Stevens Institute of Technology welcomed more than 500 girls from 18 high schools across the state for a recent Junior Achievement of New Jersey event, where professional panelists shared insights from their career successes — and struggles.
“To be a good leader, you don’t have to be born with it; you can learn it anytime," said Anita Mathew, senior vice president of corporate finance and IT at AIG, one of the event’s corporate sponsors.
By speaking candidly about their own experiences, panelists offered the high school students a realistic sense of the career obstacles they may face. Dyana Givens, a senior at Teaneck High School, wanted to know how the panelists dealt with self-doubt. She was surprised to learn that, despite all of their career accomplishments, each woman on the stage still regularly felt the creep of imposter syndrome.
“I want to dance in college and start my own business as a choreographer,” Givens said. “Those are big dreams and I always doubt myself. It helps to hear that other women feel this way, too.”
The advice from panelist Dr. Joelle Saad-Lessler, associate dean of the undergraduate division at the School of Business, was to surround yourself with a strong support system.
“You need those positive voices reminding you that you can do this,” said Dr. Saad-Lessler.
Building that network is one of the goals of the Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s Women and Girls Career Summit, which brought together students from 18 different high schools who participated in activities aimed at developing career-building skills and exploring potential career paths with the guidance of volunteer mentors from more than 25 companies.
For the last four years, Junior Achievement of New Jersey has partnered with the Stevens School of Business for these career workshops, which prepare high schoolers for the professional challenges they may face. Those challenges can be more pronounced in the STEM industries, where women are still widely underrepresented.
As the head of diversity and inclusion for Sanofi North America, panelist Cristina Santos underscored the importance of representation in business leadership, which has become a deciding factor for job applicants.
“There’s never been a better time to be a woman in corporate America,” Santos said. “If you go somewhere and you don’t see people who look like you, that’s their problem to fix — not yours. You have choices.”
Panelists emphasized that while the road forward may not be easy, it is by no means impossible — and Stevens alumnae are proof positive of that. Women who graduated from the School of Business in 2019 received an average starting salary of $74,200 — well above the national average of $53,912 for both men and women. The School of Business provides opportunities for students to connect with companies and learn from female executives, who frequently speak on campus.
“It’s important for young women to see how these leaders achieved what they did,” said Jennifer Searing ’21, a student ambassador for the business school who assisted with the Junior Achievement event.
The School of Business equips students like Searing with the sort of tech-focused skills that ensure they are prepared to navigate a constantly changing business landscape. That idea was echoed by panelists, whose stories all shared one common theme: the need to adapt.
“The job that you think you want might not exist five years from now,” Santos said. “Things are going to change. You need to practice agility. If you’re always learning new things, then you’re always going to be a step ahead.”