Fast-forward ten years to the realities of a pandemic complicating our professional and personal lives, and taking an hour to hear from a group of talented trailblazers seemed an excellent reason to squeeze in another Zoom session.

With this in mind, I turned off my phone alerts and sat down with a fresh cup of tea Wednesday morning to listen to the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s timely webinar: Profiles of Women Leading in A Crisis, in collaboration with Berkeley College. I was especially looking forward to hearing from Alejandra Ceja, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Panasonic North America, Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation, and a stalwart champion for The Newark Museum of Art. Alejandra didn’t disappoint and neither did her fellow panelists, who were well chosen by NRBP and its Executive Vice President Barbara Kauffman. The webinar was moderated by Angela Harrington, VP, Communications and External Relations, Berkeley College. Joining Alejandra were Laura Mashtaler, owner of the wonderful Black Swan Espresso in Newark; Gail Friedberg, CEO of ZAGO Manufacturing; Michele Haynes, Associate Vice President of Marketing, New Jersey Advance Media; and Anne Erni, Chief People Officer at Audible. All of them provided an outstanding and diverse array of perspectives for me to consider. I found much encouragement from this cadre of women, both to continue practices we have put in place during this crisis and to consider some new ideas.

When Angela Harrington asked the panel how they managed their teams when COVID-19 first required the rapid move to a majority of staff working from home, I was heartened to hear that several of the panelists created cross-functional task forces similar to our own Change Agents, who have developed our Reopening and Recovery plan for the Museum.

I was also reminded that the very qualities women leaders are often subtly criticized for—empathy, openness, and positivity—are the very traits enabling us to survive and even, at times, thrive during this tsunami of ambiguity. As one panelist pointed out, it’s no wonder that true leadership in this crisis has come primarily from female heads of state, in countries as far and wide as New Zealand and Germany.

My good friend Alejandra astutely pointed out that while women time and time again demonstrate we are natural born leaders, it is also okay for us to embrace our vulnerability and take time to connect with family and community. (Note to self: call those dear friends back in San Francisco I keep meaning to check in with.)

During the hour, I also found myself nodding in agreement as each panelist spoke to putting staff first and the critical need for leaders to be as flexible as possible. With their employees being put to the ultimate work/life balance test, these impressive women are re-evaluating and creating new models for teamwork and productivity, while considering the rising mental health issues for so many at their organizations.

As executives, entrepreneurs, volunteers, and community leaders, we are juggling a convergence of professional, personal, and family responsibilities the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. Yet even with these immense challenges, I have to say I still see some of my peers striving to be superwomen. Accordingly, I was so pleased the webinar concluded with a question around self-care for these very busy women. Along with answers that included taking walks, meditating, and carving out time with friends and family, I plan on taking away a different piece of advice. With all due respect to my male counterparts, I am tucking away this tip: “Don’t doubt yourself. Men rarely do.”

In solidarity with all my colleagues,

Linda C. Harrison
Director and CEO
The Newark Museum of Art