She Said, She Said

Boomers and Millennials comes together to shed light on how the workplace has changed for women over time.

By Chelsey Lucas June 1, 2014

Just how far have working women come? Boomers and millennials share some—often very different—views.

By Susan Burns

Photography by Barbara Banks

Get a group of professional women together and they’ll soon start talking about workplace challenges and the struggle to balance business and personal life. But how different are the discussions when different generations have a seat at the table? To find out, we asked six successful professional women—three of them boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and three millennials (born between 1981-2000) to share their thoughts and stories.

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The Boomers (in order of appearance)

VALERIE GODDARD, 49, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota County, a not-for-profit that provides life skills and career training.

MARY DOUGHERTY-SLAPP, 54, executive director of Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, a not-for-profit trade organization serving the building industry in Sarasota and Manatee.

KENDA WEST, 52, chief operating officer at Voalte, a health care technology company.

The Millennials (in order of appearance)

JENNIFER PEREZ, 33, premium auditor at Zenith Insurance Company, which specializes in workers’ compensation insurance.

MARISSA ROSSNAGLE, 26, public relations and marketing specialist for CS&L CPAs, a certified public accounting firm located in Sarasota and Bradenton.

BETHANY LANEY, 25, an adjunct instructor teaching religion at State College of Florida and dance at the School of Russian Ballet.


*Percentage of women in management, professional and related positions in 2012: 51


Career Choice

BIZ: Was your career choice shaped by being a woman?

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: My first job was a lifeguard. Back then even that was male-dominated. Then I was the second woman to graduate from Sarasota Police Academy. I wonder, were [my decisions] shaped by being a woman or shaped in that I wanted to break those barriers?

WEST: I grew up on a farm with all boys. [That] prepped me well because it’s never unusual for me to be the only female at the table. I often don’t even think about it until I stop to take notice.

GODDARD: I grew up in a military family, traveling the world, going to school overseas. There was never a moment that I thought I couldn’t become whatever it was I wanted to do.

ROSSNAGLE: I don’t feel gender ever crossed my mind as a barrier. Insurance, accounting and financial services are all male-dominated fields, but they’re shifting and there are many more women leaders in these fields.


*Percentage of partners in law firms who are women: 20


Workplace Status

BIZ: How has women’s status in the workplace changed during your career?

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: Dramatically. The men were supposed to go into meetings and talk, and they might come in and tell you what it was about afterwards. By the early 2000s, I was a deputy county administrator; yet, again I was often the only woman at a table full of men. I remember a man patting me on the head as he walked out. Folks would not get away with that today.

PEREZ: I can’t imagine being in that position. For me it was more age-related. My prior company never hesitated to give me additional responsibilities, but they always hesitated to give me the actual title.

WEST: My career has always been at the cross-section of health care and technology. Health care is dominated by women, and technology by men. Nursing was a traditional role for women, and men were physicians. Now we’re seeing a huge influx of female physicians, and nurses [have] become far more powerful. A lot of executives and chief medical officers in big health systems are women. Even on the technology side, at the last two health systems I worked for, the chief information officer was a very strong woman.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: I look at young women in their 20s now and I never had their level of confidence, or had those opportunities.

BIZ: In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, you didn’t admit you had children, right?

GODDARD: Exactly. That conversation can happen in the workplace now and you don’t feel as though you’re going to be penalized for it.

BIZ: Marissa and Bethany, you’re both in your 20s—is it different today?

ROSSNAGLE: At CS&L, CPAs, 50 percent of the leadership is female. Being able to walk into their office and say, “This is bothering me” or ask, “Is this something you’ve experienced?” is inspiring and motivating. [Today] you can work your way up whether you’re female or male; it’s all performance-based growth.

LANEY: I have been comfortable taking on a leadership role as a teacher. However, I am young, and I do have insecurities having older men in my classroom.


*Percentage of Fortune 500 board seats held by women in 2012: 17



BIZ: Do women have as much self-confidence at work as men?

ROSSNAGLE: We’re all guilty of self-doubt, thinking, “Am I doing enough, am I enough, could I have said that, done that differently?” Women have a tendency to do that more than men; we are our biggest critics.

GODDARD: I agree. With men, confidence is expected. When I talk to our team members at the Women’s Resource Center about the women they work with, the No. 1 issue that surfaces, regardless of age, is self-confidence.

WEST: Men do expect to move through the ranks and it comes more naturally. I’ve often created the next level for myself by saying, “Here’s what I’ve been doing. Why don’t you let me do this?” I’ve had to wedge my foot in the door. Anybody’s who’s ever come to me and asked, “Would you like to do this?” I’ve said yes, whether I knew how to do it or not. Always say yes.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: But I’ve been in that position where I’ve said, “I’m just not sure that I’m ready for that.” I’ve had some great male mentors, because when I said that—it happened to be Jim Chisholm, the DeSoto County administrator I served under—he said, “You are ready or I wouldn’t have suggested this.” I plowed in, and we did some remarkable work together.

PEREZ: A lot of the leadership team I work with at Zenith, from human resources to claims to audit, are women, so I don’t think I’ve ever tried to prove anything to anybody but myself. It empowers you to see all these women in leadership; they give you a hand, a nudge in the right direction.


*Amount women earn for every dollar a man earns in the U.S. in 2014: 77



BIZ: Women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you walk in and ask for what you think you’re worth?

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: There’s still a perception that men are the breadwinners, so when they look at women it’s, “Well, you’re making a good salary, but you’re the second salary.”

GODDARD: We find that [our clients] have to be coached on how to negotiate for salary. It’s a skill set that has to be learned.

DOUGHTERY-SLAPP: Some of it may be subconscious, when [employers] are looking at elevating women. “Is she going to be here for the long-term? Is she going to get pregnant and have a family and leave us? Do we want to invest in her?” Whether it’s said or unsaid, those internal discussions don’t happen when considering whether to promote a man or elevate his pay.

LANEY: It’s funny, because I was hired into State College of Florida pregnant as can be. I was terrified to go on that interview, because I was about six months pregnant. It ended up not being an issue at all.


*Percentage of Fortune 500 executive officer positions held by women in 2012: 15


Work/Life Balance

BIZ: Let’s talk about work/life balance.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: What is that?

LANEY: I have an almost 6-year-old and a 5-month-old. So my job works well because I am able to teach online and night classes. But the cost of daycare is an issue; my family constantly has had to weigh whether it’s worth time away from the children to actually go and work.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: How does the babies’ father factor into balancing that out?

LANEY: My husband has been my biggest support in continuing college, having a child and receiving my master’s. Without him saying, “I will take care of him every single night,” and taking on the cooking and cleaning, I could not pursue my dreams while having a family.

GODDARD: Work/life balance became more acceptable with the first Gulf War, when I was working for the Department of Defense. That was the first war in which we saw active duty females who were caregivers. The D.O.D. had to address those issues. Women are now more apt to raise those issues up front, than I would have been 20 years ago.

ROSSNAGLE: Technology blurs the lines of work-life balance, with our constant communication. I appreciate having the

ability to be connected at all times, but relationships and your personal sanity can suffer from it.

GODDARD: When my children got to middle school and high school, I [decided I would take on] large projects, but had the flexibility to work between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. If anything, that helped enhance my career. These days, I have empowered family and friends to check me when [my life] gets out of balance because I’m so focused.

WEST: I’m almost self-regulating in that regard. In the morning I start shoveling as hard as I can, and my natural clock ends 10 or 12 hours later. I reach the point where I can’t read another email or think another complex thought. When I’m done, I want completely mindless activities. Give me a ballgame on TV.

PEREZ: I think [it’s about] working smarter; knowing how to prioritize, knowing how to delegate. Sometimes that means that I’m at work until 6:30 because the next day I have to leave early to take my daughter to dance, or I can’t work out today because I’m going to my daughter’s school. I run my house. I run the schedule. I run the shopping. I run the groceries. I run the laundry. I find that part of being a woman empowering, because we run the ship.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: It’s got to be my age, because I’m getting tired listening to you. There is no balance; it’s a choice of sacrifices. I’ve committed to going to the gym five days a week, which means I’m going to work later at night or on a Saturday, because you can’t just chisel out five hours in a week and not pay for it some place. There is no balance, so be passionate about what you do. If you’re involved in the community, it needs to be something that you’re passionate about, so it’s not a chore.

BIZ: Do today’s mothers face expectations that are ridiculously high?

PEREZ: I see the opposite. I see so many working women want teachers, after-school programs, the Internet and all of this technology to teach their kids. They let the system raise the kids.

GODDARD: The reality about many working moms, depending on how much they’re earning, is that quality childcare is a major stressor. And if they’re a single female head of household, there are tough decisions that have to be made to continue to keep food on the table. That’s a reality for many, many women.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: My mother was a single mother before it was fashionable. I remember one time asking her if she was going to an open house because that was what all the good mothers did. And my mother said, “Why do I have to? School is your job.”

LANEY: I’m in a circle of stay-at-home moms, and I see their Facebook posts; they’re always playing with their kids and talking about their amazing dinners, and their house is always clean. I’ve had to sacrifice some of those things. When I’m at home taking care of the kids I’m also creating PowerPoints, doing research, and trying to pull information together to be a better teacher. We have taken an approach that our family is not child-centered. For example, our son has played T-ball for two seasons. This season he took a break because we just can’t fit it into our schedule. We would be racing around, and it’s just not healthy for us.

PEREZ: I have three hampers in case somebody’s coming, and we just shove everything in the hampers. Our rule is the bathroom is always clean, and the kitchen is always clean.

GODDARD: One of the things that helped me to not be overcome with guilt as a working parent was understanding what mattered to my children. It was having us at their performances, looking out and seeing Mom and Dad or Grandma. If I needed to get cookies, then I went to Publix.

ROSSNAGLE: I’m in a childless marriage. All these points feed into my husband’s and my decision to postpone our family until we’re ready to commit. I think it’s a trend, and I think it’s acceptable.


*Percentage of all mothers with children under the age of 18 who are in the U.S. labor force: 70


Career Advice

BIZ: What career or life advice would you give to other women?

WEST: Make sure you get your education and that you have a way to earn money. It doesn’t mean you always have to win the bread, but you have to be able to. Getting your independence will let you go wherever you need to go.

ROSSNAGLE: I came here from Connecticut. I didn’t know anyone. I realized I could not rely on my husband for my social life or career. I needed to build these connections. Having someone you trust, who you can lean on for support or advice on anything—career or personal—that needs to be constantly kept at the forefront. Building those relationships takes work, time and effort.

LANEY: Seek out somebody from an older generation. When I look at my life, I always seem to have somebody much more experienced than I am, who can say, “I remember when I was in your situation, this is what I did, this is how I failed, and this is how I fixed it.”

BIZ: Any advice from the boomers to the millennials?

WEST: Trust yourself and be decisive. Lots of people can’t make a decision because they’re afraid of being wrong, or they’re afraid that they haven’t uncovered every single detail that might cause them to decide. Weigh the information that you have, make a decision—even if it’s wrong, you can fix it.

GODDARD: Be willing to take risks, and with that, many opportunities will present themselves. If nothing else, it will be a phenomenal adventure.

DOUGHERTY-SLAPP: Don’t hold yourself back. Work harder than anybody else. When you’re happy, work. When you’re sad, work. When you’re sick, work. And then accept that you’ve done your best.

BIZ: And millennials, what do you want boomers to know about your generation?

ROSSNAGLE: We value feedback; we like to know how we can change in the moment. We can stop everything we’re doing, shift our mindset. We have a lot of things going on at all times; there are always new ideas populating and new things we’re thinking about. We thirst to do it all, and we want it all, and we want it now. Sometimes we’re looked at negatively for this, but it’s a strength if you harness that energy.

LANEY: I feel very similarly. We are so ambitious, and want to do everything, and have that instant gratification. A lot of times our generation is innovative and creative. How we execute things might look a little different, so just be willing to say, “OK, let’s try and see if we can work it out together.” Take that ride with us.

PEREZ: We might be outspoken, but it’s because of the confidence we had seeing your struggle, and how much you’ve accomplished.  Maybe if we can’t get there, we want that CEO to give us the tools. Throw anything at us. We can tackle it.


*Percentage of female students at U.S. law and medical schools: 47


Many thanks to Vincent M. Lucente  & Associates, which donated stenography services for this roundtable.

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