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125 Years of Women: Adelphi University’s 5th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference

By Bianca Viana and Kurana Doobay

On Saturday, March 26 Adelphi hosted their Fifth Annual Women’s Leadership Conference in the newly renovated Ruth S. Harley University Center. This year’s theme was “125 Years of Women in Leadership” and was dedicated to celebrating Adelphi's long history of educating and developing leaders. The conference was hosted in a hybrid format allowing participants to join in from anywhere. There were over 150 online participants and over 200 in-person attendees. The event included a kick-off session, four breakout sessions, and a dinner where the headline keynote speaker was Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman.

Emily Dorko ’13, MBA ’15 (left), Adelphi’s NCAA senior woman administrator for Athletics, and Aly Raisman, America’s third most-decorated female Olympic gymnast. At the keynote portion of the event, they spoke about Raisman’s career and how she is working towards a better version of herself each day. Photo by Erica Burns

The conference started off strong with the first panel, “Leadership Lessons Learned: A Conversation with Trailblazing Women.” LeeAnn Black ’83, chief operating officer at Latham & Watkins was the moderator for a conversation molded around powerful women and their journeys to getting to where they are today. The panel included the tenth and first woman president of Adelphi, Christine M. Riordan, PhD; Marjorie Magner, a founding member of Brysam Global Partner; and Carmen Ortiz,’78, JD, ’12 (Hon.), a partner at Anderson & Kreiger LLP. Each of the panelists spoke about their journeys to success and how they were for a while the only woman in the room. The panel took aim at empowering other young women leaders to fight for the change they want to see in the room. Each panelist is deeply established in their own unique ways and they encouraged every leader attendee to welcome change. Another point that was stressed was the importance of listening to others and working as a team member even when you are in a leadership role. Their message was that a good leader is one who understands the working dynamics of the team, listens to others’ concerns and fosters an environment open to change.

“It was very inspiring to listen and learn from women leaders and celebrate progress made in our society,” said Kevin Carratu, a sophomore molecular neuroscience major who attended. “As a male, I think it is really important to show my support for equality and show others that there are males out there who are also really passionate about women’s rights.”

In the first breakout session there were two panels available, “Caring for Every Body (and for Ourselves)” and “Shattering Expectations.” The former was moderated by Dr. Maryann Forbes, PhD ’99, the interim dean of the College of Nursing and Public Health (CNPH). The panel featured Chelsea (Wollman) Imbriano, ‘14, RN, who works in the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit at North Shore University Hospital; and CNPH assistant professors Marissa Abram ’08, PhD ’17 and Deborah Ambrosio-Mawhirter ’81, MS ’96, EdD, RN.

This panel shed light on the importance of self care: something that we hear about very frequently but many of us still struggle to define and how to make time for it each day. The panelists delivered the message that life is stressful, but we must hold ourselves accountable for doing something each day that is for us and only us. Each nurse talked about the importance of prioritizing themselves so that they can show up to work and take care of others. They said that since nursing is one of the hardest undergraduate careers to pursue, it can become easy to fall into the self-care deficit and burnout that many nurses experience in their careers before a nursing student’s career has even begun. Imbriano spoke about how she bought herself a Peloton during the pandemic and it became a great outlet for her to release any excess energy she had and became her form of self care. She admitted that she is still figuring out what self-care really means to her and working on implementing self-care habits into her everyday life and routine.

Audience members in the UC “At the Forefront of Change,” a conversation moderated by Manoj Pardasani, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, dean of the School of Social Work, which featured Christine Tiedemann, a NYS certified holistic health coach, and Lynda Perdomo-Ayala ‘78, administrative department head at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University and founding member of Adelphi's Women’s Giving Circle. Photo by Erica Burns

Dr. Ambrosio-Mawhirter said that she has to pencil in a walk every day or she will forget to take that time. She said it took her almost 30 years before she really began practicing self-care. She added that she ensures each of her students understand the importance of it as well, and that her office is always open for them to unwind and that she is willing to talk and work with them so that they too can find the importance of self-care.

The second panel, “Shattering Expectations,” was moderated by Thomas Ward, Jr. ‘93, Adelphi’s assistant vice president for career development and strategic partnerships. The three panelists included Lois Schlissel, JD, of counsel and former managing attorney at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, PC; Elizabeth Daitz ‘02, JD, the new assistant commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department; and Malika Grayson ‘11, PhD, program manager at Northrop Grumman. The panelists discussed how they persevere through their respective male-dominated fields all while embracing their gender and using it to their advantage.

Schlissel started the discussion with a point that she built on throughout. When she was a child, her parents told her, “If you study hard, you could be anything you want to be.” Hard work and education are the most valuable assets you have, regardless of your gender. She described many parts of her journey in her career as time-consuming, but valuable. She spoke about times she would be studying in rooms as the only woman surrounded by men.

Schlissel later said, “I bring my gender with me wherever I go.” Because of this, she advised the audience to “create a presence.” To add to her point, Daitz simply said, “Be a badass.” As a woman working in the police force, surrounded by strong and intimidating men, she said, “Gender is power.” The words “clear” and “confident” rang like bells throughout the room during this discussion.

Grayson said, “You can have a seat at the table, but you have to speak up when you’re sitting there.” Taking the first step and establishing yourself takes hard work, but you can’t stop there. To continue growing as a professional woman, Grayson shared what she called the ABCs to Success: A for Adapt, B for be Bold and three Cs: Create, Contribute and Challenge. She said, “Be the type of leader you want.”

The biggest takeaway from this panel is that being a woman is powerful, and these three women used this power to shatter all expectations.

Between each session was a networking break, in which attendees could personally speak with the panelists.

Rebecca Luther, junior sociology major, said, “It was a great opportunity to hear from inspiring female leaders in a range of fields. After the conference, I connected with multiple panelists on LinkedIn! It was an interesting and exciting event. Can’t wait to go again next year.”

In the second breakout session the two panels that were offered for guests to attend were, “Climbing the Ranks” and “At the Forefront of Change.” The former was moderated by Jacqueline Jones LaMon, JD, Adelphi’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. The panelists included Nicholas Iadevaio, MBA ’00, the vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion leader at L’Oreal USA; Joseph Moscola, ‘06 MBA, the executive vice president of Enterprise Services at Northwell Health; and Humera Qazi ’93, BBA, a managing director at Morgan Stanley.

Adelphi’s 10th and first female President, Christine M. Riordan PhD, welcomed guests to Adelphi's 5th Annual Women's Leadership Conference. Photo by Erica Burns

Iadevaio started off the panel by reminding all attendees that the journey

for each of us is unique and that empathy is a quality that each leader must embody to be exemplary. He spoke to his challenges with mental health over the years and wearing hearing aids his whole life, yet he has always shown gratitude to those around him. He stressed the importance of listening to others and seeing the world from another person’s perspective in order to better understand that individual and seeing how you can teach them or learn from them.

Moscola emphasized the importance of having emotional intelligence as a leader, stating that it makes you a “better leader and a better listener.” He added that competition doesn't belong within a team; instead you should be doing what you can to lift the team up. He encouraged others to challenge themselves by asking the question, “What selflessness do I bring to the team?”

Qazi shared her own three 3C’s of what defines as good leadership skills: Confidence, Competence and Credibility. Each of these are skills that we learn throughout our lives whether we learn them from others or from life’s lessons. Qazi encouraged listeners to look for role models around them and to learn from them. She said that once you find the person you admire, “follow their pattern of behavior and spread it.” She also acknowledged the immense stress that kids are under today but added ambition comes with all of that stress as well. She reminded us not to allow for the stress to overpower us.

Student Government Association Women's Recognition Award recipients at this year’s 5th Annual Women's Leadership Conference. Pictured above Melanie Rosa Chaves (left), an undergraduate senior majoring in both communication science and disorders and Spanish. Saira Amar (right) is an undergraduate senior and international relations major. Photo by Bianca Viana

The other panel, “At the Forefront of Change,” was moderated by Manoj Pardasani, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, dean of the School of Social Work at Adelphi, and featured Christine Tiedemann, a NYS certified holistic health coach; and Lynda Perdomo-Ayala ‘78, administrative department head at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University and a founding member of Adelphi University’s Women’s Giving Circle. The discussion focused on working in the nonprofit sector and engaging in philanthropy. Both Tiedemann and Perdomo-Ayala spoke about qualities that help them achieve their goals of helping change the lives of those in need.

When asked why she feels such a strong urge to give back to the community, Tiedemann said, “We have a responsibility as a society to do whatever we can.” She shared her own experience of dealing with multiple sclerosis, and then her son’s experience of dealing with diabetes and the way that both of those setbacks only pushed her further ahead. When she realized that others who were struggling with diabetes in the way her son was did not have all the resources she did, she described it as, “moving,” which eventually pushed her into philanthropy.

She said, “There are so many ways to get involved.” She explained that working in the non-profit sector does not always mean donating millions of dollars at a time. She shared a story reflecting on her son’s birthday one year, where he asked for books to donate to Schneider Children’s Hospital, rather than gifts. “To see his face light up was so rewarding,” she said.

Perdomo-Ayala also shared some personal setbacks. For the first time, she spoke about how she almost did not finish college because of an attack of appendicitis in her junior year. She explained that it made her feel “deflated.” She said, “It’s important to understand that life will throw you a curveball, but you need to catch the next pitch and move forward.”

Her story is one of perseverance and persistence, which are qualities that are necessary to be in philanthropy.

The “Climbing the Ranks” panel was moderated by Jacqueline Jones LaMon, JD, Adelphi’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (far left). The panelists included (from left) Nicholas Iadevaio, MBA ’00, the vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion leader at L’Oreal USA; Humera Qazi ’93, BBA, a managing director at Morgan Stanley; and Joseph Moscola, ‘06 MBA, the executive vice president of Enterprise Services at North- well Health. Photo by Erica Burns

Growing up, Perdomo-Ayala explained that she came from a family of philanthropists. With that, she discussed that watching those around her give back pushed her to give back as well. For young people who want to go into philanthropy, she said, “You are giving back, even when you aren’t giving financially.” Sometimes, it could just be handing out pamphlets, making phone calls, checking people into events or spreading awareness through word of mouth. “Everything that contributes to an organization as a whole is an act of philanthropy. In that way, anybody can be a philanthropist,” she said.

Perdomo-Ayala also shared something with the audience that she tells her own children, as a way to assess their morals and values. “If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror at night and feel comfortable with the decisions you made during the day, there is something wrong.” Working in philanthropy, people need to be strong on their morals, while still keeping the business aspect of their work in check.

As college students and graduates starting out in their respective fields, philanthropy serves as a great way to network. Tiedmann said, “You never know who you are going to meet.” As college students, getting involved in philanthropy presents itself with opportunities, which not only serve the community as a whole, but oneself as well.

Both women said, “Don’t be shy.” When asking for time, help, money, volunteers, etc., they described that they have had to stand up for themselves and be comfortable enough that they could assert their voice in rooms filled with people of all genders and backgrounds. Perdomo-Ayala stated, “Well-behaved women don’t make history.”

The word that came up most during this discussion was “fearless.” These women taught us that you cannot be on the forefront of change and stand there with fear.

The keynote speaker and headliner of the conference was America’s third most-decorated female Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman. She was the team captain for the gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s Gymnastics teams in 2012 and 2016. Emily Dorko ’13, ’15 MBA, Adelphi’s NCAA senior woman administrator for Athletics, led the conversation with Raisman by asking her three adjectives to describe herself. Raisman answered with “present, calm and grateful.”

Raisman said she is the oldest of four siblings and so much has shaped her into the person that she is today. Through being an older sister, she learned the value of leading by example, how to treat people the way you want to be treated and believing that no dream is too big.

She said one of the biggest personal goals she is working towards right now is learning how to be more present. She shared that she looks to surround herself with people who are calm and non-reactive and gravitates towards those who find joy in the everyday things. She is finding one thing a day to stay calm and present whether that be gardening, taking walks outdoors, dancing, playing with her puppy or talking with her therapist.

As the conversation shifted towards a discussion about mental health and social media, Dorko read a line from Raisman’s Instagram bio, “Use social media to spread kindness.” Raisman admitted social media remains a challenge and acknowledged that although it can be used in positive ways, sometimes it can still be toxic. She said she began to pay closer attention to how she felt after using social media and encouraged others to do the same, adding, “Puppy accounts make me happy.”

Raisman said that she tries to be as honest as she can with others because she hopes to foster an environment where others can open up and share in a way that she was never allowed to. She spoke about how there is often a pressure people feel to do what others are doing on social media, but reminded listeners to do what makes them feel happy and to pursue their passions.

Raisman is no longer competing and she spoke about how she is now focused on figuring out who she is outside of being a gymnast and medalist. However, she also spoke about the abuse that she had faced throughout her Olympic career. She said it had become so normalized within the gymnastic community that when she tried speaking up about it to others, people told her that what was happening was okay.

She described her experience initially speaking up about her abuse as being made to feel as if she was the one who was in the wrong. She said this was re-traumatizing for her because as she tried to speak up, she didn’t have the support she needed. However, this reminded her to pay attention to the way she treated herself and encouraged others to do the same. She said, “The way we talk to ourselves is really important.” This is advice we should all do our best to put into practice.

Raisman left the audience with a line most of us hear when flying: “Put your mask on before assisting others.” She explained that being a good leader is prioritizing yourself. She concluded the panel saying, “I’m better when I’m happier.”

Ultimately that’s the positive message that every speaker shared that day.

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