“Don’t fit, and don’t plan” was Shantel Palacio’s message as she kicked off the 2022 Women of Isenberg Conference as the keynote speaker February 26. Palacio (pictured right), who currently works as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant while engaged in doctoral studies in leadership and policy at the University of New Hampshire, focused on the importance of simplicity to balance a demanding career path and work schedule. In her speech, she advised attendees to focus on the basics, on things that matter, and on the things they love and enjoy.
Palacio’s keynote preceded a day of online panel discussions, networking opportunities, and workshops planned by the Women of Isenberg (WOI) team over the past nine months. “Our favorite part of organizing the event is being able to see the outcome,” says Amy Brennan, a senior OIM major and one of WOI’s co-presidents. “We spend so many meetings brainstorming content, preparing questions, researching speakers, designing the schedule, and more. To see all that labor produce an amazing event and positively affect so many attendees is an incredible experience.”
The team is made up of 12 students, including Brennan (right in photo) and co-president Skye Lovell (left), a senior marketing major, who began work in May of last year, with support from five faculty and staff advisors. During this spring semester, says Lovell, “the 10 committee members have been spending close to 15 hours per week on WOI and the presidents hit 20 to 25 hours.” She adds that 21 community council members (undergraduate and graduate UMass students) and 19 student ambassadors also contribute by preparing questions for panel discussions and assembling introductions of moderators, among other tasks.
The hard work paid off, with the successful event serving more than 400 attendees. For the second year in a row, the WOI Conference was held online because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. “Holding the conference virtually again was bittersweet,” says Lovell. “Of course it was a tough call and sad in some ways.” However, she adds, “It worked out! We reached more audience members than we would’ve been able to had we held an in-person event, and we still were able to provide the same exact content as an in-person conference.”
The content included more than 40 alumni speakers and 10 corporate sponsors: At the highest level, Raytheon Technologies signed on as platinum sponsor and RSM was a silver sponsor. Other sponsors included BDO, Citi, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC, TJX, and Wayfair.
After Palacio’s keynote, the first panel focused on inspiring a culture of belonging and how to be an ally. It was led by Kathy Lopes ’01 (sociology and political science), Maria Sucher ’18 (marketing and HTM), and Zae Valera. The three diversity leaders—Lopes is director of DEI at Newton Public Schools, Sucher is a marketing manager at Wiley who recently founded an alumni network called Latinos at UMass, and Valera is Isenberg’s program coordinator of diversity and inclusion—touched on creating a safe environment for underrepresented employees, and on their own experiences as both women and people of color in the workplace.
Next, attendees heard from Raytheon Technologies during the platinum sponsor panel on organizational resilience. Panelists Stefanie Wagner '14 MBA, an associate director for financial planning and analysis at Raytheon division Pratt & Whitney, and Tara O’Keefe, an executive director of finance for Raytheon, discussed how to move forward in the face of change, overcoming obstacles, and how companies can foster an environment where employees feel important and included. From there, attendees chose from panels including Gender Representation in the Workplace, which celebrated women and highlighted the importance of gender representation in the workplace, and The New Technological Landscape, which explored how technology impacts occupations in all fields.
A panel focused on corporate confidence provided attendees with concrete tips on navigating their positive attributes and radiating confidence in the workplace; the panelists discussed their own efforts to remain true to themselves in their opinions even in uncomfortable environments. Jenny Dell ’07 (sport management and HTM), a sports reporter for CBS, spoke about her experience working in sports, where she often finds herself being the only woman in the room. She emphasized the importance of give-and-take in the workplace, where it’s important to have confidence but to also know where to compromise. Catheryn Chacon Ortega ’15, ’16 MS (accounting), a senior tax accountant at EY, left attendees with a bit of advice: “Remember that you’re there because you belong. Remember you’re there because you know your stuff. You’re there because they want your opinion and you bring value to the team.”
A panel called Taking on Transitions featured Rebecca Alter ’15 (HTM), Nina Carrara ’90 (marketing), Kelly McGovern ’10 (accounting), and Claudia Mott ’80 (organizational behavior) discussing the challenges of transitioning between new phases of life. When asked what piece of advice they would give to someone just entering the workforce, all panelists agreed that your first career won’t be your last. “You will end up where you need to be,” said Alter, an account manager for CVS Health. The speakers all agreed it’s important not to be afraid to take on challenges, and to have a “Just Say Yes mindset,” per McGovern, an audit senior manager at Deloitte & Touche.
Next, attendees experienced the day’s breakout sessions, featuring workshops like Be Clear in Your Career, Design Thinking, Healthy Minds Healthy Lives, Financing Your Life After College, and Becoming the Best You. The Becoming the Best You workshop was hosted by Amy Poscik ’06 (accounting), CEO and cofounder of the Women’s Business League, a community connecting powerful businesswomen. She kicked it off with a quote: “Hidden in every challenge is an opportunity and a gift.” She worked with attendees, providing them with three steps: 1) Become radically self aware; 2) Get a plan; and 3) Celebrate. She emphasized the importance of cheering for yourself before others cheer for you. “If you don’t know your value, you can’t communicate your value,” she said. “If you can’t communicate your value, you won’t get paid for your value.”
Session four ended the conference with a final set of breakout sessions. In Defining Success, panelists touched on how to determine one’s own definition of success. Investing in Yourself inspired attendees to take risks to benefit themselves and their careers in the long run. It’s Okay To Be Undecided featured panelists sharing their experiences with changing career paths and finding what they love to do. And Investing in Yourself included advice for attendees on how to handle burnout, balancing work and personal life, and taking care of their everyday mental health.
The final sessions focusing on success and and flexibility echoed Shantel Palacio’s keynote message: “There’s no such thing as failure,” she said. “Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as learning.”