Delaware’s strongest business leaders include women on the front lines of growing their organizations, navigating change and mentoring others who will follow in their footsteps. Delaware Business Times sat down with five women from a cross-section of industries to talk about their journey, and the rewards and challenges of being part of the Delaware business landscape.
Talk about how you got your start and the mentors you have had along the way.
Lori Davis: I got my start at my current job through a friend. It was a referral, actually. Previously, I worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years. I have had several mentors along the way, many women who have helped me not only with education, but business decisions and personally, as well.
Makenzie Windfelder: After I graduated college, I was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep and decided to go back to law school. I went at night because I had a mortgage and couldn’t afford to go back full time. As soon as I graduated, I took a job with McCarter & English, and I have been there for 11 years now. You really can’t get ahead without mentors and advocates, at least in my field, so I think they’re very important. I mostly have had male mentors, with some female, and have found both to be invaluable.
Lisa Detwiler: I worked with PBG Industries, a Fortune 500 company, for 18 years. I was on the road to running one of its business units when I realized I wanted to be in more of an entrepreneurial-type role. So, I did a crazy switch and took a chance on coming to SSD Technology Partners. Eventually, I and two other partners bought out the business. Most of my mentors have been men because I have always been in a primarily male-dominated field. I think this is a positive thing because to be in those types of fields, you have to understand all perspectives and how to lead a workforce that is primarily male.
Celeste Clancy: I worked for a veterinarian through high school but decided that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I started in banking right out of college. I started at what was Philadelphia National Bank, a long-ago predecessor to what is now Wells Fargo. I have had a lot of formal and informal mentors along the way. Probably the one who sticks out the most was a boss of mine who, in my very young career, believed I could do a lot more than I even believed I could do. There also was a woman, a senior leader in the group I was working for, who was really tough and everybody was afraid of her. But I learned more from her than anyone in my career. I would call her an informal mentor.
Rachel Maher: I feel like God puts people in places for a reason, and every step of the way I have met people who have been very encouraging and helpful. You take a lot of what people say and you kind of take their input and mold it into how you work and practice in your life. I have had some wonderful mentors, but the one I give the most credit to is Dr. Connie Greeley. I met her after my training, and she’s now my Delaware mom and mentor. We discuss life and practice and patients and gripes. It’s really good to have a sounding board with somebody who has been where you have been.
What are some of the challenges or barriers you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
Lori Davis: I would say the challenge of being a role model, a mother, a professional and tying that all together, plus you still have to perform, do your job and make sure things get done. There was a woman, if I could go back to the mentoring for a bit, who was a vice president when I was in the hospitality industry, and she mentored me. She had two kids and a very high-powered job, and just to listen to her and see how she kind of connected the dots and put things together really helped me.
Lisa Detwiler: I think one of the challenges is not being afraid to take risks, because if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to push yourself. I went back to school to get my MBA when I was a production superintendent at a plant that operated 24/7 365 days a year. I worked from 7 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon, then drove two hours to Carnegie Mellon to sit in class from 6 to 10 at night. At one point, I went to my HR manager and said I’m either going to leave and finish my MBA because I know that’s what I need to do, or you’re going to find me a job that’s closer. And they found me a job that was closer. But sometimes I think the challenge is asking for things, and it was a risk because they could have told me to leave. But it’s important to put yourself out there.
Makenzie Windfelder: Going back to what Lori was saying about being a mother and professional, I think it’s really challenging. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job. I worked till 12:30 last night. Got up at 5. It’s not like that all the time, but you kind of feel like it’s a scale and nothing’s ever balanced. Like if work is going well and you feel on top of your game, something else is suffering because of it. I’m not saying it’s not challenging for men, but I do think as women and as mothers, you feel there’s an expectation that you’re going to be there for the kids more, and sometimes you can’t do that.
Celeste Clancy: Just picking up on that theme, I think part of the challenge is that in today’s world, we’re all expected to be on 24/7. How many of us don’t work at night and sometimes on the weekend? So, there’s the family-work-life balance, and on top of that there’s an electronic expectation that you’re always going to be available. It just adds to the pressure. A different challenge for me came after I left banking in 1995 to stay home with my four kids, then decided to go back after 15 years to help pay college tuitions. At the time, I didn’t think of it as a challenge. I thought, no problem, I was valued back then, I’ll get a job. And it worked out really well. But looking back now I think, how did somebody take a chance on me after being out of the workforce for 15 years?
Rachel Maher: I think my challenges started when I decided to build my own practice at 29, 30 years old and you realize quickly that there are a lot of people out there who are looking to take advantage of someone who doesn’t know any better. From the landlord to the contractor to the realtor to — I mean, you name it, I had issues with it. And there are big dollar signs attached to the contracts you sign. So, you learn to go over contracts and things with a fine-toothed comb, and you get a thicker skin for sure. You learn lessons and you remind yourself that you did that once and you never want to do it again. And then you just put your head down and go to work and do your thing.
A couple of you have touched on the diversity-at-work issue and the fact that you’re in male-dominated fields. What are the patterns or trends you’ve seen in your industry?
Makenzie Windfelder: At law firms I think it’s getting better. It’s still male-dominated, for the most part, but larger clients especially are pushing diversity so much. So even firms that aren’t as proactive in seeking a more diverse population, especially at the higher ranks, are being forced to do so because clients want to see women and minorities at higher levels. Like I said, most of my mentors have been male, but I have never felt held back because I’m a woman. I feel like if you work hard, you will get ahead. In my life that’s proven true, so I continue to live by that motto. But one thing I see is that men expect things, and they’re also good at asking for things and telling you what they did. Whether it be associate or partner level, they are much better at self-advocating and are more confident. I can see it with myself. I will second-guess myself, whereas a male counterpart will throw out statements confidently. That’s a good quality to have and women need to develop that.
Ellen Kullman spoke at a recent Great Dames event, and some interesting points. One was that a woman would see a position and she might have 30 percent of the skills they’re looking for, so she would immediately dismiss herself, whereas a man would go for it. Talk about that mindset and how we can shift it.
Lisa Detwiler: It’s like what I was saying earlier. If it’s something you really want, you have to put yourself out there and ask for it. It’s interesting, though, because I think it’s generational, too. I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I look at her business in general has changed a lot in that regard, and banking certainly has.
Lori Davis: I have to piggyback on that because I was just going to say the same thing. I think the difference sometimes between men and women is men will ask. They will say, I want to be VP of this corporation by X amount of years. As women, we have our checklist, our to-do list, and keep our nose to the grindstone. But I have learned throughout my career that you need to tell people exactly where you want to be and what you want to do. Tell them what you want in terms of a career position and ask how to get there.
Celeste Clancy: We had a women’s leadership conference within Wells Fargo recently, and our senior management was there to say that very thing — ask for the position, don’t be afraid. And some of them were even recruiting for that different candidate with the different skillset. Think about it, and just ask. It may not be in your wheelhouse, but ask.
How have your industries evolved since you started? Is there room for advancement in your respective sector and is it encouraged?
Makenzie Windfelder: I think it depends on the company, but at least at McCarter I felt like the next step, when I wanted to become partner, was what do I have to do to get there. Finding a good advocate and sponsor is integral to getting ahead, someone who’s in the room who’s going to fight for you and be your voice if you can’t be in the room.
Celeste Clancy: Banking has changed a great deal since I started in ’83. At the time, there were lots of opportunities for young women at junior positions, but senior women in the industry were few-and-far-between. Banking has changed tremendously since then. There are many women in senior positions now. Banking has also become much more flexible. Like, there were certain things you could and couldn’t do when I first started. There was no such thing as part-time work or work from home. I think business in general has changed a lot in that regard, and banking certainly has.
Rachel Maher: Dentistry has also changed. It used to be the majority were solo practices and now the big corporations are starting to move in and kind of gobble up all the new graduates, because the new generation wants to be able to move around. So, the big corporations have practices in different states so they can work in different places, maybe here two years, then San Francisco for three years.
Are there any advantages to a solo practice?
Rachel Maher: Your paycheck is better. You don’t have to share it with your boss. When I was an associate in Pennsylvania before I decided what, when, where and how I was going to open a practice, I probably took home an average of 28 percent of the business I produced. Because there are contracts involved and insurance write-offs and then you get your percentage of whatever is left. Which is understandable, and is why you decide what works for you and what doesn’t. But it also has its challenges. You know, to have coverage when you want to go away or take a break. I’m also very particular about who comes into my practice and helps me because those are my patients. So, there are good things and there are challenges, too.
Lisa Detwiler: I think the advantage is you make the rules, and the disadvantage is you make the rules. I think making the rules and being fair to people and putting a good team in place and giving people opportunity are the most important things that I really strive to do. But it’s a disadvantage, too, because if you make the wrong decision, you’re affecting a lot of people.
How have your leadership skills evolved and what have you done to grow your skills?
Celeste Clancy: One of the things I have done recently is get very involved in service outside of my job. I joined a young nonprofit board in Philadelphia, Own Your Awesomeness, that does summer camp for high school girls to empower them. Because it’s a young board, it’s a working board, and, boy, has it done a lot for my leadership skills. It’s like running your own business. You have to recruit good board members, you have to be involved in fundraising, you have to be involved in marketing — everything. So that’s been really powerful.
Lori Davis: Because you’re juggling many balls. I’m also on a working board, and you’ve got to influence people to get things done without a paycheck. It’s different when you’re paying someone to do a job. I’m involved in the Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation, mentoring and helping women at-risk to go back to college, and I’m also vice president of my church council. It’s a whole different ballgame.
How has being a woman influenced you in your position? Do you find that it has influenced the way you lead or mentor or take the helm of things?
Lori Davis: I think it has for me. I’m mentoring a young lady right now who’s just going back to college and figuring out how to fit that in with a little baby. I’m able to share my experiences with that and how to juggle things and get homework done. I was a single mom for a long period of time, so I’m able to share those war stories, if you will, on how to handle the day-to-day challenges.
What do you think is the responsibility of women who are doing well in the workforce in terms of mentoring others?
Rachel Maher: I start with my patients, who are really little. Sometimes they will show interest, and I tell them, well, first of all, study hard, make good grades and you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. And I’ll tell them, you’re going to be a great dentist someday. I also help at the dental residency here, and it’s male and female residents who come through every year, but you just encourage them all. Just be encouraging, be a good example and do the best you can.
Lisa Detwiler: I think it’s important, as women, to be as good a role model to men. There are a lot of, I would say, 25- to 35-year-old men who work in the technology industry, and I think it’s just as important to be a good role model to them, because maybe they haven’t experienced a strong woman in their life. I have a son and a daughter, and I like to think I’ve raised pretty independent kids with my husband. In our careers we have always said, when I need help, you need to be there, and vice versa. It’s good to show your kids that it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, you work as a team, you work together.
Makenzie Windfelder: I totally agree with that. The only other thing I will say is that I do mentor both female and male associates. I don’t care about gender. I believe advocacy for women and support in the industry are very important, but if there’s a male counterpart who is clearly working harder, I will support him over a female. Whoever is hard-working, detail-oriented, reliable -- I will push for whoever that is, be it male or female, to get a raise or bonus or advancement.
Lori Davis: When I worked in New York City in my first multi-unit position, the woman who mentored me took me out for my first business suit, the hair, the whole nine yards. And she always said to me, “You need to take someone with you. You always take another woman with you.” Since then, no matter what job I was in, what position, I’ve always tried to take someone, teach them, mentor them about the position, the job itself or the bigger brand. That has stuck with me.
MEET THE PANELISTS
Celeste Clancy is currently vice president in the Wells Fargo Middle Market Banking Group in Philadelphia, where she is responsible for key relationships with corporate customers that have a sales size of between $20 million to $1 billion. She began her banking career in 1983 at The Philadelphia National Bank.
During her career she has had various lending/relationship management assignments including lending to foreign corporate, large corporate and business banking customers. She spent three years at the bank’s London branch and has also lived in Madrid, Spain.
She has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Temple University. She is very active in the community, sitting on the advisory board of an affordable housing nonprofit in Philadelphia and is involved in several charitable causes including a nonprofit that empowers high school girls through summer camp programs in Philadelphia.
Lori Davis is a business leader who brings over 25 years of operations and customer service experience to her current role as executive operations manager at Stat International. A Kutztown University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business management, she started her career in the food service industry as an entry level manager. Over the span of her career with YUM Brands, she grew in leadership, and became a training director and multi-unit operator.
At Stat International, a company with clients spanning the United States and around the globe, she has provided leadership and business acumen in helping entrepreneurs and seasoned business professionals with developing an approach to broadening their business through an array of office services.
Lisa Detwiler joined SSD Technology Partners in 2006 as chief marketing officer, and in 2014 she and her two partners Woodie Bowe and Nick Ewen purchased the company. Detwiler holds an MBA in marketing and strategy from Carnegie Mellon University. She successfully led SSD through a difficult economy in 2012, recording the company’s greatest growth record in 31 years.
She believes that the foundation for the company’s success does not come from fancy business buzzwords or the latest management fads, but from behaviors, commitments and basic guidelines of how they operate as individuals and as a company. They do what’s best for the client, practice blameless problem-solving, seek to create win/win solutions, check the ego at the door, and communicate to be understood.
Detwiler serves the community as a board chair of the Delaware Better Business Bureau and has been a member of Wilmington Rotary Club for 11 years.
Dentistry for Children
Dr. Rachel Maher opened her private practice, Dentistry for Children, on Foulk Roadin Wilmington in 2003. She completed the Board Examination process and became a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2006 and completed the required recertification process in 2016.She attended Alvernia College (now University), in Reading, Pennsylvania, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
She completed four years of training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and received her D.M.D. degree in 1998.
Dr. Maher is an active member in the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and is the current president of the Delaware State Dental Society. She has received the Top Dentist award from Delaware Today Magazine, multiple years in a row, as voted on by her peers.
Makenzie Windfelder handles pharmaceutical and medical device product liability litigation, and her practice includes patent litigation and antitrust disputes.Windfelder has been involved in defending major pharmaceutical companies in various state and federal product liability, antitrust and patent litigations where she has assisted with witness preparation, interviewing and advising company employees, and liaising with regional and national defense counsel on a variety of issues.
In her general practice, Windfelder has experience litigating arbitrations and disputes in both federal and state courts in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Windfelder is a member of McCarter’s Women’s Initiative Steering Committee, which presides over the policies that have led to McCarter receiving Gold Standard Certification from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum for five consecutive years.