Prevailing wisdom

 In 2015-07

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Women are managing teams, leading companies and starting businesses in numbers our great-grandmothers could only have imagined. Yet the fact that this magazine is publishing an article on Women in Business indicates that workplaces have yet to achieve gender parity on all fronts. Reasons for the relative lack of women in the C-suite and other corridors of power are frequently dissected on the Internet, editorial pages and cable TV news shows. Still, professional women are forging successful careers in every community in the state. Many are making their mark in industries traditionally dominated by men. The outlook for the daughters and granddaughters of these women is, by all accounts, even brighter. Business North Carolina talked with seven women to learn more about the challenges and opportunities they’ve faced and what advice they’d share with young women just starting their careers.

Kelly Luongo Loving, partner, Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson PA, Charlotte
Kelly Loving practices commercial law, specifically mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, licensing and general corporate law. She also serves on the firm’s board of directors. After graduating from Duke University in 1993, she spent two years on active duty with the U.S. Navy to fulfill an ROTC scholarship commitment. The New York native graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1998 and joined the firm in 1999.
Lessons from the military: I was a surface warfare officer on a new, fast combat ship that was the first to have [a gender] integrated crew. I was one of two women aboard a ship of 600, and I oversaw a division of 113 people. … A lot of the training is making decisions under hard conditions and balancing the needs of your people against the requirements of the mission. As lawyers, part of what we do is remain composed during negotiations so we can think things through for our clients.

Pam Whitaker, founder and president, Key Resources Inc., Greensboro
Pam Whitaker spent seven years as a manager at a temp agency before deciding in 1997 to launch Key Resources, which specializes in staffing clerical and professional positions in the distribution industry. It employs about 47 full-time workers and has a weekly roster of about 3,000 temporary employees. In 2000, she became the first female business owner to receive the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Person of the Year award.
How she’d advise aspiring women leaders: Every job is so important. Do your homework, know your skill set and network, even if it’s after-hours. And it’s not a bad thing to admit what you don’t know. I think this is where women have an advantage, because they can use both their IQ and their EQ — as in emotional intelligence — to judge their strengths and weaknesses.

Tonya Brandon, senior vice president, CBRE Inc. (formerly Trammell Crow Co.), Charlotte
Tonya Brandon started as a civil engineer, designing and managing projects before transitioning to commercial real estate. CBRE is the world’s largest commercial real estate firm; its 40,000 employees serve owners, investors and occupiers. Brandon leads delivery of supply-chain and vendor-management services for a major financial-services firm client.
Being in a male-dominated industry: I am often in the minority, serving in a leadership capacity within senior meetings and on key client projects. Remaining open-minded and willing to establish commonalities has helped greatly to diffuse arguments or prevent other unintended outcomes. … Women leaders are often stepping up to juggle many tasks, develop strong networks, stay ahead of technology trends and build teamwork in the workplace. These are our strengths as women.

Megan West, assistant dean of external relations, Campbell Law School, Raleigh
Megan West, 30, is a 2010 graduate of the law school she now serves. Last year, she was the youngest recipient of Triangle Business Journal’s Women in Business award. “That was a huge honor for me, to be part of such a distinguished group,” she says. What she lacks in experience she makes up for in connections: Over the last couple of years, she and other administrators have met with more than 500 of the school’s 3,500 alumni as part of efforts to establish a mentorship program for students and create Campbell Law’s first Alumni Association. (The school opened in 1976.) West is one of several women in the law school’s administrative offices.
How she’d advise women just starting their careers: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you can always work harder than you thought you could. Also, don’t settle. If you want something, you can always figure out a way to get it.

Tammy Whaley, manager of economic development for the Charlotte region, Duke Energy Corp., Charlotte
While studying engineering at Clemson University in the mid-1980s, Tammy Whaley’s dream job was to work at Duke Energy. Five months after graduating, she landed a job as a distribution engineer in a Duke facility in Salisbury and has been with the utility ever since. In her current role, Whaley covers a 15-county region partnering with local economic-development organizations, the N.C. Department of Commerce and site consultants to help bring new capital investment into the area.
Being a woman in a field where men still outnumber women: I was one of a very few graduating female engineers at Clemson, and certainly one of only a few female engineers at Duke. In my environment, I think what was most effective was communicating firmly and standing my ground without being defensive or offensive. Also, acting like a lady, not being afraid of being a woman, standing up for yourself, and proving yourself — doing it eagerly and passionately and not with a chip on your shoulder — these can help.

Lisa Perkins, vice president, marketing and communications, Rodgers Builders Inc., Charlotte
Rodgers Builders is a woman-owned company in a field largely dominated by men. President Pat Rodgers started the company with her husband, the late B.D. Rodgers, in 1963. Lisa Perkins first started working for the company about 20 years ago, climbing her way up in the communications department for the last 13 years. Today, Perkins says her primary aim is to “capture the stories that show the impact our projects have on the community.”
The qualities that make women good leaders: Successful women that I’ve met have a more empathetic view. That’s very engaging and allows them to connect with clients and employees. They’re more patient, and they have the courage to be different. I’d tell young women today, the most important thing is to share your passion and show you can make a difference.

Simona Pleasant, senior vice president and controller, Paragon Bank, Raleigh
A native of Romania with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Simona Pleasant came to Raleigh in 1999 to visit a friend. While browsing the aisles at the former Borders bookstore in Cary, she met Thomas Pleasant, the man who would become her husband, and ended up building her career in the Triangle. Having taught math in Romania, Pleasant decided to pursue accounting. She spent two years studying accounting at N.C. State while working at Capital Bank and then earned her CPA designation in 2008. She’s been at Paragon Bank, which employs nearly 130, since 2010.
On being a bank CPA/controller: It’s been a very rewarding experience. Accounting is right up my alley. I am lucky to have such a great boss. I have worked with Steve Crouse, the chief financial officer, for 15 years, first at Capital and now at Paragon. … We have several women at the vice president level here. I find that the key to leadership is to be very confident and to never stop learning and absorbing things.

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