Paid Family Leave — In order to lessen the burden placed upon women, we need to mandate government-funded family leave and encourage fathers in particular to take it. By doing it as a government benefit, we enable women and men to participate in raising young children without unduly burdening small business.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Francine Griesing. Francine is a trailblazing serial entrepreneur. In 2010, during one of the roughest economic downturns across all sectors, she founded Griesing Law, a women-owned and operated law firm, and has since co-founded Bossible, a marketing and business development consultancy and GriesingMazzeo Leadership, a professional training and coaching company. Fran is a valued, strategic advisor to top executives and general counsel, with over thirty five years of legal experience representing public and closely held companies, not-for-profit organizations, government entities and executives in complex business transactions, high stakes litigation, employment, and alternate dispute resolution. After practicing at top tier law firms and as Chair of Litigation for the City of Philadelphia, Fran founded Griesing Law so women could reach their potential in the male-dominated legal field. Fran was selected by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Bank of America as the 2018 Woman Business Owner of the Year and by The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia as the 2018 Small Business Person of the Year.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
The reasons I became a lawyer and the reasons I became an entrepreneur are very different. As for the lawyering, when I was young, I always had my head in a book so my father nicknamed me “The Judge” and that’s what my family called me when I was growing up. My father was a Holocaust survivor, so there was a strong focus on morality and justice in our family, which ultimately led me to pursue my career as an attorney (and it is no coincidence that my brother is an attorney as well, and a public defender at that).
As for my path to entrepreneurship, that was a lot less linear. Throughout my legal career working at several large corporate law firms, I was often the only female attorney in the room. This was and still is a disconcerting trend in the legal profession, which inspired me to continuously advocate for the inclusion and promotion of women attorneys. So in 2009, I was contemplating two offers to join new law firms but in my gut I felt that neither was the right next step for me. At that time, I went on a walk with my daughter and we were talking about my hesitation and she says, “Why don’t you start your own firm?” I told her that I couldn’t do that because I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough clients. She laughed and said that was ridiculous because I already had clients. I kept insisting that is wasn’t doable and she stops me and says, “What kind of role model would you be for me if you didn’t do something because you were afraid?” In that moment, the light bulb went off in my head and I decided I was going to take the plunge and open my own firm where attorneys, especially women, could be happy and successful practicing law. Running and growing a law firm over the past ten years inspired me to launch two additional businesses with my daughter and my colleague based on my experience as an entrepreneur — Bossible and GriesingMazzeo Leadership.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
The most compelling story to me is how the launch of a law firm led to the development of ancillary businesses with my team members who are not lawyers. For example, our firm received accolades for our business success and other lawyers, clients and professionals started asking for our advice on how to elevate their business profile. Providing marketing and strategic advice in that arena was outside our usual law practice. Based on a demand for these services we launched Bossible. In addition, our team members are prolific speakers and writers and thought leaders in areas beyond our legal practice such as diversity inclusion and elimination of bias, business leadership, empowerment for women and minorities and sexual harassment. As the demand grew for us to do more paid speaking, often on topics that were not strictly legal topics, we founded GriesingMazzeo Leadership to educate and train others in those areas. What I learned is that you need to be agile and seize opportunities when they arise even if they aren’t explicitly in the areas you focus on.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was not funny at the time but certainly resulted in a strong lesson for me about turning disappointments into achievements. Only two months after I started my firm, our landlord sought to break the lease. We had already bought furniture and stationery and have given everyone our address and advertised our location as part of our launch. We did not have time or energy to move and this news was terrible from a cost and morale perspective. We picked ourselves up and found a new space, which we loved and enjoyed for eight years, and it turned out to be an important move for us. However, at the time, it felt like a big setback, but instead of treating this as a disappointment, we touted the move as necessary because we were doing so well that we had quickly outgrown our initial space. Challenges are all about how you frame them.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
1. Lack of awareness. Broadly speaking this is not knowing, understanding and/or acknowledging what the wage gap is and how pervasive it is. On an institutional level, it is being blind to what is going on internally within organizations. This includes a failure to look at the numbers themselves and examining a company’s culture including the mechanisms for promotions and compensation and how and why men disproportionally benefit.
2. Lack of representation — The status quo is maintained until someone comes along to disrupt it. Without women in positions of power, there is no one to question and check the inequalities that men inherently benefit from.
3. Lack of support for women personally and professionally. Women bear the brunt of caregiving for children and their parents, emotional labor of taking care of those in their personal lives and the physical running of their households. Women are also relegated to “women’s duties” at work in addition to being subject to sexual harassment and other #MeToo related-issues at work at alarming rates. Unsurprisingly, that combination of factors put women at a disadvantage when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder and being compensated equally.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
As an attorney and an entrepreneur, one of my passions is educating and advising women and other marginalized groups on their rights under the law and the steps they can take to combat discrimination from their employers whether it’s through their pay or through other forms such as harassment or retaliation. On the flipside, I also advise employers on how to foster inclusive workplaces, including how to combat discriminatory practices and eliminate bias so that employees are safe and productive. People need to feel like they truly belong in order to succeed.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Transparency — Information is power. Salaries and hourly rates should be made public as we cannot fix what we cannot see.
2. Accountability — Once information is made public is needs to be addressed. This includes penalties and consequences for pay discrepancies at an institutional and governmental level.
3. Paid Family Leave — In order to lessen the burden placed upon women, we need to mandate government-funded family leave and encourage fathers in particular to take it. By doing it as a government benefit, we enable women and men to participate in raising young children without unduly burdening small business.
4. Universal Childcare — For the same reasons as paid family leave, we need publicly-funded high caliber childcare. Large employers may be able to subsidize this, but many middle market, small business and non-profits cannot bear the cost, so a government underwritten program is also critical.
5. More Women and Diverse Leaders — The more perspectives shared in the business discourse, the more likely we are to come up with innovative ideas and break old patterns that continually (intentionally or not) subjugate women and diverse employees.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have always aimed to combat the forces that exclude women from leadership roles and force them out of their professions. I try to embody this through my corporate culture, the long standing relationships I have built and maintained with other female professionals, and my commitment to institutions and organizations that foster inclusivity in the corporate field and beyond. The movement is already underway, and I seek to keep the momentum going with my efforts, but more importantly to encourage and inspire the next generation of women leaders coming up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
JFK’s famous quote, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” is at the root of how I do business. My businesses all focus on a collaborative team approach that discourages internal competition. With such a close knit team, I wanted to create a unique and open culture where the success of any one employee means overall greater success of the entire business. In addition, paying it forward is something I continue to live by and hope to instill in others as well.
Thank you for all of these great insights!