Liz Reisch Picarazzi / Founder + CEO, CITIBIN

Liz is the founder and CEO of CITIBIN, a business that got its start with trash enclosures, and now designs and manufactures all manner of outdoor enclosures, from package delivery lockers to stroller parking. Prior to CITIBIN, Liz founded Checklist Home Services, the highest-rated, woman-owned handyperson company in New York City.

  • How did you feel starting your business as a woman?

My businesses have been in overwhelmingly male fields: manufacturing and home contracting. 80% of my employees have been men, and many of them have surely thought “Who does she think she is?” I gained credibility by rolling up my sleeves in the field, which a male boss wouldn’t have needed to do. With customers, being a woman tends to help me, because they’re tired of dealing with male vendors.

  • Who is the most influential woman you know? How does she inspire you?  

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. I’ve heard her story dozens of times and never get tired of it. She used to sell fax machines for a living and now is the billionaire CEO of Spanx, who still owns 100% of her company. I love how determined she was to win over the factory that initially doubted her and her idea. She has an authentic and goofy leadership style, which I find inspiring in moments of self-doubt. 

  • How has your experience at IC shaped your women owned business?

There are so many businesses owned by women at IC! It’s inspiring to hear about what motivated them to start their businesses. Since being an entrepreneur can be lonely, it’s convenient to be on a campus with other entrepreneurs. 

  • What advice would you give your younger self?

Ruminate less. It’s exhausting.

Madison Wharton / Chief Operations Officer, Buck

BUCK is a talent-driven, global, creative company. Since 2004 Buck has been building a home for the world’s most talented dreamers, makers, and doers in a collaborative, ego-free culture that breeds partnership and creative ambition.

  • Who is the most influential woman you know? How does she inspire you?

My little one. She’s a remarkable human. She takes every opportunity in life to have fun. If she’s walking 10 feet, she’ll try out an awesome new move along the way. When she sees someone hurting, she runs to lift them up. She faces her challenges with persistence and determination. She goes after what she wants. Watch out world, she’s coming for you.

  • After the past year, what are the biggest challenges women are facing in our current environment? Do you have hope for positive change over the next 10 years as a result of the past year?

Real talk. Like most working mothers, this year has been the most challenging year of my life. I have been pushed to the brink of what is manageable. I have broken down more than a few times, unsure of how to pick my head up and keep going. 

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we come out of this, we working moms will be absolutely invincible. We will be fearless, unbreakable, and light on our feet. So yes, I’m very hopeful for our future and can’t wait to see how this changes the gender dynamic in the workforce.

  • What traits do the women in your family share? How have they informed your opinions of what women should be like?

I was the youngest in my family. My oldest sister was remarkably smart and great at theater. My other sister was a star athlete. I didn’t particularly excel at anything right out of the gate—but I loved following in the wake of their greatness. It helped me see that I could be the best at something…once I figured out what that something was. 

In my career, there have been plenty of trailblazing female leaders that cleared the path for me. I can only imagine the *&$% they had to deal with to get their seat at the table. I’m grateful to stand on their shoulders and hopeful that I am continuing to smooth the path for others to come. 

  • Working within a typically male field, how do you feel you were able to pioneer and progress? 

It’s my belief that there are some general differences between the male and female mind. At times, we have different priorities, different approaches, and different strategies, and we see challenges through a different lens. I think it’s important to embrace those differences and recognize their value. In the past, I’ve even been hired or selected for a project because “they needed a girl” on the team. In those situations, I’ve always thought, “You most certainly do. In fact, you need quite a few of them.” 

  • What advice would you give your younger self? 

I would tell my younger self that it’s important to see the big picture. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to prove yourself at work by sacrificing important life events. There are no redos in life, so make sure you are very thoughtful about how you use your time. And lastly, no one will respect your boundaries if you don’t.

Melissa Brzuszek / Owner, Mizutama + Ayaka Ando / Owner, Tadaima

Melissa and Ayaka first met at Japan Village while Tadaima was being stocked at Cafe Japon. Melissa would regularly gift Tadaima’s sweets to loved ones. When Ayaka was looking at pivoting during the pandemic, they decided to pop up in Mizutama’s space on the weekends. After a well-received arrival to The Makers Guild it was only fitting for Ayaka to open her own space on the same floor. A beautiful display of women banding together to support one another. You can find them running between their stores in The Makers Guild, dropping off sweets, and Melissa dressing Tadaima in the freshest of florals.  

  • How do your brands align and complement each other?

Ayaka: her artwork is amazing, and she has such a different perception of beauty. Mizutama always cheers up my brand to the next level.

Melissa: The number one ingredient in both of our brands is love. We both love what we do, and we love to use our creativity to express our passions. everyone can feel it. 

  • How did you feel when starting your business as a woman?

Melissa: Shopping for some of my first big jobs at nurseries was a bit intimidating in a male-dominated industry. However, one of my favorite compliments was from an owner of a tree farm that told me that the most beautiful gardens he’s ever seen were all designed by women. 

  • What traits do the women in your family share? How have they informed your opinions of what women should be like? 

Melissa: Empowered women run my household and family. We love and support each other as goddesses.

  • Working within a typically male field, how do you feel you were able to pioneer and progress? 

Ayaka: I think most women have less physical power than men, so sometimes it is challenging to work at the same level. I was lucky because I worked under a woman owner and executive chef. I learned how to achieve better results through our work together. We just need to change the system.

  • What advice would you give your younger self?

Ayaka: It’s not worth worrying about the bad things, as it is all a good opportunity for you. You can’t change others. The only thing you can change is yourself. Just believe in yourself.

  • Why do you think it’s important to support other women/women-owned businesses?

Ayaka: When we support each other, we learn more about other women, which helps me better myself more. Everyone is different, and every one is unique. If we want to know that, we need to support each other.

Melissa: supporting women and women-owned businesses brings me joy. We’re all in this together; helping and watching women lift each other up is empowering.

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