CEO Panelists Dish On Being Modern Business Women


When you’re a female networking your way up that corporate ladder with your hammer in hand, prepared to tackle the inevitable (and ahem, unfair) glass ceiling, you’re bound to come across a few disappointing events. There are so many opportunities to slap on a name badge, sip a few cocktails and bump elbows with fellow ladies who run companies or have impressive careers, but sometimes, the actual meat of the event is lost amongst the traditional ‘pink-a-fied’ conversation. As if paying more taxes for feminine products isn’t enough, why should a conversation with vibrant, impactful women be anything less than super-inspiring? That’s why we have to tip our hat to a recent panel hosted by Xeomin, and organized by Evolve MKD, featuring a panel of impressive and refreshingly-honest female entrepreneurs from the tech to the furniture industry.

Held at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York, here are some of the highlights of this empowering event where female CEOs (which ahem, make up a mere 4.6 percent of the Fortune 500 companies) went on the record to be real, offer insight and get truly vulnerable with the stories behind their success. Take some notes from their impressive - and honest - playbooks:

Women rise together.

Though it’d be inaccurate and stereotypical to say women aren’t as competitive as men, it is well-documented that women are more keen to help one another grow than men. Another truth? Women have stronger softer skills - a.k.a. we’re better communicators - which help us not only speak to our co-workers or employees, but to customers, too. Kristi Faulkner, the president of a female-centric advertising agency, Womenkind, shared that when it comes to seeking advice and guidance, most women don’t have to search too far. Why? Women support one another - and strive for excellent by having each other’s backs.

“I found that I often haven’t had to look for that high in the sky mentor, the same way a lot of guys have to because as women our best mentors are right around us all the time," says Faulkner. "I feel like I’ve been so lucky to have a peer group where we started out when we were all starting in tech and we rose professionally together. Those women, I’ve been able to ask them anything, we make time for one another, we lean on one another."

We fight against an unfair advantage

Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and the editor-in-chief of DotComplicated shared a story that might make your jaw drop, like it did ours.

"I give about 50 or 60 speeches a year around the world. I was recently in Kuwait speaking at the first Women in Business conference ever in the whole country," says the rockstar media mogul and sister of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. "When I started off doing public speaking, I remember a big tech executive at a very hot company that we would all know, he literally looked like he had dragged himself out of a dumpster and walked onstage. I got up on stage and killed it but I had done my own makeup and hair,” she said. “A client called me the next day and said, ‘We liked your presentation but wish you cared about your appearance a little more.’ Literally the guy looked like he lived in a box in Union Square. I went home to my husband, shed a lot of tears and he’s like ‘you can whine about it or accept that this is what it’s like for women in business. If that means building time to get your hair and makeup done, you do that.’ That was one of the biggest wake-up calls as a woman in business. Looks really do matter.”

Is it fair that Zuckerberg was held to a different standard of beauty? Nope. Is it sexist? Yep. But even though we have different boxes to check before doing the same exact thing a man does, we not only do it in stride, but we do more than our male counterparts ever consider.

We can find the market opportunity - even with great risk.

For Niki Cheng, the founder of the BoConcept franchise in NYC, the journey to becoming an entrepreneur was one stepping stone after another riddled with risk. When she immigrated to the U.S., she had a degree that didn't translate into a robust job market, and after many failed jobs (including getting fired as a coat check), her husband suggested she work at a local furniture store. Though annoyed - considering she already had a degree - she decided to give it a chance. She quickly found a calling in sales, especially since she was able to empathize with the customer. During the panel, she said she would come home super-excited to share how well she did and soon, her husband made another suggestion: why not start your own thing? Noticing a need for lower-cost modern furniture, she launched BoConcept and franchised it, now with eight locations in Manhattan.

“I realized that there’s a problem in the city,” says Cheng. “There is no mid-priced range of modern furniture in New York City. That was in 2003. And I founded BoConcept and I knew that this brand will work."

We are women - and women are the consumer.

Dr. Anne Chapas, the founder and medical director of Union Square Laser Dermatology shared that one of the greatest advantages of being a woman in business is that the majority of consumers are, in fact, female. Knowing firsthand the experiences that are inherently specific to a single sex can help you relate to your potential customer in a more impactful, personal way.

“I think for me the most beneficial thing I find is 85% of my patients are women," says Chapas. "So as soon as they walk in the door, I’ve either been in the situation that they’re in or I’ve seen my mother go through it, so right away there’s an instant connection,” she says. “I know if they’re a little bit anxious, I need to put them at ease or if it’s for a cosmetic reason, it’s going to be natural and we’re going to help them feel better about how they look so they can get ready in the morning faster and get their kids to school and get to the office.”

We can see the privilege - and the flexibility - in being a woman.

Though the battle for equal pay in the United States continues to fight on, even in 2016, Ireland-based founder and CEO of Vita Liberata, Alyson Hogg says instead of looking at being a female as a setback, consider it a privilege. Why? We are born to be flexible.

“I think it’s a huge privilege that only 50 percent of the population get. I think we’re very lucky. Part of that is because we have children: People say to me, ‘we’re seriously considering a crash and going back in our business because so many women are having babies at the moment.’ Or they say Ashley’s pregnant. Or Louise is pregnant. And I say that’s fantastic because these girls are going to come back just different people with a whole set of skills that they never even knew that they had,” says the vivacious beauty CEO. “Also I think that because you have to prepare, even if it’s subconscious, that something life-changing is likely to happen to you in your future, you have to be much more flexible. That flexibility is what business is, girls. That is it. Is there any single thing that you have to be it’s flexible. You have to be able to move with the wind. You have to be able to look at a problem and realize you’re not thinking about it right and go from there.

We can have it all - just not all in the same day.

Zuckerberg is the proud mom to two boys - Simcha and Asher - and also a pioneer in the tech industry. But does she really have it all, or can she? For her, it’s about choosing your top battles each and every single day.

"I have a mantra that I say in the morning — ‘Work, sleep, family, friends, fitness — pick three.’ You can pick a different three tomorrow. In a 24-hour period, you can only pick three,” says Zuckerberg. “You can’t do all of those 5 and do them well. For me, I like to give myself permission to be a little more lopsided instead of feeling like I have to be perfectly balanced and do all of those things in one day. And you hope it just balances out in the long term.”

The evening, which was filled with insights and laughter was a refreshingly honest meeting of the minds. If this was any indication of what is to come, the future is more than female, it's also fabulous.

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Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.

Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."