Female factor

Women of Influence Speakers Inspire Attendees to Find Their Passion and Champion Themselves

Sarasota Magazine’s sixth annual Women of Influence event gave busy women a chance to rejuvenate with an inspiring lineup of speakers.

By Susan Burns Photography by Jolanta Bremer at Evoke Studios July 26, 2018

Are you Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama or Diane Sawyer? Close to 200 women got an answer to that question at Sarasota Magazine’s sixth annual Women of Influence event at Westcoast Black Theatre Tuesday. The sold-out event, called “Prepared to Be Inspired,” gave busy women a chance to rejuvenate on a steamy hot weekday afternoon with an inspiring lineup of speakers. “It was like a group therapy session!” one woman said. The main takeaways? Find your passion and champion yourself.

The Zenith’s training program manager, Mary Hussey, started off the program by giving every woman colored stickers depending on her answers to a variety of personality trait questions. The point of the exercise was to show that every workplace is made up of a variety of temperaments. Diverse groups make for more productive environments—as long as everyone recognizes and respects the differences. (By the way, if you’re dominant, blunt and driven, you’re Margaret Thatcher. If you’re influential, enthusiastic and optimistic, you’re Oprah Winfrey. If you’re steady, calm and inclusive, you’re Michelle Obama. And if you’re conscientious, analytical and like to work independently, you’re Diane Sawyer.)

Next up was Marilyn Thompson, a retired HR director at Johnson & Johnson, who serves on the board of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. She asked the audience if they knew their passions and purpose. “What do you read?” she asked, or maybe more likely these days, “What do you Google?” “When you wake up, what excites you?” Or, conversely, what makes you stay in bed? “Take time out to be still,” Thompson told the audience. “Listen to your heart.”

Terri Najmolhoda, the general manager at Saks Fifth Avenue, told the tale of how her strong, fearless grandmother—who always wore lipstick—walked onto a softball field in the middle of a game to give the fourth-grade Najmolhoda the focus and confidence she needed to make the winning play for her team when all bases were loaded. “Keep your eyes open,” she told Najmolhoda, “and focus on what you want.” Her grandmother’s example, says Najmolhoda, still resonates with her today. Speaker Cheri Christiansen spoke about her midlife crisis and how she went from a CPA and hospital administrator to the owner of Four Pillars Wellness Spa & Yoga Studio in Lakewood Ranch.

And, finally, Felice Schulaner, a retired HR executive for Coach Inc. and chair of the New College of Florida Board of Trustees, spoke about her pet peeve: women’s reluctance to own their own achievements. There are ways to overcome this bad habit, she said. The Coach Foundation, where Schulaner served as an executive director, funded programs for the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a group of charter schools for low-income girls. One of the signature events was the Brag Party for high school juniors that taught girls how to dream and be confident. “Learn to toot your own horn,” Schulaner said, and then asked each woman in the audience to turn to the person next to her and brag about three of her achievements over the last week. It wasn’t a comfortable exercise for a lot of women in the room, which made her point. “It’s muscle memory,” she said. “Practice makes perfect.” 

After the presentations, everyone headed next door to Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s brand-new headquarters in the renovated Binz Building for wine, light bites and networking. The perfect ending to group therapy.

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