By Tracey Drury  |  Buffalo Business First  |  August 13, 2021

Women at the Table: Buffalo business leaders talk hiring, morale, work/life balance

Women at the Table

A scene from Buffalo Business First’s Women at the Table discussion at Patina 250. (JOED VIERA)

Two main lessons stand out from the pandemic: Good employees can be successful working from just about anywhere but mental health is paramount to that success.

That was the resounding theme at a July 20 luncheon from 10 Western New York female business leaders who said they’ve adjusted in the new normal. They gathered for a roundtable conversation to discuss the challenges of hiring and retaining workers, the importance of positive employee morale and the consideration of caretakers. The Women at the Table event was sponsored by Phillips Lytle LLP.

One thing is certain: Things have changed, and most agreed it’s about time.

“I think we have a really important opportunity to change the way we work for the better, to make the workplace more humane and to make it fit more with how people live their lives,” said Allison Sagraves, senior vice president, M&T Bank.

That includes the frenetic pace so many men and women lived pre-Covid that for many was unsustainable. That was amplified during the pandemic as mental health issues emerged for workers.

“I don’t think that we brought our authentic selves to work,” Sagraves said. “I think we’ll look back at this period of time, the past 20 to 30 years, and view it as an aberration of history and say ‘what the heck were we doing?’ I don’t think people will ever return to that level of frenzy.”

That goes for the leaders, as well as the general workforce. But it’s a challenge to change that mindset, said Catherine Roberts, CEO of the Resource Council of WNY.

“You have to know your bandwidth,” she said. “It’s making that adjustment and knowing when it’s time to close the laptop and call on my mom and make sure she’s doing okay or making sure my goddaughter is well. That’s more important to me now than ever before.”

Those who ignore those issues do so at their own peril, and perhaps that of their companies. Employees have innumerable options for jobs, locally and nationally.

Leaders must recognize the very real possibility they’ll lose top talent if they push too hard to remove some of the flexibility and creativity that’s been prevalent in the last 18 months, said Lynn Marie Finn, CEO at Broadleaf Results.

“If they don’t want to live in Western New York or Buffalo, but they’re the right person for the job, you’re expanding your own opportunity for the talent you can bring in if you can be flexible like that,” she said.

Colleen Heidinger, CEO of 43North, said leaders must express gratitude to clients and staffers who have stuck around instead of pursuing other opportunities.

“How are we expressing that gratitude to those people who answer my calls at every hour of the day? I wrote hundreds of handwritten notes during Covid,” she said. “As small as they are, they go tons of extra miles in these situations.”

What they said

“This pandemic has changed the landscape for everybody. They’re now forced to re-evaluate. Do I really need everyone in the office? They’ve seen the productivity, so they can’t use that as an excuse.” — Carmen Snell, assistant general counsel, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of WNY

Linda Prestegaard

Linda Prestegaard at Buffalo Business First’s Women at the Table discussion at Patina 250. (JOED VIERA)

“I actually really found that my old stereotypes that people aren’t productive at home – throwing in a load of laundry or hanging out with their kids – is completely not true. Everybody was getting their work done and were incredibly productive.” — Linda Prestegaard, partner, Phillips Lytle LLP

“Everyone’s already proven their productivity in this pandemic situation, so now we’re really challenged with that. What do we do about this when we have this enormous headquarters?” — Teresa Bair, general counsel, senior vice president for administration, Athenex

“Our challenge is finding enough people to fill the jobs. When Covid started, it was like a spigot turned off our business, especially on the temp side. Now we can’t find enough recruiters to recruit for our clients. We’ve never been busier.” — Lynne Marie Finn, CEO, Broadleaf Results

“I still struggle to find a lot of balance with working from home. In many ways, it’s doubled some of my stresses. I have to carve out really specific time for me.” — Jenna Cavanaugh, COO, Invest Buffalo Niagara

“As one time we prided ourselves on being this workaholic and we’d work until it’s done. And now it’s about self-care and making sure the end of the day, you feel good about what you are able to accomplish.” — Catherine Roberts, CEO, Resource Council of WNY

“The 40-hour office workweek is an artifact of the industrial revolution. It has never worked for women, so it is our time now to redefine this to work for all of us.” — Allison Sagraves, senior VP, M&T Bank

“From a leadership perspective, I’ve told them what I know and what I don’t know and what I’m losing sleep on as much as I could. That’s what really helped me as a young leader trying to gain credibility with my team having never done this before.” — Colleen Heidinger, president, 43North

Rebecca Farbo

Rebecca Farbo at Buffalo Business First’s Women at the Table discussion at Patina 250. (JOED VIERA)

“The challenge has been how to be creative, how to be flexible and how working from home means we’re not working in the morning, but maybe at 11 at night. It’s really finding what really fits best for the team.” — Rebecca Farbo, chief marketing officer, Phillips Lytle LLP

“I’m all about self-care. The pandemic really, I think, shined a really bright light on that and how important it is. As you’re climbing the career ladder, there’s always that subconscious guilt of not feeling well but still showing up to work.” — Brandye Merriweather, president, Buffalo Urban Development Corp.