roles, jobs, and being an active facilitator of those kind of connections amongst incredible talent.

Beth Leonard: Thank you. We just have two questions, and I can see that there's quite a number of questions in the chat. So this one's easy and I think we should all do it. If you were giving advice to your younger self, what would that advice be and why? So Christi, you were the youngest in the group.

Christi Fraga: I get to go first.

Beth Leonard: But your experiences are very wise and long. So what would you tell your younger self?

Christi Fraga: Somebody asked me this the other day and I joked and I said, "I would tell myself don't post that." But the truth is I really didn't have... My generation of growing up did have social media, but not to the extent of today. I tell that joke actually when I speak to high school students now who their whole life is on social media and I'm like, when you're 35, are you going to look back and say, man, I wish I didn't post that? No, really the advice I'd give myself is to continue to take risks and believe in yourself. The journey is worth it. It's going to be okay, probably tell myself to save a little bit more, because we could always do that. Right now, being a finance major later in my life, I probably could have done a lot more if I would've known what I know today back then. We always say that, but I think more so on a personal level would've been seek more mentorship, actively seek it, believe in yourself, take risks, and trust the journey.

Beth Leonard: That's great. Marcia.

Marcia Page: Well, I really have to double click on Christi's comments on taking risks. When I'm meeting with young women and inclusive of my own three daughters, I remind them that women tend to want, and this is again statistically check all of the job requirements. They meet all the criteria before you take that role, before you seek that promotion, maybe before you set out and do something entrepreneurial. Men do that at about 60%. So it came naturally to me to be confident and maybe that's 60, 70%. And then understand that you're going to figure the rest out as you go. So the risks I think can sound risky, but it's actually you're 70% of the weight there. Take the leap, you'll be able to figure it out from there.

Beth Leonard: I think that's a hundred percent.

Christi Fraga: Can I tell a quick story on that?

Beth Leonard: Yeah.

Christi Fraga: So it's funny you say that because I am young and I'm where I am, right? I'm 37 now, but I started at 23. So a lot of people tell me, how could you say take risks? You took a lot of risks and I did take a lot of risks, but the funny thing is I always questioned them. It took someone else to push me and say, do it. And that's what I'm saying. When I was told you should run for office, the first thing I said is, "I'm too young, I don't have the qualifications." And they were like, "No, you absolutely do. You have the characteristics and the leadership within you." And they believed in me, and that's what it took for me to believe in myself. And so luckily, I didn't allow the fear of the failure to stop me, but it will stop a lot of people. And so that's why I say don't be afraid and take those risks. So that's a great way to put it because I even remember myself having the conversation saying, "I can't do this," and here I am.

Beth Leonard: That's great. Courtney.

Courtney McCormick: Yeah, I mean, I think it's just very consistent with what Marcia and Christi had to say. I would tell myself, I mean this is different bend. It is all going to be okay and you can do it, and don't be afraid. I mean, I always think of don't be afraid, because I think back to just applying to law school, how am I going to get down to Nashville? Where am I going to live? How am I going to pay my rent after my first job? When I started having a child, my first child, how am I going to manage both being a mother?

I want all of these things that you have to sort out that seem so scary at the time and are scary are challenging. But I would tell my younger self, you're going to get through it. It's all going to be okay, and you will figure it out. And I think I've just repeated everything that each of my fellow panelists have said, but I do think it's sage advice and it's a nice thing sometimes to look back and reflect on as well, and look at that. Gee, yeah, I managed to do all this, and now let's think about what's next.

Beth Leonard: It's funny. I would totally agree with all of you that it's all going to be okay. And I also think there's really nothing. When I had the point in my career where I said, "Oh, my God, no one can hurt me anymore." No one can hurt me anymore. And it wasn't last year, it was 25 years ago where I realized you build a career, you have your capabilities, no one else can hurt you.

You can take control, and it's okay to say you can't hurt me. And so that's the risk, the lack of fear, all those things. It does make a difference in how you are able to function, because when you go with saying with confidence and belief in yourself, it really does make a huge difference. So I'm going to go to a couple of the questions because some of them are similar. Let's see. So I have one from a man who I think is important. It's like as a father of three daughters, so I just wanted to tell you, I was the mother of three sons, and so I totally understand that, what would be your advice for me to encourage my daughters? I thought that was a great question.

Christi Fraga: Yeah, I was actually going to use that question to go off of what we were just talking about with that. And I would say a great way to encourage your daughters in today's world is don't necessarily push the traditional, right? It's changing kind of that stereotype and that thought where there's another question that I saw there that talked about the work-life balance. I always tell people when they ask me this, I go, there's no such thing as the perfect balance. What's a balance to me may not be the balance to someone else. It's about what is your priority, what makes you happy, what gets you up in the morning. And those things may be very different for me as it is for someone else. And so saying that, oh, my balance is that I take off once a week and I only do one thing, it's really not the reality.

And so I think supporting the non-traditional is okay. And so even as another piece of advice, I would say to my old self is don't take everybody's comments or what they think of you to heart, right? Don't take them so personally, because in today's world, and I was on a panel for women this week and another series, and one of the questions that someone asked was, how do we escalate to be, or dow do we encourage women to want to be professionals at a very high level, but then not how do they get rid of the mom guilt? And I was like, I don't think I ever get rid of the mom guilt. I just think that we have to look at it differently. We have to be okay that there is such thing as a stay-at-home dad now. And the woman may be the one working.

And I was actually on a panel with someone who, she's one of the top executives for writer, and she was like, "I travel a lot. My husband's a stay at home dad, and we have to be okay with that." So I think it's changing that stereotype. It's changing that perception of what people view the woman at home and the working woman and the career woman. And so if I could give a father advice on what to tell their daughter is, don't be fearful of not going the traditional route on certain things. Today, I'm seeing a lot more women opt for not wanting to have kids or having kids a less traditional way. And so if that works for them, then great. And I think that we have to encourage that, nourish that, and also celebrate it in its appropriate moments.

Beth Leonard: Marcia, you also have three daughters.

Marcia Page: Well, I have three daughters, three grown daughters, but I was actually reflecting on my father. I grew up basically working side by side with him in his small town drug store and my brothers did do. We basically were similarly encouraged, and particularly in the 70s was probably unlikely socialization to love business, love the measurability, let's talk about margins, let's talk about this at the dinner table, but it was really his unconditional support. He thought I could literally do anything that I think developed a confidence. I know from research that fathers make all the difference in their daughter's confidence. And to me, I think it's as simple as that unconditional support. I love Christi's comments about not necessarily thinking about it in what have been the traditional ways that we've thought about it. It's certainly made a big difference for me.

Beth Leonard: Thank you. Courtney.

Courtney McCormick: My father used to tell me when I played sports, "Just go beat all the boys." That's what he would say. So yeah, no, I think one of the things, I know we've got limited time, and I think my panelists answered that prior question really well. I did see there was a question about how do we feel about boys, because now, you're starting to see the boys are falling behind in school and attending graduate programs and by all other measures, when will we'll see parity then at senior leadership levels? Let's see. That'll be interesting. I worry that some people, again, these high-performing, high-achieving women in law schools, I have law school, no criticism of them, but women you see who did graduate at the top of their class who now have decided to be stay-at-home moms. They're all fair choices, so I guess the question was what should we be doing about boys?

Are they just left to fend for themselves? And I think, no, certainly not. I've got two boys who are 11 and 14. One of the things I'm very proud of is the fact that they've seen me from the time that they were babies walk out the door with a suit on and this is part of what mom does and who she is. They're sort of like sometimes don't even really understand it or I brought them into the office, and now as they're starting to kind of get a better appreciation sense for what it is to be a professional and jobs and opportunities.

So I'd say they're just as much part of the equation and the discussion as the young women are. We just need them to make sure that they understand that there's seats at the table for everybody who are willing to come to the table, but it's not a either, or. It's a both, but with a common understanding of we all have an equal right to be here and we just have to prove ourselves in the right way and perform and understand that we also have all different challenges as well. So I think that is an important thing to, it's something having been so long involved in women's leadership and in women's empowerment type conversations. I do worry a little bit about leaving the guys behind, so I thought it was a good question worth talking about a little bit.

Beth Leonard: Absolutely.

Christi Fraga: I'm a boy mom too and echo that 100% and I agree. I think what I tried to strive to do is that he now sees that mom can do that too and that he will strive to find a partner that has that drive as well. So 100%.

Courtney McCormick: Mom is powerful. You're powerful. Look at that office. I mean, that's amazing. That's great.

Beth Leonard: I can only speak from at the other end of the scale where two of their three sons are married, both married women that are equal in their lives and both professionally. And honestly, I didn't know if I'm being very candid, I didn't know if they would want something completely opposite or not. And so I am happy that they're in relationships like that. I'm happy that they feel like there's equality and that each of their careers are important and they can make any decision that they want, but you never know how it's going to turn out. I think we have time for one more question. And there was a question about what kind of advice would you give to a woman of color who may feel intimidated in today's climate? I think that's really important to have a conversation about that. We may go a little bit over, so I want to make sure that we at least talk about it.

And I know I am part of a Women's Presidents Organization and we've talked about this deeply in our room. It's confidential, but it is definitely something that we're seeing that we need to support one another and encourage one another and not let people feel intimidated and let them bring their whole selves to work about what things are happening on the outside world that are making them feel uncomfortable on the inside the organization. We have to have, I believe, safe spaces for those conversations and not pretend that they're not happening. So that would be my 2 cents worth. But Christi or Marcia? Courtney? It's a tough, I mean...

Christi Fraga: I'm not even going to pretend to have an answer to that other than as a Hispanic woman, see, I live in a very Hispanic community though, so I don't feel like a minority in that case because it's all around me, right? It's the culture I live in. But I would say to any woman and particularly a woman maybe in a minority is same thing we would say to our younger selves, take the risk, don't be fearful and get involved, and make sure that your voice is heard and that you're getting out there to move up in the industry that you're in. That would be my advice to anyone who maybe feels in that minority, whether it's your age. You're in an industry where your age is maybe devalued or your sex, your race, your ethnicity. I think those are important things. We all bring something different to the table from our background.

Marcia Page: The women of color face a much bigger wage gap and other barriers. At MPowered Capital, we're really trying to understand those barriers. And as a side, if we're talking about capital moving, it's even more dramatically lower for women of color in particular. So really trying to be, as you said, I think open to and understanding those unique barriers and seeking ways that you reduce the structural and unconscious bias barriers that are particularly relevant for women of color. I think about it every day. I am not a woman of color. So it's really being as thoughtful around how you debias and think about those structural barriers in a way that is productive toward from our standpoint, wealth generation over time.

Beth Leonard: Thank you. Thank you. Courtney, anything you want to?

Courtney McCormick: I think I had two points that I wrote down. And one that I was thinking about, I can't remember where I heard it. It might've just been on the news, but there was a concept of women of color are often underestimated. And it really struck with me of like, wow, that's got to be so frustrating, because I know what it feels like to be underestimated at times. I'm a pretty assertive person and I come in with a great degree of confidence. So again, don't have the right answers, but think about it a lot in particular, both within my role at PSEG as well as within EWNJ to try and make sure that we are an appropriately big tent organization. I think one of the things, the two things that I wrote down, one of the things that Marcia said, again, just recognizing that we all carry these inherent biases, whether it's just programming, it's not our faults. It's the society that we've all kind of come up through and different people have it to different degrees I'm sure, based upon all social factors.

But just knowing that and trying to check, I do try and check myself from time to time, like how am I reacting and not just to women of color, but people, of all different people who are different from me. Am I reacting this way because this is real, or am I reacting this way because I'm carrying around some pre-program type response that someone's speaking to me in a certain way is bothering me more? Things like that, sounds silly, but I do try and check myself. And then I say the other part of it is when we talked about that intentional reach out when we talked about like, "Hey, look, I see someone talented and I want to make sure I'm getting to them early." I'm telling them that I see you and that here's an opportunity, and I'm here if you ever want to talk to me.

I think if we're doing that for women, we have to even do it even more so for the women of color that I see in my organization. I think we do try and do this. It is so hard, and again, I can't imagine that concept. I was thinking through an interaction that I had with a woman who was a leader who was providing a service to my organization. Just I had heard that point about being underestimated and I was watching how she comported herself and watching how she led. I was so impressed by it, because despite the sort of like, "Hey, you're coming in with this potential bias that you're already walking in the room with, how are you managing in that well?" So maybe part of it's like for us kind of celebrating and finding other great, as we're all serving as role models for the women that we have more broadly within our organizations, maybe there's even greater opportunity to kind of sing the praises and highlight those women who are doing it with even stronger impediments against them.

Beth Leonard: Well, thank you so much. We are a little over. Courtney, Marcia, Christi, this has been a wonderful conversation. Your insights are tremendous. I know that we probably go on for another hour. I'm getting a lot of questions about the organization in New Jersey, in the book. We're going to send that out. I'm sure Astrid has all your email addresses, so we'll send out some information. The three panelists and I are all available for questions if we haven't answered them. That's part of what we're supposed to do and inspiring inclusion. And then lastly, I'm going to turn it back to Astrid, who has been tremendous, and we want to thank her for all of the things she did to help arrange today. Thank you all.

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