Encouraging Women To Stick Their Necks Out And Stick Together

By Jessica Reynolds The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article take a look at how five successful upstate NY women in business are succeeding professionally and personally.  Several of the women agreed that the work-life balance issue is tough.  One CEO who is a mom to three children says "family time" is of the utmost importance when trying to maintain balance.  For her, that means prioritizing  family meals with her children around the table every night.

Oneonta

In celebration of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, five locally prominent and powerful women told The Daily Star about their experiences Tuesday and encouraged other females to stick their necks out and stick together.

One of the area's most valuable resources is its network of female leaders -- particularly in human services and health organizations -- who lift one another up, according to Lola Rathbone, president and chief executive officer at Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care.

"Working together in collaborative partnerships is very rewarding," said Rathbone, 62, of Milford. "It's much better than trying to have competing interests. It has been so nice to get to know a lot of same-minded women who are very interested in improving the health and welfare of citizens."

Erna Morgan McReynolds, a top executive at the Morgan McReynolds Group at Morgan Stanley in Oneonta, began her professional career as a journalist in New Zealand during the 1970s, when there were "hardly any women in journalism," she said.

"Growing up when I did, there were only a couple of options for women: nurse, teacher, secretary or housewife," said McReynolds, who grew up in Gilbertsville. "When I first became a radio and TV reporter, I received some hate calls, even from other women, because they'd never had a woman on the air. It's a whole different world today."

There are "definitely more opportunities today for women to advance themselves in the workplace, where they're striving to accomplish great things," said Barbara Ann Heegan, president and chief executive officer of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.

"Personally, I see this every day in women who are wanting to open small businesses," Heegan, 38, noted. "More women are gaining more confidence and energy through the support of other women to venture out and become entrepreneurs. I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to help some of those local women in my role with the Chamber."

Stacie Haynes, director of the Susquehanna Animal Shelter, said she grew up in the Delaware County hamlet of Downsville knowing she could "be anything, even an astronaut, if I wanted."

"I was lucky. I never really felt the glass ceiling that women sometimes experience," Haynes, 33, said. "I think, for me, playing sports growing up was a big part of building who I am and my confidence and leadership qualities. A lot of my coaches were instrumental in motivating and inspiring me to be who I am."

BUMPS IN THE ROAD Despite leaps and bounds in gender equality, prejudice is still noticed, the women agreed.

"I have, at times, felt discriminated against because I am a woman," Heegan said. "People have questioned what or who I am in the business community. Sometimes when people see a woman leader, they don't always necessarily know where they're coming from or what they're trying to accomplish, and that creates barriers."

Heegan said she has overcome these obstacles by "staying strong to my principles and virtues" and proving her competency by showing her work ethic and knowledge. In this way, she has been able to "gain the confidence of a lot of people," she said.

Margaret Drugovich, president of Hartwick College in Oneonta, said expectations of how women -- and men -- should think and act are still deeply-held constructs in our culture. She feels these expectations "every day," she said, and they impact "virtually every encounter that I have as a chief executive."

"Every person that I encounter expects me to think like and act like 'a woman,' whatever that means to them," Drugovich said.

"These constructs turn out to be quite limiting because of their dualistic nature, a series of too-stark contrasts. The duality may be comforting and familiar, but this oversimplification can impede our ability to remain open to nuances."

Haynes and Heegan said their biggest challenge is balancing motherhood and professional life.

"If I didn't have a child, I'd be even more of a workaholic," said Haynes, who has a 20-month-old daughter, Meadow. "It's hard because there are so many days you have to leave early or come in late because of your child. Just this morning, Meadow was clinging to me and didn't want me to leave. Of course, I hate to leave her when she's upset, but I have to go to work. And I actually love my job. You just have to find a balance."

According to Heegan, who is a mom to three children, "family time" is of the utmost importance when trying to maintain balance.

"Every night I have home-cooked meals with my children and family time around the table," Heegan said. "We debrief about our days and it's really special, something I cherish very much. It's a chance to come together and connect with each other. This is my favorite time of day."

ADVICE FOR YOUNG WOMEN Continuing one's education is one of the most important things for young women to keep in mind, according to Rathbone.

Drugovich said young women should follow their passion, have confidence and be bold.

"Be prepared to ask for help and advocate for the support you need and deserve," she said. "Walk away from the idea (and the people who believe) that being a woman limits you. Being a woman gives you a remarkable constitutional advantage, even though you will have to negotiate for a firm footing within our culture. Know that you will be an example to the women who follow you, and that your actions -- discreet or bold -- to live fully as a woman will improve the opportunities for women to come."

Rathbone and Heegan stressed the importance of connecting with other women for advice. They don't have to be in your own industry, Rathbone said, because "leadership skills are transferable."

"Find a mentor in the community," Heegan said. "Someone you look up to. But, above all, be yourself. Shine your light. Stand up for what you believe in. Be present -- the real you -- aware and alive in every moment. And always fight for what you believe in."

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