- November 19, 2021
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Posted to: Business/ Economic Development
The first day Cherie Phoenix-Sharpe pulled into the lieutenant governor’s office to begin working as her general counsel, she asked herself: Did I really land this position?
She was experiencing “imposter syndrome.” And she wasn’t alone.
Phoenix-Sharpe told that story on a “Women’s Power Panel” dedicated to the subject Thursday at the Omni New Haven Hotel at the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Big Connect” Business Expo.
Her fellow panelists were also high-powered, successful women — who have also wrestled with the same syndrome, the fear that their peers will “find out” that they don’t deserve their position and their achievement is a fraud.
Moderator Laura Hutchinson co-anchors WTNH’s “Good Morning Connecticut” program. At home, she takes care of a toddler, with a baby girl on the way.
“To me, imposter syndrome is that feeling you need to step up a little more,” Hutchinson said. “There’s a guilt that you’re not doing enough sometimes. Of course, I feel pressure to raise my son in a certain way so that he feels confident to do what he wants. But there is a different feeling of bringing a woman into the world, and making sure she feels secure in her abilities.”
Hutchinson recalled the time, when she was in college, when someone from a local news station came to one of her classes. The class had 50 students. The visitor said six of them would make it in the business.
“Of course, that brought the room to a very quiet place,” Hutchinson said. “And then he said of those six, it wouldn’t be you unless you had a unique name or a unique background.
“I was sitting there and thinking to myself, ‘My name is Laura, and I look like this. Maybe I do need some kind of Plan B.’ But then a fire sort of sparked in me and then I said to myself, ‘No, this is really what I want. This has been my plan!’”
“I realized that a lot of the pressure was self-inflicted,” Phoenix-Sharpe said of that first day going to work for Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. “We need to start encouraging girls at a young age: ‘If you want to do this — you can do it. And can be the best at it.’ You have to own what you’re bringing to the table. There are going to people, still to this day, doubting — based on your gender, race, or several other factors that if you should be sitting at that table. It’s not a fair reality, but it’s a reality.”
“You can have a man and a woman with the same resume, and the woman will say that she’s not qualified for the job and the man will say that he needs to pay more than they offered to,” Phoenix-Sharpe said. “It’s not just about having the skill set. Being a woman, and being a person of color, is a skill set in itself because you offer a perspective that isn’t already on the table. We need to start embracing the value that we bring because we are diverse in addition to the core skill set that we offer.”
“For me, imposter syndrome has shown up when I’ve failed to bring my true, full self into the positions that I’m in. There’s the idea that people will find out that I’m not from that sector,” said Southern Connecticut State University School of Business Dean Jennifer Robin. “But then I’m like, ‘ait a minute, I have skills, experiences, perspectives, and ideas that will be helpful in this role.’”
Jennifer Openshaw, CEO of Girls With Impact, said that when she started out in the business world, she sold her first company, and then felt lost. She didn’t have her next gig yet.
Openshaw started looking into banking and sent cold emails to several CEOs hoping for a bite.
She received a phone call back from Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
“I remember standing outside of his office. and I couldn’t believe that I had pulled it off,” Openshaw said. “But I learned that we each have a responsibility to take those steps to go forward.”
She conquered her challenges in the business world by learning to take risks and to strategize accordingly.
“Never lunch alone. Try to make an effort to engage with other people,” Openshaw said. “You have to do it if you’re going to excel.”
Towards the end of the discussion, audience member Jennifer Fournier (on the right in photo), asked about how “to present myself as I know what I’m doing, even if I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing? How do you address the core problem, which is our inherent sense of self-worth that has been permeated through our culture for centuries?”
Candace Freedenberg, founder of Untapped Potential Inc., suggested positive visualization: Instead of imagining yourself in a leadership role, imagine your best friend.
“It’s easier to visualize someone that you trust,” Freedenberg said. “If you can visualize them in a leadership role, then you’re more likely to come to the normalization that you are in that role too. We need to have more women take those leadership roles and be highlighted in that field so that girls can see that from a younger age, and can picture themselves in those roles.”
Also during Thursday’s Chamber Big Connect expo, numerous New Haveners won awards.
Havenly won a nonprofit award, as did the Towers Foundation. Randi Rubin Rodriguez of ‘r Kids, Karaine Holness of Hair’s Kay Beauty Salon, Patrick Dunn of the New Haven Pride Center, and Sanddra’s Next Generation’s Sandra and Miguel Pittman won minority business impact awards. Jayla Manning of Community Ation Agency, Sariel Alessi of SARAH Inc., and Syed Ahmed of IRIS were “graduate grant” recipients.”
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