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Meet Some Of Fort Lauderdale's Most Powerful Women, As They Discuss Advice, Challenges And The Importance Of Female Role Models

by Ileana Llorens by Lyssa Goldberg Mar 31, 2017 11:40 AM

We interviewed 14 female leaders in the Broward community to discuss what led them to their current positions in business, nonprofits, law, medicine, hospitality, politics, technology and more. Although their areas of expertise differ, they all agree that drive, determination and the opportunity to mentor a new generation of women are key in securing a future with equally strong boss ladies. 


Alexa Carlin

Public speaker and founder of The Women Empower Expo 

"I don't believe competition breeds success; I believe collaboration breeds success, and it is our responsibility as women to support one another in the pursuit toward our dreams."
 

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy and why?

Hearing how I inspired someone is by far the best part of my job, and I feel so grateful I get to do this every single day. It's what motivates me to continue to spread my message and share my story, vulnerably and authentically, because I know I'm making a real difference in others' lives. It's always been my mission to inspire at least one person a day. 

Have you found that you’ve faced any criticisms or challenges as a female leader within your industry? 

When I was negotiating prices for my first Women Empower Expo, my partner and I noticed how they charged significantly more money when they saw I was putting on the event than they did when first working with my partner, who is male. I've also had to prove myself a lot more to sponsors and corporations because once they see I'm a woman and young, they immediately doubt my professionalism, which makes my job more difficult in the beginning stages of a startup. 

What role do women have in mentoring each other? 

I think it's extremely important for women to mentor and support one another and form what I like to call a "girl gang." I don't believe competition breeds success; I believe collaboration breeds success, and it is our responsibility as women to support one another in the pursuit toward our dreams. There is enough room for all of us to be successful.


Lauren DeShields

Executive chef at Market 17 

"You are the only one that can hold yourself back. Never make excuses." 

 

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

In high school, I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. I competed, had sponsorships and even moved to San Diego, but luckily, my friends told me I'm a better cook than skateboarder.

Have you found that you’ve faced any criticisms or challenges as a female leader within your industry?

I once applied for a position out in San Francisco, and I spoke with the chef/owner, and he told me that his kitchen was too rough for a young lady. I told him I've made grown men cry and I wasn't worried about what he thought. It turned out it wasn't the right kitchen for me, but I've never let anyone hold me back.

Who were/are some of your mentors?

[Chefs] Dean Max, Paula DaSilva and Adrienne Grenier. I was lucky to start out with two strong women mentors who showed me that anything is possible.


Felicia Alvaro

Vice President of Finance at Ultimate Software

"It’s all about doing the right thing and not worrying about labels placed on me." 

 

What’s the first thing you do in the morning to help you get ready for the day?

In the mornings, I check two things: (1) my calendar for the day, to see the meetings I have that day, as well as to plan out my day for tasks I need to accomplish that day; and (2) my emails received since the day before, in order to plan my tasks and ensure there are no urgent matters that take precedent over my schedule. I also like to check Facebook while I’m having my coffee, to see what my friends are doing.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Study hard; play second; and always take care of yourself and your loved ones first. Work is important in order to enjoy the things in life that we want and need, but your friends and family should be more important. Look for that balance to have both.

Have you found that you’ve faced any criticisms or challenges as a female leader within your industry?  

In my case, maybe because I’m purposefully oblivious to them, I haven’t received any major criticisms as a female leader. I have heard it said, in the past, that I can be “intimidating,” which I find both surprising and humorous at the same time. I’ve never thought of myself that way, and my friends and family would just say that I have a strong, but friendly, personality. Personally, I believe that strong women can sometimes be mislabeled as “intimidating” or “difficult” or some other adjective that is less than favorable. If it were a strong male, he would be considered a self-confident leader. For me, it’s all about doing the right thing and not worrying about labels placed on me.


Karen Prescod

President at Prescod Life and Health

"I believe if we can get our mind, body and soul aligned, it will make it much easier for more of us to have it all."

 

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy and why?

I love when I get hugs from my clients, because I’ve made their life easier and given them peace of mind.

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position?  

Three things: 1. Always be fair 2. Be consistent and 3. Never waiver on your integrity.

What’s your response to the ever-popular question: Can women have it all?

I believe we can, and some women do. It’s about prioritizing, setting boundaries; it’s about balance. It’s not always going to be even, nor should it. Balance and juggling — [J]ugglers, balance while they are juggling, but sometimes the space between the objects are even, and sometimes they are not; they manage to still catch all the objects. I believe if we can get our mind, body and soul aligned, it will make it much easier for more of us to have it all.


Christine Ramirez Pallesen

Vice president, Dale Carnegie Training for Southeast Florida 

"Read every single day, even if it’s just a couple minutes. Read everything you can get your hands on—from newspapers to blogs and books."

 

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy and why? 

My team and I impact the “people side” of business, which has a reputation for being intangible and discretionary. But high-performing and engaged professionals create a rhythm and buzz you can absolutely feel, and I love being a catalyst for that in my own business and our clients' businesses. I also love that even though what my company does is essentially 105 years old, it is so relevant and timely still today.

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position? 

Read every single day, even if it’s just a couple minutes. Read everything you can get your hands on—from newspapers to blogs and books. ("How to Win Friends and Influence People" is top of the list). Scott Garvis, CEO of Dale Carnegie Southeast Florida, taught me that. He always says “readers are leaders,” and while it sounds totally cheesy, he is absolutely right. Reading has expanded my point of view [and] increased my confidence to meet, and have meaningful conversations with, just about anyone. 

Who were/are some of your mentors?

I’m incredibly blessed that my greatest mentor has been my mother. She has always modeled for me what it looks like to love people well, to be resilient, to make sacrifices, and to prioritize the right things. She introduced me to some of my favorite things—cooking, gardening, and finding happiness in simple things every day.


Kathleen Cannon

President/CEO, United Way of Broward County

"We have a very unique and successful way of engaging and leading, and men can learn from this."

 

What moment in your career has made you the proudest? 

Honestly, it’s the little moments that are the most impactful. When you get a note from someone you assisted a long time ago or you were able to mentor a staff member—it’s the people connection that I am most proud of.

What role do women have in mentoring each other? 

I think it’s important for women to support and mentor each other. It’s about collectively lifting each other up. It’s more powerful when we help each other as opposed to working against each other. And I think it’s important for women to mentor men. We have a very unique and successful way of engaging and leading, and men can learn from this.

What’s your response to the ever-popular question: Can women have it all?

We all can have it all, but we have to define “it all." I think we, as women, do ourselves a disservice by being so worried and verbal about work-life balance. And feeling we fall short. It’s not an even balance; it’s more of a pendulum swing. And sometimes we are more focused on work than family and vice versa. We just have to do the best we can and forgive ourselves when we fall short. But we need to stop feeling guilty, because it is holding us back.


Barbara Sharief

Broward County Mayor

"Never be afraid to let an old door close, so the new ones can open up."

 

What moment in your career has made you the proudest? 

Taking the oath as the first African-American female mayor in Broward County’s 100-year history was my proudest moment. Knowing that I achieved this after so many that came before me was humbling. I am serving a second time presently as mayor and the sentiment is the same.  

What’s the first thing you do in the morning to help you get ready for the day?

I listen to music while I prepare at home, and in the car, I continue with my favorites on my Google playlist until I arrive at work. Music brings me calmness and a sense of peace even when I know I will face contentious issues throughout the day.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?  

I struggled a lot with the death of my father and how that changed my life drastically. I would say to keep your head up, and while bad things happen to good people, know that God is preparing you for something greater. Never be afraid to let an old door close, so the new ones can open up.


Cindy Kushner

Tax partner, Crowe Horwath LLP and founder of Women Executive Leadership

"Life is too short to not enjoy what you do every single day, do the best you can, never give up your dreams." 

 

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self? 

The same advice I give my 19- and 22-year-old sons when they were 18: Do what you enjoy, life is too short to not enjoy what you do every single day, do the best you can, never give up your dreams. Think about the legacy you want to leave behind—how can you make a difference?

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position? 

Don’t spread yourself too thin, evaluate what is most important, and prioritize where you can make a difference and be successful. Focus on what you want and go after it.

Any advice for negotiating salaries or contracts? 

I once moderated a Women Executive Leadership discussion with Sallie Krawcheck when she was with Citigroup, and she was asked this very question. She mentioned that during her career with Citi that she was frequently approached by men to negotiate their contracts and salaries, but not by women. Keep in mind this was years ago. I am seeing a big shift over the years where more women are negotiating. As more women enter the workforce, and more are promoted, we are seeing more women breaking the glass ceiling. It is a matter of time.


Paige Held

Owner/founder, The Yoga Joint

"Don't give up five minutes before the miracle happens. Lean into resistance; it will only make you stronger."

 

What did you want to be when you grew up and why? 

From a very young age, I knew I wanted to help people and definitely be my own boss. My dad owned his own business, and I was heavily influenced by my family's entrepreneurial spirit. Helping people just felt right in my soul. 

What’s your response to the ever-popular question: Can women have it all?

For me, I do have it all. I have an incredible, supportive husband; two beautiful, healthy children; two beautiful, healthy step-children; my dream job that I created out of my passion and love of yoga; amazing friends and super wonderful business partners. So I guess my answer to that question would be yes, you can have it all.

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position?

Don't give up five minutes before the miracle happens. Lean into resistance; it will only make you stronger. Don't worry about what others are doing, stay focused on your goals, and follow through. Emotions are like surfing: you have to pick the right ones to ride. 


Elizabeth Swann

Department chair, Athletic Training at NSU

"The criticism that I have received is that 'I care too much;' however, I believe the opposite. I care about the students, faculty and staff deeply, and I take responsibility for their success."

 

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

When I was 6 years old, I wrote a letter to NASA wanting to go to Space Camp. I was living in California at the time, so Florida was very far away. I loved the stars and yes, loved the movie "Star Wars" even more. My father had a small telescope, and we spent summer nights looking for what was out there, and [I] even remember watching Halley’s Comet in 1986. Going to space was just so cool at the time, and why not?

Have you found that you’ve faced any criticisms or challenges as a female leader within your industry?  

Yes, in the sports medicine field when I began, women were a minority. As an administrator, I am delighted that there are more women moving up and know there is strength in numbers. The criticism that I have received is that “I care too much;" however, I believe the opposite. I care about the students, faculty and staff deeply, and I take responsibility for their success.

Any advice for negotiating salaries or contracts?

Demonstrate your value. That is really the best advice. With a written proposal or by your quality of work, you are worth the salary. And what you bring to the table should be considered in all aspects of the negotiation.


Annie Nguyen

Assistant curator of education, NSU Art Museum 

"My mentors always challenged my potential to achieve more in life, whether it was through my art or my life decisions..."

 

Who were/are some of your mentors?

My art teachers [and] professors throughout high school and college, especially Melanie Cohen and Veronique Cote, as well as my older sister, Kimmy Nguyen. My mentors always challenged my potential to achieve more in life, whether it was through my art or my life decisions, while continually catering to everything that would be going on in my life. It was definitely easier to confide all my ideas [in] them.

What aspect of your job do you most enjoy and why? 

As an education curator, I enjoy sharing my passion for art and making an impact. Students and adults alike, my tour groups are what drive my motivation to pursue larger crowds and eventually lead my own studio program.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why? 

I never really had a firm idea of what I wanted to be growing up. I’ve wanted to be a teacher, fighter pilot, doctor, dentist, traveler, business woman and all kinds of other careers. I was always searching for a career that would essentially help others in life. The only thing that was consistent the whole way was my passion to draw and share experiences in life to others.


Anna MacDiarmid

General manager, W Fort Lauderdale 

"I think the role women have in mentoring each other is to be proud of each other in our successes, and compliment each other more often."

 

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position? 

To be really true to themselves, have confidence, don’t be worried about being heard and seen (the loudest in the group), be humble and to focus on what they want to accomplish and it will happen. 

Who were/are some of your mentors?

My mentor is my previous general manager, Minaz, from about 25 years ago. He saw potential in me and pushed me into public speaking and guided me through my career. I’m still in contact with him. I think the role women have in mentoring each other is to be proud of each other in our successes, and compliment each other more often. 

What’s your response to the ever-popular question: Can women have it all?

Yes. I look at my sister who’s a professional and raised two daughters. She was a successful teacher and mother. It’s all about organizing yourself and planning ahead. 


Danielle Butler

Managing Partner at Luxury Law Group/President of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida

"Women could be the masters of the universe and some are, and with time, more will be."

 

Who were/are some of your mentors?

Easy, my Nannie (maternal grandmother) and my mother. They were such strong women who did whatever they needed to in order to keep the family together. Women could be the masters of the universe and some are, and with time, more will be. In order to ensure this, women must mentor other women in a positive and helpful manner. We have the tool kit to succeed, but everyone needs professional and emotional support to be their best.

What moment in your career has made you the proudest? 

Being sworn into the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. As a lawyer, it is the holiest of institutions and the apex of your career to present before the justices.

Any advice for negotiating salaries or contracts with a boss? 

Go in knowing exactly what you want and then know what you will take, too. Meaning ask for the sun when what you really want is the moon. Don’t ask, tell. Don’t diminish yourself. Be the most confident and positive you. 


Jessica Lerner

Senior vice president, Community Care Plan 

"Put your hand up, and be the one that volunteers to do more—be available to organize that new project."

 

What’s the first thing you do in the morning to help you get ready for the day?

I make breakfast for my family. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of what is most important in my life.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Three things: 1) Be more patient. 2) You don’t know everything. 3) Go to law school!

What advice would you give to young women who would one day like to be in your position? 

Put your hand up, and be the one that volunteers to do more—be available to organize that new project. In addition, anticipate the needs of others and exceed their expectations. Demonstrate your commitment to progress and the advancement of your organization.

 

A special thanks goes out to C&I Studios for producing the video.


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Meet Some Of Fort Lauderdale's Most Powerful Women, As They Discuss Advice, Challenges And The Importance Of Female Role Models Meet Some Of Fort Lauderdale's Most Powerful Women, As They Discuss Advice, Challenges And The Importance Of Female Role Models

We interviewed 14 female leaders in the Broward community to discuss what led them to their current positions in business, nonprofits, law, medicine, hospitality, politics, technology and more. Although their areas of expertise differ, they all agree that drive, determination and the opportunity to be a positive role model for a new generation of women are the key ingredients in securing a future with equally strong boss ladies. 
 

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