Ilene Fischer, Executive Director at WEST
WEST’s goal is to improve the leadership status of women in science and technology by inspiring them to achieve success in their organizations and create positive impact in their communities.Our diverse membership represents industries ranging from information technology and biopharmaceuticals to cleantech and environmental sciences. We bring together peers to share their experience and passion in a supportive learning environment.
Please share with us how you became involved with WEST (Advancing Women in the Business of Science & Technology).
WEST was looking for an Executive Director at the time that I was looking for a new career, one where I could express my passion for what mattered most to me: developing women in science and technology as leaders; to advance in their careers so they can make a difference in the communities they serve.
I started my career as a chemical engineer and was hired as the only women engineer, an affirmative action candidate, for a large defense company. The expression of my commitment to women started in 1976 when I founded one of the first battered women shelters in the US and was the president of the Northeast PA chapter of N.O.W; we were focused on the Equal Rights Amendment Extension. For over 20 years, I expressed my career by designing, selling and delivering organizational change consulting and leadership development for management gurus Peter Senge and Tom Peters.
Since designing, selling and deliveri,ng consulting, mentoring and leadership development is my core competency and I have a science and engineering background the position at WEST seems to perfectly match my experience and skill set. The position as Executive Director at WEST is a calling, given my commitment to developing women as leaders in science and technology. For many years, I expressed my commitment for women through volunteer work: board of director of the Healthcare Business Women’s Organization accountable for their executive women’ dinners and by leading an Boston based organization of women executives in Life Science healthcare.
There is no typical day in the life of an entrepreneur. Please share with us a sample of your day, start to finish.
I start my day at 6am and meditate for 20-30minutes. This helps me to start my day centered, grounded and present. After meditation, I get ready for the day. I look over my weekly and monthly calendar and my priority list. I answer emails that I did not have time to answer the day before. I then have a call with my assistant and we align on what needs to get done for the week, and for that day. I work with the interns on their priorities. My day might consist of attending networking meetings in Boston or meeting potential sponsors, speakers or alliance partners for lunch or coffee. I usually have a mix of 4-8 calls, meetings or networking events per day. I meet with an advisory board member every week to brainstorm and to think through strategy.
I might spend time during the day to find speakers for events or meet with a panel of speakers to prepare for an upcoming event. Every week, I open and close business with corporate members or sponsors for upcoming events. I might work on the content and design of our website or write our weekly newsletter.
At night, I will either lead a workshop, attend a WEST program (kick off the program) and if I am not at a program in the evening, I might lead a volunteer meeting or spend time writing a grant, or creating a calendar of programs for a three month time period or design and create operational plan for our vision and strategy. I also spend time each day communicating and reading on Linked In, Twitter and Facebook. My day ends between 9-11pm each night.
At the end of the evening before I got to bed, I will meditate again, letting go of the day.
What are your ‘can’t live without’ Smartphone or desktop applications?
- Opentable. I am always making last minute reservations for lunch and dinner meetings.
- Weather App on my iPhone
- New York Times App.
What are your tricks for time management?
I schedule time in my calendar to complete tasks as well as meetings. Many people just schedule meetings and do not necessarily schedule time to complete things. Once I have a deadline, I work backwards and schedule the time I need to complete it. This helps me to get it all done. I also look out 3 months and work backwards, create milestones and schedule what needs to get done at each milestone.
What was the best advice you received when you started your career?
To be true to myself, follow my passion and success will follow.
Given the current economic climate, what has been your strategy for building awareness of WEST for short term and long-term growth?
WEST created our strategy based on research by Catalyst.org, the Anita Borg Institute and Harvard Business School. WEST’s strategy focuses on four key success factors for career growth:
- Leadership, and
- Sponsorship (an advocate for success).
Two-thirds of women enter STEM careers because they are committed to making a profound difference in humankind. Despite having motivation and dedication, 52% of these women leave their careers. To change these statistics, WEST provides the following:
- Education, workshops and panels that enhance performance and visibility;
- Experienced women role models as mentors;
- Volunteer programs for hands on leadership development; and
- Opportunities for visibility through recommendations for awards.
WEST’s long-term growth is based on building alliance partnerships with major corporations, other non- profits, government agencies and universities.
WEST has also created a competent grant writing team that identifies and responds to grant possibilities. For the long term, we are looking to expand internationally and nationally.
WEST was asked by the US State Department to speak to women in science and technology in Italy. This has helped to leverage us with multinational companies that have a presence in the US and Italy and are interested in growing women in STEM globally. Our short- term growth is based on developing infrastructure to operationalize our strategy while simultaneously generating revenue through corporate memberships and partnerships.
What is your proudest achievement as an accomplished entrepreneur?
When I joined WEST we were a very small non-profit with a part-time Executive Director and part time assistant. Our constituency was mainly early and mid -career women in life science and all of programs were offered in Cambridge, MA. Since I became the Executive Director we have expanded WEST’s presence in Technology and Engineering as well as Life Science. We have expand our constituency to include executive women and now offer programs through-out the state of Massachusetts. We have more than doubled our revenues and I am now a full-time Executive Director and we have a fulltime assistant and five college interns. We operate from our researched based model so that we can ensure success in developing women as leaders. One of my proudest achievements is the creation of an amazing advisory board of executive women that have opened up what is possible for the organization.
How do you achieve balance in your life?
I achieve balance in my life through my daily meditation practice and by going to spiritual retreats four times a year. I also lead meditation classes once a month.
Your top 3 book recommendations?
What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?
Founding one of the first battered women shelter in the US in 1976 and leading the National Organization for Women in Northeastern , Pa in 1976-1979, working to extend the equal rights amendment. During that time I was on the radio, television or in newspapers every week for 2 years, on a slow news day the assignment editors would call me for a story. We were so visible the public thought we had hundred of women working with us, when we had approximately 20 members. We made a difference in women’s rights in PA.
Who has influenced your career the most?
My mother, she taught me that I could be anyone and have any career I wanted. She taught me to never give up and to be fearless. She also taught me to fight for human rights. She believed that each person made a profound difference in the world and I operate from that stand and have taken what I have learned form her to inspire others.
What is your advice for someone interested in entrepreneurship?
Say grounded and centered. Create a team of advisors that you can brainstorm with and bounce ideas off of; advocates for your business. Be willing to work hard and do what ever it takes to be successful. Do not give up even if things look bleak. Be fearless.
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR WEST
ILENE FISCHER’S BIO
Ilene Fischer is the Executive Director of WEST, a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop women in science, engineering and technology as leaders so that they achieve success in their organizations and make a profound difference in the communities they serve.
WEST is a community, a forum, for early, mid-career, executive and entrepreneurial women in STEM careers. WEST members are committed to developing themselves as leaders through education, mentorship, networking, and information sharing. WEST encourages women to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking and creative risk-taking.
Previous to her appointment as Managing Director of WEST, Ilene served as Managing Director for consulting services for management guru Tom Peters Company, who authored “In Search of Excellence”.
She was a Partner accountable for organizational change at PA Consulting Group, a British based, large global business consulting company.
She was a Partner at Innovation Associates (IA), founded by Peter Senge, Professor at MIT Sloan school and author of “The Fifth Discipline; The Art and Science of a Learning Organization”.
Ilene was a Quality Manager at Honeywell’s electro optic division, and a chemical engineer at Raytheon.
Ilene Fischer has a B.S. in Chemistry and studied business at Harvard University. She published an article on culture change in Business 2.0 and she was a contributor to “The Fifth Discipline Field Book” by Peter Senge.
Ilene Fischer has been a mentor for women through different women’s organizations for over 10 years.
She was Chairperson for Executive Women’s Series and Board member for the Healthcare Business Women Association. She led the Boston Chapter of Wealth (Women Executives Advancing Life Sciences, Technology and Healthcare), She has been a member of The Boston Club for 12 years and is a member of Women’s Business Leaders.
Her pioneering efforts on behalf of women include establishing one of the first battered women’s shelters in the US in 1976, and serving as president of the National Organization for Women, Northeastern Pennsylvania chapter working on the Equal Right Amendment extension from 1976-1980.