June 14, 2017
I recently sat down with Aria’s Executive Vice President, Jessica Cohen, to learn about her successes and challenges to date as a woman in business. At just 34 years old, Jessica has proven that young women can make it to the top in the male-dominated world of healthcare and in the increasingly competitive PR industry. Below are some of the insights she shared to help guide and empower other young women working to make their mark.
Q: What advice would you give young women just starting their business career?
A: Two things come to mind for me. First, going to college in Miami, I noticed really early-on that many of my female peers were focused on landing “sexy,” “cool,” “fun” jobs. They were getting into fashion PR or event planning or becoming assistants to high-powered executives. While I definitely saw the appeal, I concentrated on finding a secure job where I could see myself establishing a career. Based on that, I’d advise young women just starting out to not just think about what is going to be good right now, but to think about what’s going to be the best option down the road.
Also, I think that women sell themselves short way too often. My advice: don’t be intimidated, advocate for yourself, and put the legwork into figuring out what is a competitive package before accepting any job.
Q: What was the hardest lesson you had to learn in your own career with respect to gender?
A: Gender bias exists! Healthcare as an industry is run by older men and as a woman, I found myself constantly battling this negative perception that I wasn’t smart or experienced enough to have a seat at the table. I had to work twice as hard and sound twice as confident to get half as much respect. I didn’t think about that when I first started out, but I learned to pretend being confident even when I really wasn’t, and then one day it just stuck! As I always tell new folks starting out at Aria, the secret to success is “faking it till you make it.”
Q: Can you give an example of a time you thought, “This wouldn’t be an issue if I were a man?”
A: This may sound silly, but my female colleagues and I always talk about this weird dilemma of offering a handshake or a hug when greeting clients, colleagues or peers. In PR, relationships are everything and I have developed close ones with the people I work with. However, there is sometimes this grey area in a professional setting and I think there is this unspoken assumption that men shake hands, women hug, and that can be really uncomfortable. To make matters worse, I’m often the only woman in a meeting and left navigating an awkward situation where there are no other females to look to in terms of modeling behavior. Definitely would not be a thing if I were a man!
Q: What would you say were the critical success factors for you in getting ahead or moving up in business as a woman?
A: As a woman who climbed the ranks within my organization quickly, I would say that understanding who to align myself with and forging trusting relationships with them was key. In my case, I made it a point to become my bosses’ right-hand woman and to constantly go above and beyond for them, and that paid dividends in terms of advancing my career. I also tried really hard to be Aria’s biggest cheerleader and worked to create and drive an inviting, fun company culture here, and over time, people would miss me when I was not in the office. That is the key, I think. Make yourself indispensable early.