Desiré Stewart: On Working Women and The Paper Clinic

Photography by Jason Hook

While Desiré Stewart and I spoke over the phone for this article, she described her current situation: cradling a cell phone in one hand and her newborn girl, Reagan, in the other. Balancing priorities is something she’s used to: She runs a business to help other businesses while also sitting on multiple boards; she handled a pregnancy in the middle of a pandemic and now, she’s raising baby Reagan while cautiously considering how to reenter work at her office.

Stewart’s enterprise and her commitment to her daughter are proof that a woman can find a way to strike the work/life balance, but it not always easy. And getting here also wasn’t easy.

Becoming a Businesswoman

For most of her life, being a business owner wasn’t necessarily on Stewart’s radar. Instead, she had every intention of becoming a medical doctor. Then, in between pre-med undergraduate studies at the University of Florida and starting medical school, she took a gap year to work with a startup medical laser company. As she watched the company figure out marketing and entrepreneurship and navigate assistance with a local chamber of commerce, she discovered that these things thrilled her more than the medical work she thought she was destined to pursue. Rather than completely abandon her hard-earned pre-med degree, she earned an MBA in healthcare management at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne and started her ascent up the ranks in medical company management.

In her first years at those companies, Stewart stood ground against repeated pushback from the corporate world.

“I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or because I was so young, but a lot of people would try to overstep my authority or second-guess some of the decisions I made,” she said.

“Thankfully I had a private office then and I would just go in and take ten deep breathes, do some yoga stretches and say ‘Alright, people don’t like me right now, but we gotta move forward.’”

Surprisingly, the discrimination came most often from other women in the workplace. She remembered one humiliating day when she wore the same dress as a female manager a few decades older. Later that day, Stewart was told not to wear the dress again.

“It was very perplexing,” Stewart said. A dress might not seem important in the corporate landscape, but Stewart is convinced the manager somehow perceived it as a threat.

That was ten years ago. Since then, Stewart said, the business world has undergone change for the better. In the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce as well as her own business, The Paper Clinic, she’s noticed that “the older women are actually supportive and taking on a mentorship role rather than looking at the [younger women as] competition… I think women are less [likely] to judge each other and more supportive when they see [other women] kicking butt in the workplace.”

The Paper Clinic

In addition to management roles at healthcare companies, Stewart also was involved with managing operations for her husband’s law firm, so she understood far too well the challenges-and headaches-of a growing business. “In our first two years of Stewart Law, we moved offices four times in one year,” she said with an exasperated laugh. She spent hours changing addresses and registrations, office setups and more.

All that change and flux ignited the idea that grew to be the Paper Clinic, she said.

The Paper Clinic

“To have an office space that can help somebody who’s working from home and is a solopreneur and as they grow their team, their capabilities, where they can just stay in one place rather than shop for a new office year after year.”

The Paper Clinic, a fitting name given Stewart’s medical background, is not your typical shared office space, however.

Picture an extensive, 4,500 sq. ft. space in the Office Park in Viera. Cubicles line two of the perimeter walls, which serve as home base for local entrepreneurs. Then there’s the classroom and collaborative space large enough for plenty of people to each have their own executive-sized desk, or for 40 people to sit, safely distanced, for a presentation or lecture.

Networking and Connecting

The Paper Clinic hosts networking events, parties and periodic classes to set businesses up for success. “Somebody might be an expert in their field but then they have no idea how to work QuickBooks, or even how to set up a bank account for a business,” she said. This is where Stewart and her associates share their extensive knowledge to help their clients master essential entrepreneurial skills.

“To have an office space that can help somebody who’s working from home and is a solopreneur and as they grow their team, their capabilities, where they can just stay in one place rather than shop for a new office year after year.”

Prior to quarantine, these were face-to-face experiences, but in the new era of social distancing- plus with a new baby at home- Stewart transitioned to virtual resources.

Any kind of business you can imagine, from law firms, niche marketers, mortgage companies, and others, are welcomed to The Paper Clinic with open arms. It’s open to students, too. When high schools went online, The Paper Clinic offered their offices as quiet, socially-distanced havens for high schoolers to study for Advanced Placement exams.

Mentoring & Inspiring

Stewart’s also working to secure a partnership to offer in-depth business education to high school and community college students. She hopes that seeing “…the juggling act that we do each day, you know, changing hats every 20 minutes from being the accountant to the salesperson to the marketing person,” will inspire students to get involved with small businesses, pursue a higher level of business education or start their own business, as she did.

DESIRÉ STEWART’S SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR WORKING MOMS:

Google calendar and her assistant to help manage each day’s to-do lists: Stewart’s assistant and associates helped keep the Paper Clinic running for its clients during quarantine, even when Stewart had to stay home.

HER FAMILY: “I don’t know how women would do it without having family in their business. Even with employees, it requires a certain degree of flexibility and understanding on their part. If they weren’t family, or if I didn’t have my family members advocating for the business, it might be a little bit more difficult. But everybody’s been super supportive.”

STAYING ACTIVE: Stewart dances and choreographs with the dance group Live 2 Dance. “I found out early in my career that it’s always good to have an outlet, and I’ve always been really active with my health and fitness.”

BREVARD’S BOSS BABES:
Stewart and her friends started Brevard’s Boss Babes as a networking club for local working women. Search “Brevard’s Boss Babes”on Facebook if brunches, networking “speed dating” and camaraderie sound like something you’d like to be a part of.

The Paper Clinic is located at 7341 Office Park Place, Suite 202, Viera. For more information, or hours of operation, visit www.thepaperclinic.com or call 321-261-0418.

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