Alumnae Inspire Students at Women in Leadership Breakfast

Photo by: Paige Acevedo
Monday, October 7, 2013

Careers, families and a hectic social life: how do female professionals balance it all?

This and other pertinent questions dominated the conversation at St. John’s Women in Leadership event, held at Manhattan’s 3 West Club. This popular breakfast allowed a panel of accomplished alumnae to share their insight with students and other guests, providing ample opportunity to network while exploring the unique challenges facing women in the professional world.

“A day like this is great for our students because it really empowers them,” said Desiree Henry ’10MBA, Assistant Director, Office of Alumni Relations. “From my experience, I’ve found that our alumnae all have one thing in common: they love to pay it forward and give back to the University whenever they can.”

Panelist Augusta Sanfilippo ’85SVC, ’94MBA, Manging Director, Investment Banking Information Technology at Citibank, spoke about the differences in today’s generation of college graduates. Unlike Baby Boomers, she noted, Generations X and Y are more confident and goal-oriented, and, although this is helpful, it can sometimes get in the way of long-term career progress.

“Today’s women are so incredibly eager that they are oftentimes thinking too far ahead,” Sanfilippo explained. “They think, ‘Will this job help me in 10 years when I have to juggle kids, a nanny, etc.?’ and thinking in those terms so early can cloud their decision making. In a sense, women are so insightful and intelligent that they sometimes outthink themselves.”

Meanwhile, Neahle Jones ’00CBA emphasized the difficulty in balancing work goals with life aspirations. As Vice President, Strategic Communications Director at Garnier, Optimedia, she works in a largely female-dominated industry, but noted that job expectations have only increased in recent years.

“I know people who leave the office at 5 p.m., put their kids to sleep and then they’re back online working at 9 p.m.,” she said. “In today’s economy, a lot of people have been let go, and companies are in no urgency to replace them. That means they expect you to take on the jobs of multiple people every day, so, ultimately you have to find an environment and a position that’s right for you. You can’t be afraid to have discussions with your employer and tell them the type of life you want to live for yourself.”

The conversation later shifted to how women interact with one another around the office and in the professional world. Hon. Diane J. Savino ’86C, New York State Senator of District 23, argued that female professionals need to support one another, and she emphasized that when speaking with students.

“Think about it,” she said. “Whenever a woman gets up to speak in a meeting or a presentation, the first thing every other woman looks at… are her shoes. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy, and we need to stop tearing each other down in the office and in our careers.”

Each panelist discussed the merits of networking. In particular, Margaret Keane ’81C, ’87MBA, Chief Executive Officer of GE Capital Retail Finance, stressed the importance of keeping your St. John’s network strong. She believes so strongly in mentorship, in fact, that she is currently in the process of endowing a Women in Leadership scholarship to help support a deserving female SJU student.

“Coming from a big family, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college,” Keane explained, “so I paid my own way. My children still can’t believe that, in fact. But today, since I am in a position to give, I want to ensure that I can allow a student to spend all her time studying without having to worry about jobs and the financial burden of education.”

Students appreciated hearing the panel’s advice and personal stories, and they made sure to network and exchange business cards with alumnae in attendance. For many of these young women, seeing graduates who have turned their degrees into successful careers was an inspiring experience.

“I’ve always been opinionated and outspoken,” said Najaah Daniels ’15C. “These successful alumnae told us that we should be outspoken, we should be confident, and now I know more than ever that St. John’s is the place I was meant to be. I’m confident at the University, and I know that one day I’ll be able to give back like today’s panelists.”

Boryana Yordanova ’15MBA left the event more excited than ever to begin her career and was looking forward to the day when she could e-mail the panelists as a fellow alumna.

“When I graduate,” she said, “I will definitely reach out and ask these panelists for advice. These relationships – this type of mentoring opportunity – can go a long way. It’s all about these human connections and relationships, so I’m glad to have attended.”