No matter what business they are in — finance, comedy, mango preserves or media — women in Hampton Roads agree they work in a male-dominated field. Each woman climbed the professional ladder to reach powerful roles in their professions with the ...
No matter what business they are in â€” finance, comedy, mango preserves or media â€” women in Hampton Roads agree they work in a male-dominated field.Each woman climbed the professional ladder to reach powerful roles in their professions with the help of role models and empowering advice.
Anne C.H. Conner is dedicated to empowering women, no matter the field. Conner is the president of public finance and community investment at TowneBank and solidified her position by following her vision of success.Lakesha Brown-Renfro and her Simply Panache LLC co-owners began selling their mango preserves at local farmers markets and were featured on ABC's "Shark Tank" television show. Brown-Renfro continues to thrive in Hampton with other business ventures including Mango Mangeaux: A Simply Panache Bistro, bed and breakfast Simply Panache Place and Simply Panache Nail Bar and Pedi Spa.
After taking an unconventional route to becoming a partner at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP in Newport News, Leslie Roberts is a working mother with more than 30 years of experience in accounting.Publisher and editor-in-chief Marisa Porto oversees operations for the Daily Press Media Group, which includes the Daily Press, Virginia Gazette and Tidewater Review.
For 26 years, Lorain Cosgrave has proved her staying power in the local area. When she first opened local comedy club Cozzy's, Cosgrave was shut out by promoters and comedians who doubted her success. Now, Cozzy's Comedy Club and Tavern is one of the most successful in the area. She also recently opened Hilton Tavern in Newport News.Who has been your biggest source of inspiration?
Conner: "There are different things that inspire me, but certainly women succeeding inspires me, there's no doubt about that."Brown-Renfro: "I'm inspired by my parents. I came from a blue-collar family but my parents always thought I didn't need to fit in the box â€” that whatever I wanted to do, I could do it."
Roberts: "My mom was just the most loving person I've ever met, and when I had to make some difficult choices in my career to scale back a little bit when my children were younger, I had to do it. I saw my mom and what she meant to me in my life, and I wanted my kids to have it all. I think her influence made me take a different look at things."Porto: "My mom, who was an inspiration in coming to America and starting a whole new life in a whole new country and this was not her first or her second language â€” my aunt the same way, my sister also; coming here and starting a life where you don't know anyone is a hard thing to do."But also, I've been really lucky along the way. I've had teachers in high school who were wonderful role models who wanted to see me succeed, who helped and encouraged me along the way."Cosgrave: "My father was my biggest influence. He was a business owner in New York City, and I saw how he treated his employees and his customers â€” his work ethic and his integrity and honesty. I try to model myself after him with my employees and customers."How has being a woman in your field changed?Conner: "Today I think you can be anything you want to be. The industry is still woefully lacking in women CEOs at all levels, from the largest multinational banks to community banks."You see more executive women in lots of different roles. Certainly we have made great progress in the banking industry, but we still have a long way to go, and I think that applies to corporate America in general."Brown-Renfro: "There's not many women who own restaurants. It's a more male-dominated world, even in the kitchen. Sometimes it's been challenging, like when we were getting ready to first open our bistro. People knew we had these mango preserves, but they didn't know we had the business plan behind it. It was always a challenge trying to explain how the preserves related to the restaurant business. I think we've proven that we have staying power, and we weren't just a jar of jelly, but we had a plan and a vision."Roberts: "Back when I first graduated, it was a very male-dominated field and now maybe about 50 percent of the people coming out of college are women in the accounting profession."Porto: "I will say, in my first jobs doing what I do for a living, there were more females. There were more women in the reporting ranks, the editing ranks and production sort of earlier on in the game. As you get into some of the high levels, there are fewer women in those roles."Cosgrave: "When I first started, and I've been here for 26 years, it was tough, especially in the comedy business. Being a woman, you were almost looked down on, and you had to be strong and really stand up to some of the agents and even some of the comedians. People still think a man runs my business here."What advice would you pass on?Conner: "There's one thing that has been a huge pet peeve of mine as long as I've been an adult, and that is the war between stay-at-home moms and working moms. In every opportunity I've had to speak publicly to women, and I've had a lot over the years, I say, 'Don't engage in that.' Don't engage because everyone has to define success for themselves."Brown-Renfro: "I am always encouraging people to just do it. If you have a dream, you have vision, you have a plan, do it."Roberts: "Decide what you like and really go for it. You don't have to do things the same way everybody's done it."I think just have the right attitude no matter what situation you find yourself in because you can learn something every step of the way."Porto: "My advice is something a mentor of mine once told me. Glenn Proctor, he was the editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and he was my mentor in a leadership program that I was in once. His model is 'carry your own water,' and what he meant by that is, don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Don't use anything as an excuse to not get where you're going."Cosgrave: "Whether it's comedy or a restaurant, you've got to stay sharp. Go for it! Do it! It's going to be a lot of work, long hours, but don't hesitate to follow the path you want to go on and go for it."Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-374-3134.Women's History Month series
March is Women's History Month. To commemorate the annual event, the Daily Press will highlight five women in different fields â€” arts, business, education and government â€” every Sunday. Each figure was asked the same three questions.
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