Women In Leadership Series: Janet Schijns and Elaine Tan Comeau

Women In Leadership Series: Janet Schijns and Elaine Tan Comeau
May 11 14:45 2017 Print This Article

The fact that #LadyBoss is a trending hashtag in the year 2017 shows just what kind of inroads women have made in the workforce in the past century. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, women comprise 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force and even own close to 10 million businesses, accounting for $1.4 trillion in receipts. Yet, for some reason, women across America still face adversity in their pursuit to achieve success either as an entrepreneur or in the corporate world.
Janet Schijns, the Vice President of Verizon Business Markets, along with Canadian entrepreneur Elaine Tan Comeau can speak from first hand experience when it comes to the challenges women face.

“I think there comes a point in every female’s career where they consider dropping out, and where all of their friends and family are pretty supportive of that,” Janet told the Small Business Journal. Janet considered leaving her corporate job to help care for her sick mother, had she done so, she would have joined the 43% of women with children who exit the workforce each year.

Luckily for Janet, her mother — a lifelong business women herself — gave her daughter a pep talk and convinced Janet not to quit her corporate job.

“I can still remember, because my mom grabbed my hand and said, ‘Are you going to drop out?’” Janet recalls. “And she said, ‘Don’t do it, you don’t need to do it…’ Everybody was trying to be supportive of me but, in fact, they were talking me into a bad decision. Mom was absolutely right. I would have regretted it.”

Janet stayed the course with Verizon where she was promoted to her position as Vice President of Business Markets and where she shows off her #LadyBoss skills everyday managing a multi billion dollar operation. Over the years, while she carved out her niche in the tech community as the SMB channels expert (a field where she is outnumbered by men 4-to-1), she has identified three major hurdles that women in business face: confidence, community and experience.

“The first was probably the hardest one which was believing that I could do it,” explains Janet. “And the other things I think are a little harder to fix because they are external. Because there are not a lot of women in tech, I had to create my own community and find my own virtual tribe of women that I could turn to. As far as gaining experience goes — sometimes women have to find unique ways get the experience they need to climb the ladder.”

One solution Janet implemented was to create a facebook group called Tech World’s Half: https://www.facebook.com/groups/526726030820867/ just for women like her, working in tech and looking for career support. This lack of community and support is also something that Elaine Tan Comeau experienced when she first founded her company Easy Daysies. Elaine initially conceived the concept of her product, a magnetic daily schedule for kids, while she was teaching elementary school.

“One of the greatest hurdles women entrepreneurs face is a lack of community and support,” Elaine told the Small Business Journal. “Thinking that you’re going into this all on your own and the lack of know-how, because I was a school teacher with no business background, and often a woman entrepreneur is coming from a different career background.”

Another hurdle Elaine identifies is a lack of capital. Elaine self-funded the initial capital for her business by tutoring in the evenings and selling products she made right off her kitchen table. Fortunately, Easy Daysies was featured on Season Six of Dragon’s Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank) where Elaine struck a deal with investors Kevin O’Leary and Jim Treliving.

“Someone said that the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and then builds the airplane on the way down,” said Elaine.

Building that airplane got much easier with the help of her new investors. Elaine explains that having Mr. Wonderful as an investor was critical because, “He values your time and he values your money. He’s very much about family and the most important people at the end of the day is your family.”

Another advantage to having O’Leary on her team is the fact that he knows just how effective women entrepreneurs are.

“In all my years of investing, almost all of my returns have come from companies either owned or run by women,” O’Leary told the Small Business Journal. “It’s remarkable how good they are at business. As the saying goes, ‘if you want to get something done give it to a busy mom.’ and it’s true — the numbers don’t lie.”

For all of those aspiring #LadyBosses out there, Janet and Elaine have a few final words of advice:

Janet: “The best piece of advice I can give anybody is, ask for more. Is it more money, is it more time, is it more customers, is it more growth? You have to define your more.

Elaine: “I always tell my class to reach for the stars and don’t be afraid to fall. Because when you reach for the stars, you’re reaching so high that, when you fall, you’re going to land higher than where you started, so don’t be afraid, just reach high.