Reaching Critical Mass

About 25 years ago when I was interviewing women for my Working Women series of books, a top executive in a very large company told me that the only way the workplace would change to be more supportive of women was if the number of women executives reached critical mass.

She said, “When there is only one woman in corporate management or on a board of directors, she is generally ignored. When there are only two women, they often get played against each other so neither feels confident enough to make waves. But when there are three, you have critical mass. Then women can actually be heard, make changes and have a significant impact.”

The interesting thing is that we are still a long way away from “critical mass” in the workplace. One measure of this is the number of women on the boards of directors of the Fortune 100-1000 companies. A number of mostly nonprofit organizations have been keeping track of this for years. One is Women on Boards ( whose stated goal is to have all boards of directors to have 20% women by 2020. They have a great chart showing the changes between 2011-2014 for the Fortune 100, 500 and 1000 companies. The numbers have been inching up, especially in the Fortune 100 and we might get there. You can see it at

The ultimate goal, of course, is to have gender parity, which, if the modest upward trend continues, might happen somewhere around 2042! Today women currently hold 4.8% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. That means there are a grand total of 24 women CEOs there.

Does this mean that men in power are bad guys? Absolutely not. Most are totally unaware that they discriminate against women and are shocked when it is pointed out that their behavior could be seen as that. It comes back to something another woman executive related to me about the CEO she worked with explaining his hiring process for his team. He said, “You know, there is never a single best candidate for a job. What I always do is narrow the pool of qualified candidates down to the top two or three. And then I pick the one most like me.”


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Every employee doesn’t have to think like the boss

Learning how to choose my employees was probably the key factor in the success of Senior Planning Services.

When I started my business twenty­five years ago, I was willing to work around the clock to turn my vision of helping those who struggle because of aging into a reality. I realized early on that I had to carefully choose and hire capable people to help me. No matter what you may think going in, you need help as an entrepreneur, and you cannot shortcut the process. This strategy has allowed me to develop a staff I feel good about and can trust.

I have always been careful to find staff members who fit into the culture of my business and share my values. I always hire for character and integrity plus strong work ethic and genuine compassion for the people we work with. When in doubt, I always think: if something goes wrong, how would this look on the front page of the LA Times?

At first, I only hired people who had the same workstyle as I did. It seemed like a good idea because, as they say, great minds think alike and combining similar people at work clearly generates the most fruitful outcomes. Or so I thought until I hired a woman who was everything that I was not.

It turned out that having a completely different type of person in the team was incredibly beneficial for the business. I realized that her workstyle completed mine and we worked really well together. I started seeing the distinctions between us as advantages rather than obstacles. I learned that those who are different from us will be strong when we are weak and vice versa.

I recommend that you find the people who complete your business style, the ones that fill out the gaps in your team – the ones who can offer what you yourself do not have. This is how you lay the foundation for a business that will survive even the toughest challenges.

I’m proud to say that over the years Senior Planning Services has provided care for hundreds of Santa Barbara seniors and has been recognized for our outstanding work that goes above and beyond expectations. A great deal of our success is due to our diverse team who all don’t think just like me.

Suzanne McNeely

Suzanne McNeely is the founder of Senior Planning Services. She was the winner of the 2014 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards in Health. To learn more about Suzanne and her business, go to

Written with the assistance of Nanna Strid. (

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There is no failure

To me there is no failure; there is success or learning. If you consider something you have done a failure it is because you did not learn from it. Every experience we have is a chance to grow and evolve into a better person. While sometimes scary and painful, it is a lesson I have learned from every “failure” in my life.

One of my biggest lessons came when I moved to Santa Barbara. I was an actor and producer in Los Angeles, loved my apartment, had a great job but something was telling me it was time to go.  One afternoon when my bosses were out of town I decided to search in Santa Barbara for a production job. I found a few production companies, faxed resumes and waited. Most said they weren’t hiring or would only hire local, but one man was interested.  He had just put an ad in the paper that morning. I met him that following weekend; he hired me on the spot (offering more money than I asked for) and I accepted. I quit my job in LA, much to the dismay of my bosses, and started the search for an apartment in Santa Barbara. I packed my life into boxes; sold things I didn’t need and moved to SB with boyfriend in tow.

The job was perfect, Santa Barbara was fabulous and I was as happy as a clam. For about eight weeks.  Suddenly I had no job. We parted ways and I found myself unemployed, knowing no one here and not sure what direction to go. I felt humiliated, a failure, embarrassed and shamed. What would I tell all my friends? What I quickly learned was…no one seemed to be judging. They said they were sorry, asked what happened, but if they did judge, I didn’t feel it.

At that point, I had no idea what to do.  I was over the production company thing.  Although I got a job at an eco-resort company, I was feeling the pull to get back to massage and healing that I had done in my spare time for years.  I would walk down the street commenting on the posture of the person walking in front of me, “Look at that, clearly his hip is hurting. If I could just get my hands on his low back, I could fix that.”

I had never thought of massage as a full time profession, but everything started to fall into place. I found a massage school where I could get more training, and the day I enrolled in school the company I worked for announced they were shutting down.  I got a job a week later at a Physical Therapy office doing massage. Six months after that I went out on my own.  My practice rapidly became successful.

Now, thirteen years later, I have three books, an award-winning practice, a TV series, a massage DVD and speak around the world on health.

Here is the big lesson. Everything happens as it is supposed to. I say that about the job here in Santa Barbara falling through. I never would have left LA without a job. And the job I took was amazing. Had it worked out, I probably would have stayed in it forever. I truly believe I was supposed to be in Santa Barbara doing the healing work I do.  Everything lined up to allow that to happen. The combination of acting, healing, and production has come together to allow me to have the current life I have. Was it scary and painful? Yes. But all growth is. You have to trust and surrender because with that you will always succeed and/or learn. That is my lesson.

Dr. Kathy Gruver, PhD, LMT, RM

Author of the The Alternative Medicine Cabinet, Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques and Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker

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If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

That succinct phrase is one of the most important lessons entrepreneurs learn if they want to be successful.  Alison Winter, the first president of Northern Trust of California, told it to me many years ago when I interviewed her for the first book I put together, Two Years Without Sleep: Working Moms Talk About Having a Baby and a Job.

Northern Trust was based in Chicago, as was Alison, and was planning on opening banks in California.  The first was planned for San Francisco and several executives, all male, were being considered  for the job of launching them.  Alison decided she wanted it, so she asked.  And kept asking.  Guess what?  She got the job.

It turned out to be a lot harder to launch the bank than she thought (isn’t it always!), since all she had to work with when she got to San Francisco was a rented office with one desk, one chair and a phone.  She’d brought along her assistant, and the two of them did the rest.

So whenever I find myself reluctant to ask for something for my business or the SOE Foundation, I remember Alison’s words, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”  After all, what’s the worst thing that can happen?  The person you are asking says “no.”  Nothing has been lost in process.  But sometimes the person will say yes or can be persuaded to say yes.  And it feels great!

Cathy Feldman

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Why this blog?

More than twenty years ago, I interviewed hundreds of women for a trilogy of books I called The Working Women series.  One of my goals was to let women share what they were experiencing in the workplace so they would know they were not alone. Another goal was to give women the opportunity to learn from one another.  While the women in the books weren’t all CEOs, those who ran successful businesses then didn’t use the term “entrepreneur.”  But entrepreneurs they were, and the challenges they faced were often daunting, yet most survived and prospered.

A few years after those books were published, I helped start a group in Santa Barbara called the Women’s Executive Network.  Our bi-monthly meetings were a place where we could share the successes and challenges we faced and support each other, sometimes in very concrete ways. We often joke we are the feminine equivalent of the “old boys’ club.” But seventeen years later we are still going strong and learning from one another.

Sharing and learning is the reason why we have started the Lessons Learned blog.  There are a lot of successful women entrepreneurs.  At the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation ( we know that, which is why we have been honoring them for the past three years.  And they know a lot!  So this blog is a way we can all share and learn on a larger scale.

I find it interesting that the traditional media as well as major financial companies are just now realizing how important women entrepreneurs are to the economy and that they might have been overlooking this very important market.  American Express OPEN even called their report, published in April 2013, Growing Under the Radar: An Exploration of the Achievement of Million-Dollar Women-Owned Firms.

Additional studies have been done and, lo and behold, it is now clear that successful women entrepreneurs are a real phenomenon.  Writer Geri Stengel recently brought a lot of the data and real life stories together in an article for Forbes under the headline of: 11 Reasons 2014 Will Be A Breakout Year For Women Entrepreneurs.  Here’s the link: . It is full of information and highly recommended.

One of the points in the story is that women entrepreneurs create their own “ecosystem” by networking just like men do.  What a surprise!  But there is one difference that has made the financial world aware of this “market”: recognition.  In the past five years there are more and more awards for successful women, like our Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards. And women are no longer shy about publicizing their accomplishments.  It’s about time.

This Lessons Learned blog was conceived as platform for women entrepreneurs to share their experiences in the hope that it will help others who might be facing similar situations.  We are inviting all the past winners of the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards and all the other women entrepreneurs out there to send us stories they’d like to share. We hope you will. The link to send them in is below.

Cathy Feldman
Board Chair/CEO
Spirit of Entrepreneurship Foundation
Publisher, Blue Point Books

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