Against all odds
Barbara Paldus: “I could not agree more about the “what does not kill you makes you stronger” statement. Some of the challenges that I came across prior to launching Codex Beauty include: I have overcome being told that as a Ph.D. woman I could never lead a company as a CEO, raise venture capital or build an enterprise that didn’t manufacture in China; I have had larger competitors disparage my start-ups as non-viable entities in front of key customers, and supply chains cut off by partners; I have been in situations where my company had less than six weeks of cash, where we had frivolous legal threats or distributors try to cut us out of the market. And despite this, every time, we found a workaround. I was the first woman to be award the Adolph Lomb Medal from the Optical Society of America in 2001, paving the way for future women to win the prize.
The key skills that helped me were the ability to learn quickly and work very, very hard. Also, my ability to forgive both my mistakes and those of others, move on quickly but learn from the experience was critical. As a female leader, I have learned these lessons: Focus on solving problems-Sometimes, you have the break it down into bite-size chunks; Don’t let your emotions get in the way-Always remain objective; Treat people right- Every human, irrespective of age, gender, race, orientation, or beliefs, deserves respect. People are smarter than you think. What you put in is what you get out; Do the right thing- It's the hardest path but the only way to keep the trust, ethics, and integrity of your team intact.”
Breaking down barriers for women’s leadership
Barbara Paldus: “As a little girl, I was a huge fan of Marie Curie. To me, she was a symbol of brilliance, passion, science, and self-sacrifice (driving mobile x-ray machines around the battlefield hospitals of WW1 knowing the consequences of radiation exposure). And, she broke the Nobel Prize glass ceiling. She once said, “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” Many people imagine breakthroughs as moments of genius or inspiration. They imagine that if the world had immediate equality, all of their problems would go away. The reality is that breakthroughs take incredibly hard work, tenacity, and many failures along the way. Marie made it very clear about setting the right expectations: be patient and persevere. While we need to make equality a priority, changes will not happen overnight, and in some cases, may never happen.
Women in leadership roles often feel more scrutinized and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts. The biggest challenge is to define our own style of leadership, which is unique, and to have the confidence to continue to use it. In the end, the results will speak for themselves. We also need to build the next generation of female leaders and train them. They will face different challenges than our generation, but if they are well prepared to face them, they will succeed and carry out my generation’s legacy. Thus, every generation will move the needle forward until there is no more needle to move.
As a venture capitalist, I have funded and continue to fund female-founded and female-led start-ups. These make up 60% of my portfolio. Many of the current start-ups have young female founders who need a mentor or advisor, so I spend a lot of my time teaching. I also donate to organizations that allow underprivileged women to enter STEM and give STEM lectures at high schools. As for Codex Beauty, I have built a team that is 75% female, where senior executive leadership is 80% female, and where we have diversity. Women occupy roles of CFO, General Manager Codex Beauty Europe, and Sr. VP of Operations for example. Our goal is to mentor and train the next generation of executives at Codex Beauty.”
Barbara Paldus: “Time with friends and family- parents, spouse, children, cousins, grandparents - is a very grounding activity. I spend time with my son and we do things together. It is a constant challenge to maintain balance. I am really not a good example of this as I tend to push work to extremes and find myself on the other side of burnout. But it must be done with deliberation and force of will. I now block segments of my calendar and have explained to the organization that this is my son's time. If he has events, I schedule those as well. I also volunteer at his school and block out time for play dates. Finally, I make a point of calling my 80-year-old parents every evening. COVID-19 has reinforced that time with loved ones is precious and should never be wasted.”