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Friday October 30, 2015 marked the 11th annual CUNY women’s leadership conference. The conference was comprised of various women leaders within our communities. There were two sessions held in the afternoon. One was for the New York City Government Panel which consisted of the following speakers: Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Inez Barron, and Council Member Margaret Chin.

The other was the New York State Government Panel where Senator Toby Stavisky and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, Assembly Member Diana Richardson, and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright spoke.

In the morning we heard from Donna E. Shalala. Her words resonated with me because she didn’t come from an affluent family. Since she was a child she was demonstrating leadership capabilities. She gave the example of herself as a child directing traffic during a tornado that was approaching her neighborhood in Cleveland, her family is running to the basement and there she was on the corner of a street directing traffic. The most impacting words however, were how she told us that she still today hit walls. You never stop hitting them, you just have to find a way around it. She was both funny but more importantly honest. Sometimes I think it’s important for all of us to remember that our leaders face challenges just like we do. Even as leaders it doesn’t stop.

Donna E. Shalala

Following her words, Author Joanna Barsh spoke. Joanna Barsh is the author of “How Remarkable Women Lead” and “Centered Leadership.” Joanna actually gave us a hands on approach on applying some of the concepts from her book. It was interesting and more importantly engaging. She started out by having us move closer to those around us. I wound up meeting Jennifer who is both a journalist and a teacher. The first exercise was great because it made you break out of your comfort zone. The next exercises involved talking about emotions. We had to discuss how you felt about being there. I was incredibly excited but also nervous because of the large setting of people. By the time we were done, I felt much more relaxed.

Joanna also told us about a time that she froze during a meeting with a client. She explained it with high energy and made it incredibly relatable. What I learned from her example was how sometimes we spiral out of control with fear and it doesn’t let us make a move. In her example the meeting with the prospective client, she was asked why the prospective client would want to make a specific decision. Joanna explained that we all have a voice (or two) and sometimes that can drive us into a downward spiral. We begin to question ourselves, and everything. She wanted us to understand that this is also in a way related to our instinct to “fight or flight” responses.

We proceeded to the lunch portion of the seminar where Carolyn Maloney spoke. Representative Maloney is not only is strong advocate for the 9/11 Zadroga Act. That is the bill for first responders to receive compensation and treatment through the world trade monitoring center, but she is also fighting towards the continued funding of planned parenthood one of the largest women’s medical provider.

Studying American History now under the specific labels of race, class and gender, I understand one message clearly. We take for granted a lot of the rights that have been bestowed upon us because a lot of us can’t remember what it was like before the laws allowed certain things like voting, abortions, etc.. Women were dying in illegal operations in seedy hotels because they had no options. We don’t remember what it was like not to vote because our generation lives at a time where we have a choice.

By the end of lunch time, they had empowered me enough to actually sign up to vote. I was always one of those skeptics, “it doesn’t matter to vote, it’s all corrupt, my vote doesn’t count anyway.” By the end of lunch I had signed up to vote, and actually do as these empowering women suggested. Vote, especially because women today are not fighting for the new laws, we’re essentially fighting to hold on to the rights that we have already gained.

The last portion of the conference was equally as phenomenal as the other sections. Dianna C. Richardson was the one assembly person that stood out among everyone. Everyone was extraordinary because they all stood for one cause which is for the people. They are leaders not only because they lead but because of their advocacy of causes that concern the people. Dianna C. Richardson was both bold and honest. She gave literal meaning to walking the walk and talking the talk. The one unanimous component among a lot of the speakers was that no one necessarily planned to be in the position that they held. It just happened.

I asked at the end of the final session, what advice they would give to someone trying to transition from the private to public sector or vice versa. If not all, the majority of the panelists and keynote speakers were the first of their kind. First in a role, first in a field etc. So I wanted to understand how they handled that resistance and yet transitioned to other things. The response that closely answered that inquiry was the following. If you are trying to change your field, gear yourself, your resume towards what you’re trying to achieve. Making a decision such as public service is a choice that you make because it’s in you.

I’ll leave you with one of the quotes that stuck with me that day and today, and I hope that it stays with you. George Eliot is a pen name for Mary Ann Evans who used a male name to escape stereotypes about women authors and to be taken seriously. She says: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

Jessica is a full time mother, employee, and student. She works as an Immigration Paralegal and is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Business. Jessica loves to volunteer with organizations that are targeted towards children. She recognizes that children are our future and sometimes they need someone who believes in them.

Jessica’s motto: Balancing everything is difficult but achievable.

One of Jessica’s greatest passions is writing. She says, “You have the ability to connect with reader’s in a way that speaking sometimes you simply can’t explain. I have been through a lot in my personal life and am very open about my struggles, but I live to be an example to not only my own daughter but to others.”

The following post was submitted by Nerisusan Rosario, a current student in our online Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information Management (B.S.):

On October 31st CUNY held its 10th annual Women Leadership Conference forum emphasizing the importance of empowering, supporting and mentoring young professional women. The overall theme at the forum was about finding your professional passion. It was great to be in a room of women that embrace the practice of helping other women seek their potential growth professionally. They all expressed how important it is to build relationships with like-minded women who share similar goals, vision, and passion and are essentially a support system when climbing up the ladder.

Morning Panel: New York City Government (Council members)

The panelists were women that hold public civic positions in the New York City government and were fully engaged in their perspective committees and the needs of their constituents in their district. What impressed me was that their passion derived from a personal level and they carry it through in the work that they do. For instance Councilwoman Inez Barron is passionate about eradicating all ‘ism’s’ such as sexism, racism, and classism. Her colleague Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal strongly believes that the budget is a direct reflection of the priorities of the city and she works towards addressing that vigorously on her committee. Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson is dedicated to improving public safety and ensuring that education equality is never neglected. Finally, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, the newest member, radiated a passion for the arts and expressed that it is possible to align your passion and still serve her community.

Afternoon Panel: “What is your passion”

The panelists were  CUNY Trustees Valerie Lancaster Beal and Rita DiMartino, a corporate Associate Vice Chancellor Andrea Shapiro Davis and Interim Vice Chancellor and University Provost  Julia Wrigley. The discussion revolved around their concept of what embodies a leader, the balancing act of family with career life, and sharing with us their own professional passion. Every single one of these women expressed a form of sacrifice in order to pursue their dreams and due to their own experience they shared the following tips:

  1. Be aware that we live in a global society (everything is accessible electronically)
  2. Maintain a grade point average of 3.0 (be mindful it’s a competitive market)
  3. Aside from work experience, internships and volunteer work are essential
  4. Monitor Facebook/Instagram/Twitter (employers do check social media and your branding)
  5. Establish a relationship with a professional that can in turn become your mentor
  6. You can supplement what you like by incorporating portions of your passion in your career
  7. Self Promote!!! Know your own values and extend yourself

I was left with the impression that many of the women in each panel are individuals that strive for personal improvement and are not afraid to take the risk necessary to be successful. All the women featured in the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference possessed a sense of humor, charisma, and confidence which energized the audience to see the next 10 years as a strong opportunity to see women in position of power. It may appear as a challenge and perhaps even a bit intimidating, however one of my favorite quotes that came from Councilwoman Cumbo was a song lycric from Lauren Hill, “Everyday is another day to get it right.”