‘Power Panel’ of professional women offer advice on business success at Girls Inc. of Pinellas

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Formed in 1974, Girls Inc. of Pinellas has been positively impacting the lives of girls ages six through 18 at their location at 7700 61st St. N for more than 40 years. Their stated mission stays the same: Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold!

The program persists even through COVID-19, with Girls, Inc. offering in-person programming for virtual school students through the school year, offering a safe place for girls to get online and complete learning with trained professionals’ assistance. Additional afterschool camps and holiday programs feature STEM activities and learning experiences.

Continually reaching out to the community to support their programming and initiatives, Executive Director Darla Otey recently sponsored a “Women in Leadership Power Panel” to encourage and inspire women in the community in early or in-transition business careers.

The Power Panel featured:

  • Cammie Chatterton, president/CEO of Bay Food Brokerage and 2019 Tampa Businesswoman of the Year
  • Women execs from Raymond James Financial, including Renée Baker, head of PCG Advisor Inclusion Networks
  • Laetitia Boyle, head of Internal Sales & Consulting
  • Rose Flores, senior vice president of Corporate Banking and chief administration officer
  • J. Haynes-Morgan, senior vice president, chief audit executive
  • Erin Linehan, senior vice president and head of Global Compliance/co-chair of the Women’s Inclusion Network
  • Jodi Perry, president of the Independent Contractor Division
  • Panel host Mercy Ameyaw, director of Internal Audit and Girls, Inc. board member

Each panelist offered an overview of their roles and responsibilities. They all spoke to the challenges and realities of sometimes being the sole female among a sea of men in the business world. Chatterton pointed out that women still only make up 21 percent of business executives.

Ameyaw plied the panelists with several questions, including how much or if they had to change who they were to get where they are. All in all, the answer was: “be yourself.”

Baker spoke to realizing early on that, while her “niceness” and small-town girl etiquette could have been mistaken for weakness, it was the only way for her to feel like she was being authentic.

“Today, people thank me for who I was and who I continue to be,” she said, referring to how her warmth and congeniality was a strength that had helped others working their way up in the business world.

Chatterton noted that, in general, she believed in the “golden rule” approach to carrying oneself in the work world, recommending that it’s best to “treat everybody the way you want to be treated,” from clients to co-workers.

Boyle acknowledged that it was important to know that sometimes being one’s authentic self can take time in the business world, though. “Don’t think it’s all going to happen at one time. In the beginning, I felt the need to wear blue suits,” she quipped, referring to needing to “dress the part” to make it in the business world.

Rosa Flores seconded the notion of walking in authenticity and character because there would certainly be women coming behind you and watching your behavior. She noted, “Everybody’s looking up to you, even if you don’t know it.”

Another question dealt with the importance of finding the right people to be mentors and cheerleaders, who would realize your potential and help guide you through the business landscape. While some panelists acknowledged it could take a long time to find the right mentor, they all agreed that those people could help change your career path.

Erin Linehan admitted her own strong, “extra” personality made finding a mentor hard for her. “I have had bosses who were intimidated by me.” But she said her career path started moving forward when she finally found the right mentors and sponsors.

Jodi Perry said as someone who does the hiring, she always looks for those who are smarter than her or who have skills she lacks. But she admitted that sometimes women might have a hard time finding another woman to mentor them, since often in the corporate world, “you’re not always going to have a big network of women.”

She noted that her career had largely been impacted by men who saw something in her leadership capacity and tapped her on the shoulder, encouraging her to go for opportunities she might otherwise have missed.

To Ameyaw’s question regarding how much women had to sacrifice in relationship to being wives, mothers, and having a career, those with children all agreed that sacrifice would come in some area – family or career.

Chatterton and Baker acknowledged being lucky enough to have parents to help raise their children as they headed up the career path. Still, Chatterton said, “Don’t feel guilty – you will sacrifice something,” while Baker agreed: “You can have it all – just not at the same time.”

Boyle spoke to being an exhausted parent who now relied on outside support in the form of a nanny to help manage her home and children. “I didn’t want to be doing laundry at 11 p.m.!”

Linehan admitted that she sacrificed a personal life, got a divorce, but then decided she wanted a child and became a single mom “by choice.” She also admitted that while her parenting skills may not be perfect, she tries to outsource as much help as possible with the income she makes, so she can spend the rest of the time with her son.

When asked about how often they experienced “imposter syndrome” in their leadership roles, Haynes-Morgan relayed that when she relocated to St. Pete from New Jersey, the combination of a new environment and new position triggered bouts of self-doubt. During these times, she said, “Don’t be afraid to love yourself.”

Haynes-Morgan also said that just finding ways to help others can focus one in their path and help lessen the tendency to over-worry or overthink their abilities or weaknesses.

Baker noted that she still uses affirmations and keeps some on her mirror to keep her focused, uplifted and “remind” herself who she is.

All the women agreed that 2020 had strained them and their co-workers and families as never before. Chatterton said that in her 30-plus years working in corporate and then owning her companies, this has been the most challenging year she ever experienced.  “Starting your own business is going to be hard,” she acknowledged, adding, “but there’s nothing more rewarding.”

While there was no fee for the invitation-only event, numbers were limited due to COVID. Next year, however, they plan to expand the event.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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