'Women's Empowerment Panel 5.0' features influential figures in the regional workforce

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 9:28 PM
'Women's Empowerment Panel 5.0' features influential figures in the regional workforce by Livia Homerski

The Women’s Empowerment Panel 5.0 took place on Thursday, March 28, at Pogue Student Center in Room 143. Dr. Jingze Jiang, professor of economics at EU, hosted the presentation. The panel, put together by Edinboro’s school of business, featured Joelyn J. Bush, Christine Henderson, Marnie Caldwell and Mary Kay Reber.  

Bush, Edinboro speech and communications alum, is the director of marketing and communications for the United Way of Erie County and was featured in the Erie Reader’s “40 under 40” list in 2017. 

Henderson is also an Edinboro alum, sporting a degree in math education, along with an elementary teaching certificate and a master’s in reading. She runs her own business, Mathematical Expressions, a company that writes math content for K-12 textbooks. 

Caldwell has a degree in international studies, with a Spanish minor, from Allegheny College and has worked at Reed Manufacturing in Erie since 1994 as the current marketing director for international and domestic projects. 

The final panelist, Reber, is the CFO for Wm. T. Spaeder, a firm specializing in mechanical contracting that was founded in 1914 by her grandfather. She, along with her cousins, lead management, expansion, and succession of the family business. She has also worked as a college counselor. 

After the panelists were introduced, Jiangze decided to host an interactive poll so that the panelists could know who their audience was. She used pollev.com and asked questions such as, “What is your class standing?”; “What is your dream job?”; “Who is the breadwinner in your family?”; and “Which city did you grow up in?” The most common answers were “senior, junior and sophomore”; “counselor, professor”; “mom and dad”; and “Erie,” respectively. 

Then the panel began with the first question, “What motivated you to choose your career path?” 

For Caldwell, she was originally convinced she wanted to work in the government, specifically in the international trade department. Twenty-five years later, she is not working for the government, but instead a private company and has a role that is similar to the one she wanted. 

Henderson next shared that she originally went to school to become a teacher, but found what she actually preferred was being a learner. She then taught again for 11 years before being asked to buy the company she now currently runs. 

When Bush started working as a cashier at Wegman’s when she was 15, she had dreams of becoming a teacher. However, when she went to college and found that teaching wasn’t for her, she changed her major to speech and communications. This followed a customer at the tanning salon Bush worked at telling her she would be great in that field. During her time at Edinboro, she held down three internships for nonprofit organizations and continued to work at Wegman’s until she graduated at 21. Since she was 15, she actually donated 50 cents from every paycheck to the United Way, where she’s now worked for five years.

Reber was a first-generation college student who studied economics and never thought that she would someday be working for her family’s business. She also worked as a college counselor, a fundraiser for United Way, and also worked at Reed Manufacturing for three years until her mother announced that she was retiring from the family business and offered Reber her job. She shared this sentiment which seemed to be a common thread among the panelists’ answers: “You don’t know where your journey will take you.” 

The second question asked was, “What challenges have you experienced as you started your career and business?”

As Henderson runs a business that is based around a service, she stated that her biggest challenge is finding enough qualified people to do the work. 

Reber’s business is 105 years old, so she has found her biggest challenge is not only keeping the business going, but also adapting to changes throughout the year. “One of the things I remember reading about successful businesses is that they all start very small, and it’s one step at a time,” said Reber on the way businesses grow and change.

Bush explained that jumping from an internship to her first real position at such as young age was a challenge for her, especially because her position was “a one-woman band.” 

Caldwell reminded the audience that every job you do, especially at the beginning, is important, and you never know what menial tasks will pay off and teach you something valuable later on. 

Although starting a business is one challenge, growing and maintaining a successful business is a whole other one. “What are the most important things that help you to bring your career and business to the next level?” was the third question asked. 

Caldwell advocated for speaking up for yourself in a respectful and tactful manner when a challenge arises. She also believes it’s important to “be willing to dig in” and be open to learning new things. 

Networking and surrounding yourself with people who are more knowledgeable about business, or whatever subjects you don’t know as much in, is Henderson’s advice. “This past year, I’ve learned about how important it is to make those connections and talk with people about business issues who have more experience than I do, [those] who can help me solve problems so I can actually grow instead of just maintain my status,” said Henderson. 

Bush also reinforced the importance of networking early on: “Make it a priority to meet people. Look them in the eye, shake their hand, get a business card early on.” She also advised to “be kind, but fierce,” as well as be bold and ask questions. She also stated that attention to detail and credibility are ways to make yourself stand out. 

Coming from a family business standpoint, Reber believes it’s important to make employees leaders and make sure to engage and invite their voices when it comes to different decisions and finding solutions to problems. 

The fourth discussion topic had more to do with the technical aspects and requirements of owning and being involved in a business: “What kind of permits and loans do you need before you even start your business? What kind of certificates and licenses do you need before you start your career? What types of degrees do you need to start your career?” 

As Reber’s company, Wm. T Spaeder, does mechanical contracting, there are several certificates and licenses involved for doing that work. 

Caldwell expressed that for those involved in marketing and doing office work, skills like knowing software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe programs is very important. She advised the audience to be honest on their resume about their skill levels with these programs and list the time spent with these programs. Henderson agreed with these points.

Bush believes that having an entrepreneurial mindset is paramount to a successful career, and suggested the book “Who Owns The Ice House?” by Gary Schoeniger to get in the know. She also explained that “the Erie area is ripe with entrepreneurial opportunities” and that Radius CoWork is a company that gives you a space to work on your own business and collaborate with other small business owners. 

“Have you encountered any roadblocks in your career specifically because of your gender?” was the next question asked.

Bush talked about going into a position that a male previously held, but being hired as a manager rather than a director, so she was paid less and had to work her way up to that position despite being more experienced than the previous person. 

When working in a male-dominated industry, Caldwell has noticed that there is a certain camaraderie among male coworkers that is not always comfortable or even relatable for females, but she has always “done her own thing.” 

Henderson stated that she has not run into many roadblocks in her career, since both teaching and publishing are predominantly female fields. 

“I am the only female owner and manager in our company, and on one level, you can feel like a fish out of water, but the advantage is that my voice is heard differently” said Reber, believing that her gender allows her voice to be louder in a male-dominated environment. Reber also believes that when men step up and take on a bigger role in family life, it allows women to succeed and take on bigger roles in work life, which related to the next question that was asked. 

Historically, one of the biggest factors in whether women worked was their home life and the role of being a mother, so the sixth question asked was, “How do you balance work and family life?”

Working from home gives Henderson a flexible schedule, but she always makes sure she meets her work responsibilities. This also applied to Caldwell as a director. 

“When people realize that you’re good at something, they tend to ask you and ask you and ask you. And especially women, we have a hard time saying ‘no’, so practice saying ‘no,’” said Bush about practicing work life and personal life harmony. Bush also preaches the benefits of unplugging from technology and practicing mindfulness. 

The next question asked was, “What competition have you encountered, and how have you gotten around it?”

Similar to the challenge of finding people to work, Henderson is also challenged with the task of keeping people, as much of the work is somewhat freelance. She has tried to alleviate this problem by giving those who work with her as many or little hours as they need, along with being sure to pay them properly for what they worked on. 

Since Bush works for a nonprofit organization, they have flipped the narrative from competition to “collaboration.” United Way focuses on combating poverty, so collaboration between other local nonprofits is not only innovative, but constructive. 

Reber believes it’s important to have an entrepreneurial spirit and be aware of changes in the marketplace in order to handle competition. 

Many students face the challenge of finding an internship during their time in school, so the eighth question was: “Do you think an internship in college is important? What are your suggestions on finding an internship and choosing the best opportunity among the many internships?”

Bush definitely knows the power of an internship, considering she had three, and her last one led to her first job. “I really sought out opportunities that I knew would put me in front of really important people and businesses that would allow me to network,” she explained. She also said that Erie is a city with many businesses that offer the opportunity to job shadow. 

While Caldwell believes internships to be very valuable, she also believes that students shouldn’t discount their summer and part-time jobs, especially ones involving customer service. She urges students to be proactive when it comes to pursuing an internship and plan ahead. 

Reber advocates for a variety of experiences and to pay attention to what you enjoy doing and what speaks to you. “The more you understand about yourself and the more you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to sell yourself and be comfortable [with yourself], and that comes across in interviews,” she said. 

And finally, the panel discussion concluded with, “Any other experiences or advice to share?” 

“You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it,” said Henderson, adding that she never dreamed of becoming a business owner, even as recent as 10 years ago.  

Bush urged the audience to give back and be involved with your community. She also raised the question: “What can you do without having to look it up?” This is to challenge yourself to see what you are capable of by just using your head and hands. 

“Check and double check your resume...It’s often your only chance to get in front of that employer, so it needs to speak for you properly,” Caldwell asserted. She also suggested that in the job search, look at smaller companies because “they give you the opportunity to wear many hats, and you get to explore more of your skillset.” 

Similar to what Caldwell said, Reber believes that one can have a huge impact on a small company and seconded the idea of double checking your resume. She also recommended you develop critical thinking skills and learn how to argue multiple perspectives. 

The panel then took questions from the audience. Edinboro professor Dale Hunter commented and shared her experience in pay disparities: “When I was hired in 1988, I was hired at the same time as two other men. I had more experience as one of those other men, and I didn’t discover until years later as an assistant professor that I was hired at a lower grade than they were, and I had a union contract! But I know of other female professors who were hired as instructors instead of assistant professors despite having enough experience.” 

Then someone asked about the cost of starting your own business and getting past the capital barrier. Henderson responded that with her business, she purchased the company from the previous owner for $6,000 and paid it off in two years. However, since her enterprise is run from home, she acknowledged that businesses that require an establishment, such as restaurants, are much more expensive to buy and maintain, but there are loans you can apply for to help fund your plan. 

Finally, the presentation concluded with Jiang using her statistician magic to announce the most commonly said words throughout the presentation, which were “skills,” “learning” and “help.” 

Livia Homerski | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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