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By Megan Nash

What does it take to be your own girl boss in today’s business world? On Thursday (March 28) at VCU Business, a blended panel of professionals gathered to find out. The event was the final installment in an entrepreneurship panel series called “Real Talk”, an empowerment initiative promoting identity, support and well-being, by the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) in partnership with the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship and the VCU Business Mentoring Program.

The hour-long “Being a Woman in Business” panel was moderated by VCU Business student and Student Success Coach Tiandra Threat ’25. Panelists included VCU alumni and Keller Williams Realty International Realtor Juanita Leatherberry (B.S. ’73), Society 11:11 Co-Owner Candice Hardy (B.S. ’11) and CEO of RVA Hospitality, Liz Kincaid (B.S. ’08). All shared wisdom learned from years of experience as an entrepreneur, from the inspiring power of failure to why it’s important to follow your intuition. Below are some discussion highlights.

Past failures often inspire new directions

“Most people get to higher planes by failing,” said Leatherberry. “I’m on my third career and I didn’t fail any of them, but each time I learned from them and moved to another level. You’ll learn over the course of your career that the items that you fail to do best will propel you to your next level.”

Hardy agreed, noting that it’s a redirection of thinking. “It was successful until you decided it was a failure. You did the thing. That’s the success part. I think you have to reframe what success and failure are. I think success is trying and not being so afraid to do something that you never do it, that’s success to me. Find another word for it – redirection, another plan, the end of an era, whatever you want to call it. It’s just not failure. And if you know that in the end you win, no matter what.

Kincaid echoed Hardy’s sentiment but added that she does have a few lessons she would have liked to learn sooner: “I definitely needed to fail and fall on my face publicly. As much as I would want to go back and tell little me ‘Don’t do this, start doing this,’ young me would have said, ‘Get out of my face. I know what I’m doing,’ and would have kept going. Do I wish I’d learned some of the lessons, the hard lessons sooner? Absolutely. It would have been great to have known certain things when I was younger, but I think maybe the one thing I would say is for something beautiful to be born, something else has to be destroyed.”

Ask yourself “What is my why for doing this?”

Kincaid shared a story about how even on her worst day, the relationships, like the one’s she has with her profit-sharing partner at Tarrant’s West or her four general managers, who are all women, are making incredible leaps. “We have a lot of women in our group. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a woman or I make space or I try to open doors, I realize it’s for them. At the end of the day, you’re going to make money at any career or job but when you watch someone get older, get married, buy their first house and you can be there, it’s not just my business anymore and it’s incredible. I don’t have any children, but I think it’s what watching children grow up looks like.”

Hardy responded with her own philosophy, “Why not,” she said. “What else are you going to do? Try, it sucks, quit, do something else. I love trying stuff and doing stuff that’s fun. That’s my ‘why.’ If it excites me, I’m doing it, if it doesn’t, I’m not.”

While working at Pfizer, Leatherberry says it was never about the money. “It was a passion for people. I used to go around each morning and say, ‘good morning,’ not to see if they were at work on time, but to see how their day was going, and how they were doing first thing in the morning would tell me how their day was going to go because I truly wanted to know about their families. I wanted to know if they were having any issues, because where they are is going to affect their daily work. I had people over the years that worked for me their entire career, and there were opportunities that they could have moved to other jobs, but they continued to stay in my department, and many of them told me it was because I cared.”

Stay true to yourself

“I was shy as a child, but after my teenage years I was very in your face wanting attention,” said Kincaid. I didn’t really have to overcome that, but I had to get out of my own way when they gave me the keys to the restaurant for the first time. I was like little Napoleon with a clipboard. I couldn’t wait to tell people what to do. I forgot to ask how their day was. I mean, the early years, it was probably truly a nightmare for everyone who had to work with me. I had to get over that, and I had to be very intentional to take classes on management, take personality tests and to understand that not everyone thinks like me.”

Hardy followed weighing in as a fake extrovert: “I learned that when I had to really do some reflection, I really didn’t like to be around people. I thought I did. So, I thought I had to learn how to put on a mask. I thought I was going to be this thing that everybody wants me to be. But then when I would be alone, I was really tired and very drained. Once I got real about who I really am, I started showing up more as my authentic self, versus being super bubbly when I didn’t want to be. Knowing myself has allowed me to show up better to get better results, and then you get more authenticity out of the people that you’re working because you’re now presenting the real you and not the Pollyanna you.”

Follow your intuition

“Being an entrepreneur allows you to build your life like you want it to be, said Leatherberry. “You have the opportunity, the size, the limit. When you’re managing your own business, your hard work will pay off and determine how far you go.”

Kincaid referenced a book title from Marshall Goldsmith adding, “For me, ‘what got you here won’t get you there.’ That’s a book title, but it’s also a saying that I always think about. The grit and the hard work, and everything that got me here, it isn’t what’s necessary now. Another cliche is, you work on your business, not in it. For someone like me that was a waitress and worked my way up, I was so used to physically working and being in the business 50 hours a week, and why did I take all this risk? Why did I invest all this money and time just so I can spend my whole life here and work myself to death? That’s not what entrepreneurship is about. You really do have to choose and create a business that works for the future. Start with that vision of what you want, 10 years from now you create your business to get you there, whether it’s financially or to create a life where you can spend more time with your husband or spouse, or so you can travel more and all those things. We plan that this is the income and the life I want. What do I need to do to get there, and it doesn’t involve me bussing tables and washing dishes 50 hours a week.”

Hardy says don’t worry about what everybody is doing. “It has really nothing to do with you. Their race is their race, their journey is their journey, their story is their story. It literally cannot impact your story. It’s okay to end a season, bail in a season. Quit, whatever it is, and start the next thing, and do it sooner, you don’t have to wait for years to go by to do the next thing.”

As Women’s History Month ends, Nick Williams, assistant director of student engagement for VCU Business’ OSE, reflects and emphasizes the significance the entrepreneurship panel series has had throughout the semester:

“It’s about equity, access AND exposure. Excellence thrives in so many spaces and places. These panels not only showcase the ways in which our community excels, but also gives us a moment to celebrate and acknowledge the journey of becoming. So many of our students struggle with juggling what is practical and secure of a path while trying to hold room for their authentic selves. These panels help us show the students that you CAN be your full, authentic self, unapologetically in the world of business; we have faculty, staff, alumni and even their peers who are navigating that path. Because business is centered on people, to scale and expand in the world of business, we must remain connected to our humanity. We must remain true to our authenticity. We must be forevermore excellent in what we do.”

See what you may have missed by checking out recaps of prior “Real Talk” panels:

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