Interview with Mary Pender Greene, LCSW on Corporate Social Work

About Mary Pender Greene, LCSW: Ms. Pender Greene is a psychotherapist, career coach, and executive trainer in private practice who has over 20 years of experience in counseling and advising individuals, couples, families, corporations, and non-profit organizations. Her areas of focus in her practice are relationship management, corporate leadership, and career development. In addition to her private practice, Ms. Pender Greene also took on numerous executive management roles at The Jewish Board of Family Services in New York City, including Assistant Executive Director, Chief of Social Work Services, Director of Group Treatment, and Director of the agency’s Confronting Organizational Racism Initiative. She also served as the President of the National Association of Social Workers, NYC Chapter.

Ms. Pender Greene also hosts numerous workshops on topics such as career development and transitions, professional skill building, relationship building, and developing leadership skills in both personal and professional settings. She is the author of Creative Mentorship and Career Building Strategies: How to Build your Virtual Personal Board of Directors.

Ms. Pender Greene earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Pre-Social Work from New York University, and her MSW from New York University’s School of Social Work. In addition to her undergraduate and graduate education in social work, she has engaged in additional trainings and earned numerous certifications in a wide range of areas within social work. For example, she is a Certified Group Psychotherapist with the American Group Psychotherapy Association, attended the Organization Certificate Program at the William Alanson White Institute, and has taken courses in Organizational Development and Group Dynamics at the A.K. Rice Institute. Mary Pender Greene was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Can you please give an overview of the corporate clients you help in your private practice? What kinds of challenges do they face, and how do you help them manage these challenges?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] I work with three main industries: healthcare, legal and media. Issues include recruitment, retention, management, promotions, compassion fatigue, underachieving, leadership, staff development, staff relationships, networking, mentorship, team building, change management, compensation, negativity, supervision and self-esteem. I provide the following services:

  • Executive & Career Coaching: For coaching contracts, human resources would contact me to work with a variety of people who may be in job jeopardy or may need to be prepared for a greater role. I also provide workshops for different departments, usually focused on team building or assistance with adapting to change.
  • Professional Staff Development: I’ve helped many smaller organizations to develop their staff. I help them think about creating teams and/or developing best practice protocols. I also provide training on effective supervision; sometimes organizations need more education or training, or are under-supervised. I encourage a supportive anti-oppressive environment and work-life balance, such as having down time for lunch and practicing self-care. I encourage management to coach and not just supervise, develop mentoring programs, and supervise with compassion. I help them have difficult dialogues without being judgmental. I also bring in other experts and facilitate training programs for both administrative and clinical line staff, supervisors, managers and executives.
  • 360-Degree Evaluations: This method allows each employee to receive performance feedback from a supervisor, peers, reporting staff members, coworkers and clients. It helps the individual to understand how others view him or her. The feedback provides insight about the skills and behaviors desired by the organization to accomplish its goals.
  • Organizational Assessment: This is a planned systematic review of an organization’s processes, work environment, and organizational structure. Periodic reviews are needed to assess how jobs are defined, how departments are organized, how processes are structured, and how problems are managed. The goal is to help management develop and implement effective and appropriate solutions that align with organizational objectives.
  • Individual/Group Coaching: I provide one-on-one and group coaching for staff, supervisors, managers, and executives. Some of the concrete challenges I help them tackle include setting and achieving individual and company-wide goals, navigating office politics, managing career transitions, and career development.
  • Multiracial/Multicultural team building: This includes recruitment of culturally, racially, and linguistically competent staff.
  • Difficult Dialogue Training: I help employees, managers, and executives navigate dialogues about age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, sexual identity, disabilities, language, cultural background, family or immigration status, and other potentially sensitive issues.
  • Customized Training/Workshops/Supervision: I assist staff and management in developing a Culturally/Racially Attuned workforce and organizational environment, which often involves Organizational Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Planning.
  • Clinical Services: I also provide individual, group and couples counseling, shorter term, psychodynamic, grief & loss, and self-care.
  • Workshops & Trainings: My workshops cover such topics as building a Virtual Board of Directors (i.e. a group of trusted advisors who can offer creative solutions to diverse work challenges; in other words, it is your own “professional posse,” upon whom you can depend for unbiased, informed, and educated opinions on a variety of professional and personal matters), team building, networking, self care, mentorship, expanding influence, assessing opportunities, exiting with grace and dignity, dealing with a difficult boss, difficult employees, managing up, down and across, coaching, supervisor as a coach.

[] How did you first get involved in career and executive coaching, and what steps did you take to become a distinguished expert in this field?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] As Chief of Social Work at the Jewish Board, a part of the role was to develop staff so they could move up in the organization and we could promote from within. The staff needed coaching. They needed to get prepared to move up. Often times we needed to go outside the organization to fill positions. To address this, I developed a strategy to focus on recruiting from within the organization. I helped existing staff to bring their whole selves to their work and influence the organization with their unique culture. I did 360-degree evaluations and gave feedback. I helped staff to uncover the things “they didn’t know that they didn’t know” so that they could put their best foot forward for promotions.

I took courses and workshops on staff development issues and studied organizational consultation and groups at the William Alanson White Institute and Tavistock. There I learned about organizational life. The most important thing that I learned, and truly internalized at The White Institute, was that an individual in a group or organization is no longer just an individual. In other words, it’s not about me, which makes dealing with criticism much easier. We, as women, especially in leadership roles, who regularly experience criticism, need to develop a more measured response. Alternative explanations for criticism for our actions should be thoroughly examined from an organizational lens, while keeping our integrity and self-esteem intact.

In this increasingly complex environment where organizations are struggling to survive, there is a need for leadership that is transformative, collaborative and relationship-oriented. These factors surface repeatedly in research studies that examine how women are able to lead effectively. The ability and willingness to empathize, listen and search for collaborative solutions are also recurring themes. It is clear that organizations need to become more adaptive and responsive to the changing environment by becoming flatter and more reliant on teams. They need leaders who offer a new vision. This is good news for our organizations and good news for female leaders. Despite the obvious need, and research that confirms the unique contributions women can make to our organizations, why is it so difficult for women to lead? One factor is our mental models for leadership. A charismatic, heroic male model is deeply embedded in our society. There is limited appreciation for a model of leadership that stresses tapping all the talents in an organization and valuing all perspectives. We, social workers, understand that change, whether individual, family or organizational, involves letting go of familiar ways of doing things. The most important thing that I learned from my organizational training is that the only constant thing in an organization is change and we all resist change.

[] Over your over 20-year career as a therapist, consultant, and executive coach, you have participated in many advanced trainings and earned additional certifications on top of your clinical social worker license. How helpful do you feel these additional trainings were, in terms of preparing you for running your private practice and working with organizations, executives, and individuals seeking career and relationship counseling?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] My additional trainings were absolutely necessary for preparing me for maintaining a private practice. Specialized training is essential when working with diverse groups, in the areas of both staff and client relationships, sex, mentorship, networking, organizational development, having courageous conversations, cross-racial dialogue, trauma, evidence-based practice, short-term therapy, race/culture diversity, and immigration.

The clinical background is being increasingly undervalued. What is truly needed is a blended skill set of both clinical and business expertise. This combination of wisdom gained by experience and practice, compounded with business and financial education, is essential to address the complex issues that challenge present day social service organizations. These are the circumstances our leadership encounters every day. In order for us to ensure our organizations continue to be lead by social workers, we must adapt. We, as social workers, have not done our part changing the course that has already begun.

I was not informed early in my career about the need for specific hard skills in order to function as an effective leader. All I wanted to do was clinical work and I was quite comfortable not knowing or acquiring these business skills. Nevertheless, I continued to expand my knowledge and learn my craft with continuing education in family, group and couple therapies, then short-term, long-term therapies, coaching, clinical supervision, administration and business. This is what my supervisors, mentors and my Virtual Personal Board of Directors (VPBOD) advised and for their wisdom, I am most grateful.

The LCSW degree does not prepare you for career or executive coaching. I had post-masters specialized training to prepare me for my work with coaching individuals and organizations. I recommend that people read my book, Creative Mentorship and Career-Building Strategies: How to Build your Virtual Personal Board of Directors, as well as those that are mentioned on Mary’s Bookshelf ( For those on a budget, there are many free webinars, courses, workshops, online articles, blogs, networking opportunities and volunteer opportunities. NASW has many resources, as well.

[] What advice do you have for social workers that would like to get involved in corporate settings?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] Social workers are expanding their reach into the for-profit sector, including corporate settings. Those who are looking to get involved in corporate settings should get their clinical credentials first and then pursue continuing education, a certificate, a business degree, or a law degree. Some social work programs now have dual degrees, such as an MSW/JD, MSW/MBA, or MSW/MPH. Relevant courses would be management, marketing, team building, accounting/finance, organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and mediation. In addition, training on issues related to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, sexual identity, disabilities, language, cultural background, family, or immigration status, or any issues of otherness would be very helpful.

Today’s emerging leaders must remember that corporations and other organizations have two goals. The first, obviously, is to service their clients and the second is to stay in business. Therefore the constellation of skills that social workers who wish to work and lead in business settings must be expanded. As our world is constantly and drastically changing, our learning needs are also changing. It is wise to cultivate an appreciation for the needs of an organization as a whole and be curious about all positions in an organization. All professional roles have components you might find undesirable or that you’re ill equipped to perform, but you should still inform yourself to some degree. Combine your advanced child therapy and family therapy skills with tangible business skills: budgeting, finance, spreadsheets, business law, strategic planning, business ethic, auditing, corporate compliance and grant writing.

In addition, subscribe to Business Week, Harvard Law Review and read the business section of the NY Times. Become proficient in both clinical and business matters and broaden your knowledge. A dual degree is now being offered by Silver School of Social Work and The Wagner School of Business. This wonderful model is exactly what is needed to fill the existing skills gap. More schools of social work, professional associations and service organizations must promote the need to further develop this model, and to encourage social workers to expand their knowledge to include hard skills.

[] What have been some of your most rewarding experiences over the course of your career? On the other hand, what are the most challenging aspects of your job? How do you manage these challenges?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] The most rewarding experience was being president of the NASW-NYC. In this role I met with presidents from all over the country and went to London to be the key note speaker at a conference filled with hundreds of social workers, where I talked about the role of social work during 9-11 and was on a panel with Princess Anne. It was during my tenure as president that the social work licensure went into operation and the NASW-NYC chapter membership surpassed 10,000. Also, during my presidency, I became a founding member of The AntiRacist Alliance, worked with the People’s Institute: Undoing Racism Workshops, and brought the conversation of structural racism to the table in NY, where issues such as organizational racism, internalized racial oppression, micro-aggressions and many other “isms” gained attention.

The most challenging aspect of my career was working on my book, Creative Mentorship and Career Building Strategies: How to Build your Virtual Personal Board of Directors. I wanted to bring my years of wisdom together in a way that would be useful to the profession. It pulls from every aspect of my work, such as leadership, supervision, networking, mentoring, coaching, self-care and team building. The process included writing a book proposal, outlining the chapters, writing and editing many drafts, choosing photographs and many, many hours of intense work with my team.

[] You have also had a great deal of experience helping therapists and social workers set up their own private practices, which is fantastic. What key advice do you give social workers that are interested in going this route?

[Mary Pender Greene, LCSW] We must remember as social workers, that while the clinical work is our passion, and what we are trained to do, the business side of private practice is equally as important. We cannot succeed without it. When we worked for organizations, every aspect of the business was handled by others e.g. bookkeeping, setting fees, marketing, management, advertising, sales, cost management, budgets, collections, recruiting clients, cancellation policies, billing, filing and often even setting up appointments. All of these items for which we were not trained or accustomed to performing become a part of our role as private practitioners. Embracing the business side of private practice is indeed a challenge and is therefore the major reason that my webinar on: The Fundamentals of Building & Growing a Private Psychotherapy Practice is the most requested of all items on my website.

It is helpful to create a business plan and decide which types of clients you want as your niche market. It is important to think about whether you are skilled at working with couples or individuals, or families, children or teens, and if you want to lead therapy groups or do play therapy. Developing a niche is most helpful; you can’t be an expert at everything. It is also important to create a professional presence and brand, especially on social media. This means not only having a professional business card, resume/CV and marketing materials, but also having a professional profile on LinkedIn, a website, a business Facebook page, and a blog. Remember that each of these items represent you and become your brand.

Thank you Ms. Pender Greene for your time and insights into corporate social work.

Last updated: April 2020