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October 26, 2011

Women Helping Women at St. Francis College

According to the Center for Women’s Business Research “10.1 million firms are owned by women (50% or more), employing more than 13 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales as of 2008.” Women face a number of obstacles in the workplace but through mentorship, leadership, networking and work-life balance, women are not only staying in business, they are breaking through the glass ceiling. These strategies were the focus of a panel discussion featuring extraordinary women leaders across various industries, an event hosted by the St. Francis College Women’s Center on October 26 in the St. Francis Genovesi Center.

The panel was composed of Rebecca Tibbetts (Assistant Principal, Christ the King Regional High School), Taryn Brown (Attorney, Akin Grump Strauss Hauer and Feld), Anna Lam (Vice President/Director of Retail Sales and Operations, Cohen’s Fashion Optical), and Ivy A. Stark (Regional Chef Dos Caminos, B.R. Guest Restaurants). Each woman shared their experiences and discussed their career paths with SFC students. Following the opening presentations, the audience was divided into smaller groups, allowing for a more intimate setting in which students could ask questions and panelists could offer specific advice.

Director of Athletics Irma Garcia ’80, who recruited the speakers for the event, described the panel as “wonderful people who have so much to offer and women we can learn something from for our future endeavors.” Some of the panelists noted that mentors played an influential role in their success and encouraged students to find a mentor that can help guide them in their career paths.

When asked about the five characteristics she believes are necessary for women to be successful Brown said, “Meet with people to seek out advice. Project confidence. Always make sure you are learning. Be observant, and be yourself.” Brown, who is a former Head Assistant Coach for the Terrier Women’s Basketball team, shared experiences like when she lost her position as captain of the cheerleading team (which led her to start playing basketball) and when her team was ousted on the reality TV show Treasure Hunters, telling students how she learned to make setbacks work in her favor.

The panel expressed that perseverance is key and Stark, who loved to cook as a child, has been “cooking with gas” ever since she made the decision to get off the path to graduate school and instead enroll in culinary classes and pursue a career as a Chef. She spoke about working her way up to the position of Regional Chef in a field that is male-dominated, expressing the hardships she had to overcome and how she learned to successfully manage her male colleagues.

Lam expressed that it is important for young women to do what they love first and use this as a stepping stone to begin establishing their careers. She said that money will eventually come later. “Don’t think of yourself as a woman but rather as a person. Be yourself and really believe in what you want to do in life,” said Lam, who also talked about how she discovered her passion and the ways in which her work ethic led to recognition and promotions.

Understanding that students face pressures from family and finances, two factors that often influence career decisions, Tibbetts said, “Listen to your inner self and act on it. Follow your dreams.” Tibbetts said she defied the expectations of family and friends to settle down and start a family and instead pursued a career in athletics. As a result of constant networking and a disciplined work ethic she was able to achieve her goal of playing professional basketball overseas and getting paid to do what she loved. Tibbetts’ transition from the basketball court to the classroom was smooth. Now her ultimate goal is to become a principal and open her own charter school within the next few years.

Realizing that these women invest a great deal of time and effort into their careers, students raised questions about how they are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The panelists agreed that it is important to maintain connections with family and friends, and take vacations.

St. Francis Professor Athena Devlin, co-director of The Women’s Center said that the center is founded on empowerment, self-confidence and building community and believes that it’s important for young women at St. Francis to understand that there are no limits to what they can achieve.

Dr. Devlin and Athletic Director Garcia say this is just the first of many events they plan to host, intending to bring many more successful women to St. Francis.

By Sade Falebita ‘12

(Photo From L-R: Athena Devlin, Irma Garcia, Ivy Stark, Anna Lam, Taryn Brown, Rebecca Tibbets)

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