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Adaptability is the Theme of Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Conference

By Lizz Panchyk and Joanna Reid

Saturday, March 25 marked the Sixth Annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

The theme of this year’s event, held in the University Center, was “Defining Leadership for Our Lives, Our Careers and Our Communities.” In addition to a kick-off session, “Shift Happens: Navigating Change” moderated by President Christine M. Riordan, there were six different breakout panels all designed to help empower the 160 current Adelphi students and 200 local high schoolers, alumni and industry leaders in attendance. The breakout sessions were followed by a networking session, dinner and keynote address with actress Diane Guerrero.

Adelphi students were among the audience attending the “Finding Your Leadership Style” afternoon hybrid breakout session. Photo by Erica Burns Photography

Among the sponsors of the event was the University’s Student Government Association who has sponsored it every year since it started in 2018. Sophomore Joe Sawma, SGA’s parliamentarian, said, “The event was really successful. It was really worked through and a lot of effort was put into it which showed. I liked the guest speaker too and I felt she was very real and spoke her truth casually.”

One of the breakout sessions was “Ethical Leadership: The Increasing Importance of Doing the Right Thing,” moderated by Pawneet Abramowski ‘08, founder and principal of PARC Solutions LLC. The panelists included, Adelphi Board of Trustees member Kevin Goodman, ‘00, MBA ‘03, global director of Member and Customer Enablement at LinkedIn; MaryAnne Hyland, PhD, dean of the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business; and Khadijah Tribble, founder and chief strategy officer of Marijuana Policy Trust. The panelists discussed the difficulty of making the moral choice in the workforce. It was explained that the moral choice may not always be the obvious choice and sometimes one might have to stick up for what is right even if it’s not in the best interest of the company they work for. Tribble said, “Do the right thing, even when it doesn’t feel good.”

Chotsani Williams West, MA ‘07, executive director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging interviews actress, author and immigration activist Diane Guerrero at the Keynote. Photo by Erica Burns Photography

The panelists highlighted the importance of balancing leadership and personal life as well. "I was really enjoying Khadijah Tribble's comments, especially about authenticity and the balance between personal and professional social media and allowing yourself to be a fun person who also shows up as a professional,” said Norah Curran, a junior interdisciplinary studies major who attended this session.

In the “Leadership and Parenting: Mothers Know Best” session, panelists Adelphi’s Kristen Capezza, MBA ‘12, vice president of enrollment management and university communications, and Chotsani Williams West, MA ‘07, executive director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging; Andrea Bombino, founder and career coach for Andrea Bombino Coaching and Consulting; and moderator Maria Collin Goodman, co-founder of Mama’s Got Mojo, all spoke movingly about the struggles of balancing their careers with motherhood, but emphasized that bringing one's whole self to work–not hiding that you’re a mother–is the best way to approach this stage in your career.

Members of the Student Government Association, who helped to sponsor the event, pose with actress Diane Guerrero. From left: Kevin Carratu, Ana Martinez, Guerrero, Dilpreet Kaur, Eileen He, Joe Sawma and Michael Scandiffo. Photo by Erica Burns Photography

West advised the audience to “share all parts of yourself in your workplace. Be transparent and ask for what you need.” Capezza echoed that statement, adding, “Don’t hide the core of who you are.”

In the second session of breakouts, “The Finding Your Leadership Style: What Kind of a Leader Are You?” panel consisted of Chaka Adams, vice president of marketing for Jovia Financial Credit Union; Sharon Cunningham ‘90, managing director of Morgan Stanley, The Cunningham Group; and Jennifer Rosado, chief customer officer of JOOR. It was moderated by Maureen Evers-Willox, managing partner of KPMG. This focus was on women who can take the reins and lead in the workplace. Cunningham said that leadership is more of an art than a science, but any leader should have confidence, a willingness to engage and an openness to fail. “Find out who you are, believe in who you are and stick with who you are,” she said.

Members of The Delphian, from left: Liza N. Burby, faculty advisor, Kurana Doobay, writer, Elizabeth Panchyk, editor-in-chief, and Joanna Reid, news editor.

As a leader, it is also important to not be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. “You need to ask, especially as a woman,” Cunningham said. A sign of a true leader is knowing your weaknesses and knowing you have them. Some other characteristics that Rosado gave were being realistic, having composure, being respectful, collaborative and empowering, and looking at the bigger picture. Adams added being empathetic, to understand that everyone’s life is different.

The speakers also mentioned that a huge part of going into careers is networking and finding mentors who you aspire to be and someone who can be a champion for you. It doesn’t matter who your mentors are, as long as they share your values, you trust them and you see yourself working with them. It’s important to find people who are willing to spend time with you, “remember the impression you’re leaving on people,” Cunningham said. It’s okay to let people find you instead of looking for someone specific.

In “Access to Opportunity: Advancing Women’s Leadership by Opening New Doors,” the emphasis was on underrepresented groups who are attaining leadership positions in the corporate world. Panelists were Anita D’Amico, PhD ‘84, vice president of Cross-Portfolio Solutions and Strategy, Synopsys Software Integrity Group; Emily Ladau ’13, Adelphi Board of Trustee member and author of “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally;” Mara Johnston, managing principal of Keystone Global; and moderator Deborah Viola ‘84, MBA, PhD, vice president, Office of Research and Grants Administration, Westchester Medical Center.

Ladau encouraged the audience that in order to advance they should “flip the script” they’ve been taught, that what you need to know has to happen in the classroom. “I think that we need to be flipping the script on what we're looking at as skill set development. It doesn't always need to happen inside of a classroom,” she said. “For me, I learned so much from being an English major that I was then able to take and apply to social media as a communicator. I just want to challenge the notion that you can't find your passion by doing things that you enjoy outside of an academic setting. Because for me, that was where I found my passion. I found it through engaging on social media. I found it through communicating with other people in the disability community.”

Following this session, first-time conference attendee Augustina Gentile, a senior English major, said: “As someone who's interested in English, business and computer science and STEM fields, seeing how women have worked in all of those fields and has been especially fruitful for me to learn about, especially as I'm a senior in graduating and about to start my own career. It was great to see the advice for breaking into these fields and building up a career and the steps I could take to pursue success in the future. I feel inspired and determined.”

After a networking session in the UC there was an awards dinner. Students who won awards included Student Government Association award winners Jonay Jackson and Julia Smith; the Women's Giving Circle “Courage to Inspire, Strength to Empower” essay contest winners Prachi Shah and Jeanne Zamor; and Adelphi Women’s Leadership High School award winners Alexa Cuvilly and Gianna Cedrone.

The evening ended with a keynote address moderated by West with Diane Guerrero, an American actress who has starred in the TV shows “Orange is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin,” and as the voice of Isabela Madrigal in the animated movie “Encanto.” Guerrero made a point of saying, “I can’t cut my wings before I learn to fly.” She discussed the importance of being yourself, purely for yourself and no one else and how women can make it far in life. “We are honest with ourselves, we are adaptable and inclusive, open to learning and we fight our own egos. Egos are something within all of us that make up a huge part of our life. But egos can also take control of us and make us into people who we are not. This is why we try to fight them.”

In an interview with Guerrero following the event, when asked if fighting with her ego is a battle that can be won, Guerrero said, “Absolutely, I win it every time I do something scary. I do it every time I choose to express my joy and the love for life.”

She was also asked if she had advice for young women who are struggling with increased anxiety that has followed the pandemic, as well as national events like school shootings and the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court.

“I think that right now just understand that what is happening is definitely a cause for alarm, so their feelings of anxiety and depression and feeling lost and unsafe are totally normal,” she said. “I think that acceptance of what they’re going through—especially when they hear people saying `it's not that bad; get over it’—and knowing that their feelings are valid is the first step. And knowing that you can talk to people and reaching out and gathering with folks who are also feeling the same way you do is a great help.”

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