September 22, 2022

A panel of alumnae returned to campus to share with students how they have navigated their careers and responded to change. Stories of Transformation and Renewal was the theme for the discussion, which was sponsored by Susquehanna University’s Women’s Leadership Initiative.

The evening opened with a question from panel moderator Linda Burkley, lecturer in communications: What support do women need in the workplace to transform?

“When I entered the workforce, many women tried to be like their male counterparts. If you stayed invisible, if you assimilated, you’d be fine,” explained Bernadette McKenna ’95 P’25 Horvat, vice president for talent and culture at the American Board of Internal Medicine. “I think over the years women have stood up and said, ‘I’m a woman in business … and I’m bringing a completely different set of skills. I think it’s important to own your ‘womanness.’”

Other points raised during the panel focused on finding a workplace culture that works for you, the importance of mentorship and soft skills, and building self-efficacy.

Ariana Stowe ’13, financial representative at Northwestern Mutual and owner of Ariana Stowe Fitness, said female mentors have been key to helping her build her professional support network.

“Even if you’re not paired with someone at your company, don’t be afraid to ask for it or to seek out other resources,” Stowe, and English major and basketball player, said.

Susquehanna University’s Women’s Leadership Initiative supports a robust, four-year preparation plan for every female student — nearly 1,300 — that includes career treks to major cities and job-shadowing experiences that connect them with Susquehanna alumni. Funded by the Signe S. Gates ’71 and Dawn G. Mueller ’68 Women’s Leadership Fund, the initiative provides opportunities for students to attend professional conferences and to secure summer research, internships or other experiential learning opportunities.

Amber Wagaman ’03, assistant vice president and sales metrics and systems manager in personal risk services for Chubb Limited, described overcoming the fear of a proposed promotion.

“Think about why the opportunity came to you,” Wagaman, a finance major, said. “There was a reason.”

Horvat, a business administration major, said she also had to overcome some anxiety when approached about transitioning from a director to a vice president.

“I feared the VP title, but I’m really glad that I moved forward,” she said. “The unknown is really what is exciting and going to that next level and challenging yourself.”

The Covid-19 pandemic turned most workplaces upside down, requiring them to transition to remote work and, in some cases, never returning to in-office operations. Such is the case for Jennifer Thorsheim ’18, influencer and partnerships strategist at Hill + Knowlton Strategies. In her role, she handles influencer campaigns for the agency’s clients. Covid brought increased attention and sensitively to social media campaigns, intensifying her work, but also contributing to her surviving a round a layoffs.

Ultimately, Thorsheim, a marketing major, found the positive in a difficult situation, particularly after the unexpected death of a loved one.

“I’m able to do what I love and be around the people who I love,” she said.

Workplace culture and soft skills can be intangible and therefore difficult to identify or develop, yet remain integral to performing successfully in the workplace.

Emily Hibshman ’15, workforce career counselor at EDSI/PA CareerLink, aptly described culture as the “unwritten rules” of the workplace.

“I’ve worked in a lot of high-stress positions and the difference has always been the people around me,” Hibshman, a strategic communications major, said.

She suggested conducting in-depth research of a company prior to interviewing, discussing the company with your professional network, and observing how employees interview when on-site for an interview.