Amy Siskind kicked off the What I Wish I Knew at 22 event by calling for a “SHEvolution” to get women back in leadership and back in control. The former Wall Street exec and Co-founder and President of The New Agenda brought up some disturbing statistics indicating that women are actually moving backwards in terms of the wage gap, representation in STEM fields, and women’s issues since the mid 1990s. So, how do we combat this backslide? By taking back control of the representation of women from the media; by pursuing leadership positions; by empowering ourselves and those around us. During the next hour and a half, from four incredible women engaged us in a candid conversation about their careers, happiness, love and everything I #wishiknew.
Amy Siskind (Arts and Sciences ’87): Amy is a national spokesperson, writer and expert on helping women and girls advance and succeed. A highly successful Wall Street executive, she’s the co-founder and President of The New Agenda, a national organization working on various issues including gender representation, sexual assault, and economic independence.
Jeannette M. Perez-Rossello, MD (Human Ecology ’91): Jeannette is Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School and a Pediatric Radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her clinical focus is musculoskeletal imaging and her research interest is the imaging evaluation of child abuse and its mimickers.
Lauren D. Myers (ILR ’97): Lauren is the owner of The Myers Group, Inc. where she blends Human Resources Consulting and Sports and Entertainment Marketing Partnerships and Development. The aim of the Myers Group sit o steer each individual client to “realize their innovative self” while reinventing their life and career.
Suzanne Penavic (Human Ecology ’86, ILR ’16): Suzanne is currently Senior Director of Employee Engagement and Corporate Citizenship for SunGard, a $2.8 billion leading software company. She has had an international career that has spanned privately held startups, venture capital funded mid-sized companies, and both public and private Fortune 500 firm.
In talking about greatest failures, these women shared stories about missing out on time spent with family, struggling through the first semester at Cornell, being passed over for promotions at work, and the difficulty of rejection. Despite it all, failures are a part of us and an important part of the learning process. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t put your needs on the backburner. You have to get back up, these little challenges and stumbles along the way can open a door to a new career, a new opportunity. They’re not failures, they’re learning lessons; when you fall it’s about how you handle that journey. Failing means that you took a risk–the next step is to keep on going.
Q: How do you know if you’re getting paid enough?
A: Ask around, do your research. Learn to negotiate; women often settle but men negotiate. If you’re embarrassed to talk about how much you make maybe you’re worth more.
Q: How can you be successful at your 1st job?
A: Get there early, prepare, anticipate needs, be on top of your game. Soak up everything, learn as much as you can. Find mentors, know the difference between allies versus friends. The 20s are the most important decade of your career, use this time to build your reputation.
Health and Happiness
During this section the inevitable question of maintaining a life-work balance came up. From working part-time to have time with your children to choosing jobs that give you flexibility, you may not be able to have “it” all but you can certainly have your all. The idea of balance is a misnomer, it’s never going to be a perfectly even split. However, you are in charge of giving yourself permission to live the life that you want. Find an hour for yourself each day, de-stress, don’t feel guilty and don’t forget your needs too.
Q: How about quitting, when do you know you have to make a trade-off?
A: It’s not quitting! It’s taking a different road, there are many ways of getting to a destination. It’s reinventing yourself, life happens and sometimes you have to shift from the plan. Take one thing after another, listen to yourself.
Q: How do you identify what is important to say ‘no’ to and what isn’t?
A: Saying no is hard; you are going to have a lot of opportunities so start with learning how to say, “I need to think about it”. It’s better to do 2-3 things and do them well then to try and do it all. You might have to learn the hard way–by doing it all and hitting a wall. Focus, keep your eyes on the prize, saying no is hard but only do what makes you happy.Trust your instinct, don’t be indecisive and go with your gut.
Love and Relationships
Listening to these women talk about love and relationships made me laugh hysterically, reflect, and cry. When asked about finding true love, Lauren replied that she has unconditional love for six people in her life: her parents and her children. Suzanne talked about losing love and finding it again on a blind date with a 6’5″ mathematician with four kids.. Jeannette met her husband during her last semester at Cornell (when she for sure wasn’t looking). Amy shared that she realized in her mid-30s that she was gay. When it comes to love and relationships, real love is unconditional love, sometimes things don’t go according to your plans but never say never, when it happens it happens, and remember that you can’t change people, only they can change themselves.
Q: How do you feel about hook-up culture? What advice would you give to your daughter?
A: You need to be comfortable with yourself and your sexuality (not 50 Shades of Grey!), there needs to be a balance and you need to enjoy yourself. Have fun but be safe– you have an elbow, a knee, a fist, and a mouth to scream if you get in trouble. Having fun doesn’t need to be at the exclusion of not being real with people, seek out emotional relationships.