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Becoming a Woman Business Leader in Complex Times
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Sage Advice by SSP Architects Principal Given at the SCBP’s International Women’s Day Event

During these complex times, what should women business professionals keep in mind when seeking to obtain leadership positions in their organizations? Compelling advice on this issue was presented by SSP Architects Senior Principal Jeanne Perantoni and other women leader panelists at the recent Somerset County Business Partnership’s (SCBP) 2024 International Women’s Day (IWD) Event. They stressed the importance of:

  • Providing a woman’s unique and unifying perspective on a project’s big picture.
  • Pushing the boundaries on things your organization has never done before.
  • Networking with successful people in your field.
  • Building the self-confidence to strive for leadership positions – when you have most, but not all the requested qualifications.

Over 300 women came to the Bridgewater Marriott earlier this month to attend a morning brunch, which featured a keynote by Wanda Hope, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for Johnson & Johnson Worldwide.

Picking up on the diversity theme, Perantoni said, “Not only is diversity in the workforce the right thing to do, but it also adds to an organization’s bottom line.” One important lesson she learned early in her career was on a construction site for a new school in Elizabeth, NJ. She saw that the work wasn’t being done efficiently due to a lack of communication between the laborers working in different construction trades on the project. She brought the men together – asking them to set aside their “male egos” and silo vision – to listen to each other and understand the best sequencing of work which would produce the most efficient way to get the job done. Her success in envisioning a win-win scenario led to buy-in by all trades and helped develop a construction management plan that reduced turf fights, improved communications between site workers and the client, and eliminated roadblocks to doing the job right – which meant on time and in budget.

Perantoni served on the IWD event panel along with Shanel Robinson, Somerset County Commissioner Director, Nanette Lee, Senior VP of PNC Bank, Shani Madaminova, an entrepreneur and owner of Leaf Haus, and moderated by Kayla George of JAG Physical Therapy.

A graphic of SSP Architects women professionals attending the Somerset County Business Partnership’s 2024 International Women’s Day event were, from left, Roxann Santangelo, Project Manager; Jeanne Perantoni, Senior Principal; Tammy Stouchko, Principal; and Kristine Gerges, Project Coordinator.
SSP Architects women professionals attending the event were, from left, Roxann Santangelo, Project Manager; Jeanne Perantoni, Senior Principal; Tammy Stouchko, Principal; and Kristine Gerges, Project Coordinator.
A photo of five women Jeanne Perantoni, middle with, from left, event moderator Kayla George, Shani Madaminova, Nanette Lee, and Sharel Robinson, who spoke at the Somerset County Business Partnership’s 2024 International Women’s Day event.
Jeanne Perantoni, middle, served on the panel with, from left, event moderator Kayla George, Shani Madaminova, Nanette Lee, and Sharel Robinson

Importance of Mentorship and Coaching for Potential Women Business Leaders

What all the IWD panelists agreed upon was the need to have a mentor or supervisor early in careers to encourage women, give supportive advice, plus lots of positive reinforcement to help women gain confidence and attain leadership positions. This encouragement is vital in helping women take on roles which they may initially perceive as “not being a perfect fit” with their skills.

“Women tend to measure themselves against perfection, whereas most men will go after a leadership role even if they are not perfectly qualified,” said Perantoni. “The leadership gap is reflected in data showing how girls outperform boys academically at most educational levels, yet they lag behind in career advancement and workforce leadership roles.”  The sense of self-confidence that men bring to a new job or position often allows them to aggressively push themselves up the leadership ladder. She added, “This competitive instinct is what women need to acquire – trusting in themselves and feeling confident enough to take on new challenges and opportunities. Women do NOT need to think they have to be perfect from day one.”

Women Benefit from Improving Networking Skills

Perantoni said men employ good social networking skills – especially when it comes to targeting and approaching the “top dog in the room” who can best benefit their careers. “Women develop a wider network of relationships but tend not to survey the who’s who in business gatherings or seek out top influencers to speak with. It’s important to work the room and invest in follow up points of contact rather than merely exchanging cards with people sitting near you.”

In this age of social media, Perantoni said it is beneficial for leaders of all genders to spend a few minutes every day networking with online connections. “It was noted at the event that it takes 11 points of contact before a significant sale is solidified or a business relationship is deepened and secured. This is why it is essential to get into the habit of frequently reaching out to people you want to do business with or get to know better,” she said.

Building Leadership Skills Through Volunteering

A great way for women to build their leadership skills,” said Perantoni, “is to volunteer and become involved with community initiatives you believe in.” In her case, she moved up the ladder as a young leader of AIANJ – serving on its Board of Directors and then as Central Chapter President at a time when few females were licensed architects in NJ. She also took on leadership positions for nonprofit organizations supporting local historic and land preservation organizations, raising awareness about energy conservation and sustainability, supporting access to higher education, and improving regional healthcare for people of all socio-economic backgrounds. She noted, “Being able to talk about your interests and community involvement are excellent ice breakers in a conversation.”

Balancing Leadership and Childcare Responsibilities

For women with young children, Perantoni said it can be anxiety-producing when childcare issues arise – as it was for her. “One good thing that came out of the Covid pandemic is a greater flexibility in allowing for remote working from home if sudden childcare issues come up,” she said.

She related a time early in her career when her babysitter got sick on the evening she was presenting her architectural plans at an important public meeting. “I decided to take my two young boys with me. Both my clients and the audience were extremely understanding. In some ways it made me seem more relatable, and people loved meeting my children. Women caring for a child shouldn’t be afraid to make work-life-family balance decisions in the moment,” she said.

What Women Leaders Should Aspire To

Perantoni encouraged women to proactively play a leadership role in asking for new challenges, as well as taking on projects which require services not previously offered by their company. “It’s important to push the boundaries of what is being done by your organization. Personally, I find it thrilling to take on complex, gritty, and challenging projects. Unearthing the project’s big picture by speaking with all stakeholders helps you get past potential problems. When it comes to architectural design, that’s the fun part of what I do as one of our firm’s leaders.”

Creating a Leadership Legacy

In reflecting on her career as a woman leader at SSP Architects, Perantoni said she is extremely proud of advancing several “firsts” including the expansion of her firm’s capabilities and boundaries in facilities and campus master planning. Her work included developing NJ’s first public long range master plan for the Vineland School District – which served as a model for the state. In addition, she is proud to have pioneered community-centered school design features for the Bayonne Midtown Community Elementary School; helped design NJ’s first LEED Platinum and Green Ribbon Elementary School for the Neptune Midtown Community School; and led SSP in piloting the state’s first Bridging Architect role on a public education design/build team which brought to fruition the Neptune Township Summerfield Elementary School.

See more about Perantoni’s leadership at SSP Architects here:

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