Founder and CEO of Luminary Cate Luzio has had to adapt as much as anyone since COVID-19 swept across the United States in March. Her community for women — and its hallmark live events — underwent a major makeover to meet shelter-in-place standards in New York and to keep its community safe. All the while, Luzio was managing her personal health and COVID-19 diagnosis.
How did she manage this stressful time? And what advice does she have for women whose lives are currently in flux? Recently, she shared what she learned about being adaptable and the importance of keeping communication open — with your team, your network and beyond. She also shared her best advice for women hoping to embed some resiliency into how they're approaching their career, whether they're growing in an increasingly stressful role or they're on the job search.
Hi Cate! What you’ve been up to at Luminary has always been inspiring, but your work looks quite different now than it did a few months ago due to COVID-19. Can you catch us up on what Luminary looks like today?
Like so many businesses around the country, COVID-19 definitely impacted our business. Last year, Luminary delivered over 200 live programs and events for our members in New York City. Over 70% of our programs are member-led and the in-person connection in our space is central to everything we do. So, once COVID-19 hit NYC, Luminary had to temporarily close our doors and adapt quickly, shifting all of our programs online overnight.
We launched a digital membership and have people from around the world tuning into our network like never before. The program looks different given we are in full virtual mode now, but the great thing is that we can keep our virtual offering going. It’s complementary to the in-person event experience that will happen when we reopen this summer.
Since about 37% of our members are small business owners/entrepreneurs and they were struggling, we also established and launched the Luminary Collective, a directory of women-owned, led or founded companies.
You were diagnosed with COVID-19. Can you walk us through what that was like? Did it impact your vision for your future and your business? Did it impact your daily routines or thoughts?
It was hard and very emotional to be sick with COVID-19, especially when we had to make so many decisions about Luminary, but I was so lucky to have access to wonderful health care throughout. I did my best to do what I could for my business from home, but it was the support of my incredible team that kept me sane. We shifted the business online so quickly and being sick, I had to take a step back some days to recover. My team did a brilliant job helping to lead us through this change and even showed new skills and interests I probably wouldn’t have seen without this crisis.
We are all trying to navigate these challenging times. My approach has always been to communicate honestly with my team and our members on a regular basis. It’s important as we navigate this uncertainty together.
How did you decide what your ‘new normal’ plan would look like as a business? Any tips for women who are doing the same?
The framing ‘new normal’ is a difficult one for me because this has been such a challenging time for so many. None of this is normal. From those losing loved ones to losing employment to the shift to working from home and feeling isolated, this isn’t normal at all. Our lives completely changed in response to the pandemic. As a business, our team’s first step involved fully realizing this harsh reality, how our members are impacted and what they are experiencing. We were then able to pivot, adapt and create relevant programming and content. I'd advise connecting with your partners and allies to work with you through your business changes.
Lastly, realize the current conditions won’t last forever. You have to think about how your business will reopen and plan ahead for what that will look like. We are already deep in this planning and incorporating our members’ feedback so that we can open our doors again soon. We’ve hosted Town Halls to engage personally with our community, their concerns, suggestions and more.
Resiliency is so critical right now, especially among leaders who are helping others get through this tough time. What advice do you have for women leaders who are looking to build their own resiliency?
I couldn’t agree more — resiliency, empathy, and compassion are critical. I am in the same boat with organizational leaders trying to keep their businesses open, pay their staff and keep those supporting your business engaged and happy. It’s a lot of pressure, but my advice is to keep going. You have to leverage why you started the company in the first place. Put that drive and passion into re-engineering, pivoting, and adapting. Some days will be harder than others, but we will come out of this.
Being resilient is all about taking the highs with the lows and holding on to what inspired you to build your business in the first place. Our community inspires me every day. I also lean heavily on my network of former colleagues and the founder community. Knowing you aren’t in this alone and being able to discuss the highs and lows are important to your mental health and getting through this.
What advice do you have for women whose lives and careers are still in flux due to COVID-19?
So many are experiencing job changes and even loss, and lives feel in flux every day. I would encourage women to actively seek out resources that can advance their careers. Reach out to your community and your networks. I often get asked about how to network on Zoom. For every Zoom or virtual session, I take a picture of the screen(s). Normally, everyone’s names are on the bottom of their picture. Connect with someone after the session on LinkedIn. Introduce yourself in the chat. Stay visible! I would do the same with colleagues you’ve never met before too! In this virtual time, it doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert: You can continue to build your network.
I do also understand that people are balancing a lot and trying to find a routine amidst it all — and it’s ok to be exhausted. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s so critical to maintain your mental health and prioritize self-care in a time like this. Listen to your body and check in with loved ones, friends and members of your various communities. We are all coping in different ways and it impacts our professional and personal lives.
What advice do you have for women who are job searching right now?
With millions unemployed, underemployed and workers everywhere concerned about layoffs and furloughs, it’s a nerve-racking time to be unemployed and to look for a job. For those job searching, I would advise you embrace the change around you and take this time to see how you might adapt or evolve your career. Are there new classes you can take or pivots you can make that will make you fulfilled? Did you have a side hustle you can put your efforts into now? Are their people in your network you should reconnect with?
So many are using this time at home to nurture side hustles, passion projects and big dreams. Think about what you can uniquely do and what you love to do. Perhaps there’s a business opportunity there.
This interview was shortened for length and clarity.