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Panelists outline challenges, opportunities for women in business


Panelists discuss the Charlotte business climate and future at The Mecklenburg Times Women’s Business Breakfast Forum on Wednesday. Panels were, from left, Astrid Chirinos, Denise Dexter, Natalie Haskins English and Cindy Wolfe. Photo by Tony Brown

While the federal government shutdown is not having a direct impact on Charlotte businesses, it is creating uncertainty in the business community, according to panelists at The Mecklenburg Times Women’s Business Breakfast Forum.

“With the shutdown and debate about the debt ceiling, people are waiting to make decisions,” said Natalie Haskins English, senior vice president of public policy for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

English was one of four panelists discussing business issues Oct. 9 at the third annual breakfast at Byron’s South End. Other panelists were Astrid Chirinos, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte and owner of Diverso Global Strategies, which provides multicultural marketing and workplace strategies for Fortune 500 companies; Denise Dexter, Lincoln Harris’ regional property director, responsible for the day-to day property management operations for Bank of America’s real estate holdings; and Cindy Wolfe, president of Bank of the Ozarks in the Charlotte metropolitan region.

The wide ranging discussion looked at the economic, social and regulatory factors that are affecting the business community.

Haskins added she expects the North Carolina General Assembly to continue to reshape tax policy in the upcoming session by passing laws that would reduce the cost of doing business in the state with lower corporate income taxes.

However, Haskins noted that these changes could reduce critical funding for infrastructure and schools.

To that end, she encouraged the audience to vote for two bond issues on Nov. 5. One referendum for $290 million would fund construction, renovations and upgrades at Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools.  The second bond request seeks $210 million in funding for renovations, new classrooms and programs at Central Piedmont Community College that would prepare students for high-tech jobs. Haskins is in favor of increased investment in vocational programs to prepare children for the jobs of the future.

The panelists saw health care, energy, biotech, hospitality, film as well as data and analytics industries driving the growth in Charlotte.

“Charlotte’s just not a banking town anymore,” said Wolfe, while adding that wages in high-tech manufacturing are better than in some white-collar professions.  She said the Bank of  the Ozarks was attracted to the Charlotte market for its growth, diverse economy and skilled workforce.

Chirinos said she believes future job growth also will rely on entrepreneurs.

Chirinos expressed frustration with legislation on immigration issues, which she sees as impacting 100,000 jobs in North Carolina. She argued that both skilled and unskilled laborers are filling a gap in the workforce and that a hardline position on immigration reform will stifle job creation.

As leaders in business, the panelists discussed the challenges of breaking the glass ceiling in male-dominated businesses like banking and property management. Dexter said women need to create their own opportunities by taking “stretch assignments,” speaking up at meetings and not being passive.

“If someone opens the door, you should run with it,” she said.

Chirinos found that women are not supporting each other as they should in getting to the C-level suites. “It’s not mentoring, it should be fementoring” that’s needed to change mindsets in American business, according to Chirinos.

Work-life balance and perceived differences in generational work ethic seemed to strike a chord with the audience when the panelists implied that additional focus needs to be applied to determine the expectations and capabilities of Millennials in the workforce.  Dexter said managers need to determine how to best motivate them, clearly impart performance expectations, and hold them accountable.

The program was sponsored by Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW, Charlotte.

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